Houston’s Sustainability Question; Fire Destroys Cleburne Cafeteria in the Middle of the Night


Photo: Ruben Serrano via Swamplot Flickr Pool


37 Comment

  • The 3 things that must change in Houston is just 3 talking points from the SJW playbook, and not even the more interesting ones. Yawn.

  • The Houston Press story is nonsense. Houston was built by “gross developers” for “gross developers”. There should be a big sign at all entrances announcing that fact, followed by directions to Austin or San Francisco or someplace just in case new arrivals are confused about where they are.

  • Re great city

    “…But there ARE some legitimate problems with Houston, and they’re serious ones. Some would say that they are among a few real issues that keep Houston from becoming one of the United States’s truly great cities…”

    Give me a flippin’ break. Houston is about to become the third largest city in the nation, it is the energy capital of the world, is one of the nation’s largest deep water ports, it’s experiencing a decades-long economic and arts boom, is developing some of the best green spaces in the nation, and is becoming a cultural mixing pot representing modern America. What city doesn’t have serious problems, and why are Houston’s so much worse than other cities? Sure we don’t (yet) have a comprehensive rail system and solar panels on every roof. But compare Houston’s crime rates with those of Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and New York. Compare economic and population growth. Compare cost of living and economic mobility. You could take any city in the US and use certain features and stats to pit it against the others, and depending on what your particular values are, you could come up with all sorts of rankings based on a myriad of pros and cons, some of which are not even pros or cons to everyone equally.

    If there are people out there who drum up lists of “truly great cities” in the US and Houston is not on their list, then I would seriously question the quality of their little list. If it sucked so bad here, there would not be such tremendous ongoing population and economic growth.

  • Posting Houston Press stories is a joke and this one is no exception. For another fun read and for another look at what is wrong with our culture check out the article “Why I buy $12 cotton candy.” I can’t even tell what’s sarcasm anymore this SJW/pseudo-progressive ilk has become so insane. The number one thing Houston needs to do to be a great city is have the HERO ordinance? Its mind boggling that someone wrote that and truly believes it.

  • So I was thinking about Houston’s flooding problems, and started to wonder: what if we on Swamplot asked “how does it handle detention?” every time a new project was proposed here? We did this for a while with street level retail: it became an inside joke. Detention is already a joke in Houston, so the value of constantly bringing it up would be at least to keep it on the radar. Maybe someone, somewhere with the power to change things might actually see it.
    I’m going to do it anyway. I already did, on this article in the Houston Chronicle: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/business/real-estate/article/The-Communities-at-Willowick-Park-keep-open-space-7305056.php

  • I’m really disappointed that the John Nova Lomax article in Texas Monthly. He just did not put a fine enough point on the comment that Houston already exists the way it does in the here and now and that no matter what happens going forward, we have to deal with what’s here. That *was* his thesis, but it was weak.

    The article also evidenced confusion between regional issues and municipal issues; the City of Houston isn’t forecasted to add 3.8 million people over any period of time, the City can’t force them to live within it, and the City’s budget issues are real but are the tip of a very big iceberg; but also, adding residents means providing them services, wiping out many of the gains from hosting those residents. This line of argument needs to be reformed in order for premises to be relevant or an argument itself to be cogent.

    Another problem was that we don’t seem to be able to agree about whether we want slow runoff or fast runoff, where, or why. The “eco-friendly” approach called for native grasses in order to encourage runoff whereas run-off (both forms of the words are used, hyphenated and non-hyphenated) is elsewhere presented as a culprit. From what’s been said, a naturalistic fallacy seems implied and it cheapens the article.

  • I learned a long time ago to give zero journalistic credence to Houston Press articles. Their journalists are so intolerant and biased towards those with opposing viewpoints, they sacrifice presenting factual information in order to try and prove their own weak arguments and resort to petty name-calling (ie – “dipsh*ts”) those who don’t align.

  • the #4 problem Houston needs to change? Get rid of our garbage weekly newspapers and replace them with good ones.

  • Is Boston sustainable? Heating an Acela corridor house in the winter uses a lot more energy than cooling a Houston house in the summer. Oil-burning furnaces are still common there.
    Is San Francisco sustainable? The entire city was destroyed by by an earthquake within modern history. And the lesser 1989 quake pancaked highways and injured thousands.
    Is Seattle sustainable? The city’s entire industrial base will be destroyed if Mount Rainier ever erupts… and geologists say that’s overdue. That’s not even counting the tsunamis.
    I don’t know the answer to these questions. What I do know is that Houston is growing by leaps and bounds, growth which largely comes from people fleeing California and the Northeast. To be the Next Great World-Class City, Houston must become more like the places our new arrivals are fleeing from.
    We need to build a better transit system. But we also need to make it really hard to build townhomes and condos in existing neighborhoods. Houstonians shouldn’t have to spend all day on the bus, but increasing density in areas that are already close to major employment centers is also bad. I’m no transit expert, but letting developers develop leaves a lingering bad taste in my mouth. Although maybe that’s just from the food truck.
    Be sure to pick up the next edition of Houston Press where we talk about how to combat the Zika virus using open ditch drainage.

  • Houston Press competing really hard with The Onion. More glowing reasons they are a joke.

    See Superdave’s post above for details.

  • The Houston Press article says what so many refuse to admit. Houston may have some things going for it, but quality of life isn’t one of them. People come to Houston for one thing: money. When the money’s gone, so are they, for the most part. To be truly considered a great U.S. city, Houston must tackle regional transportation and mobility issues, repercussions from rampant development, and the national perception that we’re gun-toting, bigoted rednecks. We cannot move forward until we address these issues. But instead we just keep telling everyone they’re wrong about Houston and continue down the same unsustainable path. It’s like we’re constantly butt-hurt about our city.

  • The Cleburne Cafeteria may be a 75-yo business, but the building itself was relatively new. Seems they were always busy , though the one time I was tempted, it was Saturday (closed).

  • Lomax goofed on the part about St. Augustine grass. Here is the quote from Jennifer Lorenz’s article: “In our yards, we take out quick-to-runoff St. Augustine grass and plant diverse native vegetation (preferable deep-rooted prairie grasses and pollinator flowers).” Lomax then writes: “[Lorenz] also advocated that homeowners replace slow-runoff but wildly popular St. Augustine grass with native grasses and plants . . . .”
    But for Lomax’s screw up, Lorenz is really on to something that could be big for Houston. Houston is basically bizarro El Paso when it comes to water. El Paso was facing a crippling water emergency when they decided to pay homeowners to get rid of their grass yards and replace them with native landscaping that needed no additional watering (cactus, succulents, sages, etc.). It worked like a charm. El Paso’s water use declined rapidly and is now at a very sustainable level.
    In Houston, our problem is the opposite. We get too much water at one time. St. Augustine grass has a very shallow root system that barely reaches two inches into the soil. Beneath that root system is our typical thick clay/gumbo soil that is very slow to drain moisture and more prone to let water runoff into the storm sewer system. When you plant native grasses and plants, the roots reach down much deeper in the soil and fundamentally change the composition of the soil. Instead of the thick gray clay/gumbo soil, you get a much looser brown sandy soil that does a much better job absorbing and holding water instead of letting it runoff into the storm sewer system.
    I have actually seen this at work in my back yard. Thanks to all my neighbors building up their lots around me and dumping a couple of inches of gravel in the alley every few years, my backyard serves as a retention pond for everyone’s runoff. I planted a bunch of St. Augustine grass for the kids to play on. It would get covered by two to three inches of water during big storms and would take the better part of a day to drain. I had a shady patch along the fence line and planted a bunch of inland sea oats because they are supposed to tolerate poorly draining areas and everything else I planted would drown. The inland sea oats thrived after doing nothing more than dropping them in the ground. The patches of inland sea oats turned into little french drains that made a big improvement in the flooding in my back yard. Just imagine the amount of water that could be kept out of the storm sewer system if everyone replaced the St. Augustine in their front yard with native grasses and plants.

  • Gisgo, didn’t the old location burn too?

  • Road chick- I don’t plan to stay in any city where the money has run out. It’s not unicorn milk and rainbow dust that pays for the nice stuff your more preferred cities have

  • As a longtime Houstonian, I’ve made peace with the fact that Houston has its quirks and primarily runs on a philosophy of “nice place to raise a family but not a place to visit”.
    Are more money-focused? Sure. But, you use your cash to go visit those other cities with all of their world-class bells and whistles. Then, leave the continued upkeep costs to the locals over there.
    Is this a provincial way of thinking? Maybe but this provincial will be sleeping easy at night with cash in the bank.

  • Roadchick, there’s two things. People live in Houston to make money or have babies. If neither one of those two items is your primary interest I’d honestly be interested in knowing what it is those folks value about Houston (because odds are it can be found better elsewhere).
    Houston Press article is just being a bit facetious and obviously doesn’t intend to mean those are the only three or even the three most important issues (the general pop. say it’s traffic). Nothing to freak out about. However, it is proven that mass transit to help increase worker mobility and business friendly laws such as HERO ordinances both increase private/commercial investment and local GDP growth rates so he is on to something, just could’ve better titled it. Obviously I completely disagree with his 2nd item as it reduces investment (why on earth would anyone think NIMBYism increases investment?) and ensuring near town neighborhoods have ridiculously high barriers of entry for only the 1% to buy into them is nothing but a sure downfall.
    Also would just point out that Houston is currently NOT a growing city; both population and revenues are in decline.

  • Old School… I love that comment. I have been saying for a long time that native prairies and grasses are a part of the solution to some of Houston’s biggest problems. Think about it, more native grasses and flowers would equal more flood protection and add more beauty to a city desperately in need of some beauty. What if the city paid people or gave them property tax discounts to put in small pocket prairies. Houston could become the ‘Prairie city’

  • Old School, thank you! I think you may have solved my “backyard lake” problem.

  • @joel might be right about revenues, but not sure where you’re getting your data on population. The City of Houston population in 2010 was 2,099,451. In 2014, Census estimates put city population at 2,239,558, or 140,107 new residents 2010-2014. Very possible there’s slowing momentum in 2015 and 2016 with drop in oil, but not likely an actual decline.

  • How exactly is Houston declining? Last I checked the city was growing but just not at the same rate as the areas around it.

  • ..and of course our brave Lt. Dan Patrick decides to weight in on this HERO stuff today for state legislation. Apparently he wants to see fortune 500 businesses boycott Texas and not just NC. At the end of the day it may not matter what Houston does or doesn’t do. Our single biggest problem and threat is that Houston is located in a majority-rural state which inevitably causes some major issues for large dynamic international companies.
    nn, there aren’t any numbers or data at the moment. Just some anecdotal points of reference to compare against such as Hertz data and rental inventory. So far signs are pointing to a population decline starting last summer.

  • @Purple City: “Be sure to pick up the next edition of Houston Press where we talk about how to combat the Zika virus using open ditch drainage.”

    Boom! Headshot!

  • I like the Prairie/Flood city idea to make an Houston have a sense of place. Imagine if every front yard was prairie/coastal grasses with small detention ponds and natural Texas flowers and trees and a large detention pond in the backyard. Now it would be dry 95% of the time unless you chose to have water in it, but you would still use it just the same. Flooding would never be a thing! And our city would be more outstanding without relying on our dead but loved Dome. But it should be a city law that you have to build detention for any property and its a price difference yes but if SF can mandate solar panels we can afford to move a little dirt and pull up expensive crap grass. And that would save the city tons of money instead of constantly digging up the damn bayous.

  • @ Old School: I’m not knocking the native grasses suggestion; personally, I like the aesthetic. The administration and oversight of that sort of thing could be a hassle and maybe people prefer to have options, but be that as it may, let’s just ignore that temporarily. Please help me understand, how does clay ever become sand? I know how sand becomes clay, but reversing entropy is really really hard. I would think that you’d have to subject the clay to a lot of pressure and maybe heat and turn it into rock and then erode that rock, but you’re saying that roots can do it.

    Maybe what’s happening is that the thinner ground cover provided by native grasses as compared to St. Augustine causes clay particles to be washed away through a process of erosion, leaving larger and heavier particles (i.e. sandy soil) at the surface.

    Now yes, sand is much more permiable than clay. That’s for sure. However, if its only sandy at the surface due to runoff and erosion, and its not very deep, then lets be realistic about how much water is going to be absorbed in a flood event. Where the clay is going? Is it going into the nearest reservoir or detention pond and settling there, removing capacity? How much is this sort of thing going to contribute over alternative projects such as ditch maintenance and regional stormwater detention?

  • Funny how these fortune 500 companies will boycott Houston or NC over HERO but are happy to have offices in Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Egypt, UAE, etc.

  • @Niche: Clay soil is not transformed on a molecular level by planting native prairie grasses. Clay is clay. But the roots on native prairie grasses are very long and reach several feet deep into the soil. The roots introduce organic matter into the soil where there was previously very little in the clay. That allows micro organism to thrive and enrich the soil by decomposing organic matter. That helps loosen the soil. The plants themselves are also deciduous and deposit a lot of organic material in the soil when they die off in the winter. They clay is displaced by the roots and accompanying organic matter.

    If you paid people to rip up St. Augustine and replace it with prairie grasses, they would do it. Or you could have a program where you have your drainage and stormwater fees reduced by getting rid of St. Augustine or other less permeable surfaces and replacing them with prairie grasses. You could give new developments credits for detention/retention if they put in yards with native grasses instead of St. Augustine. People in flood ravaged neighborhoods like Meyerland would be happy to rip up any deed restrictions against it and do it voluntarily. The best part might be that the long roots help them survive drought by letting the foliage die off while the roots stay alive. People would see significant savings on their water bills with native grasses. Looking at the big picture, it may be the only way to unring the bell of bad development practices at a fraction of the cost of buying out homes and building new regional detention.

  • @adoile i like your idea; it fits with my notion of a detention-pond-credit trading scheme. if a detention pond has added features (perhaps trees and grasses as mentioned) that are better strategies against flooding than a plain old detention pond, then that would stand to be worth more on the market.

  • Anyone who uses “SJW” in a comment is someone not to be taken seriously.

  • Developers are currently putting detention ponds in front yards.

  • I hate St. Augustine grass and plan to get rid of mine in the future (plenty of remodeling expenses ahead of it). I grew up in Southern California. It is a magical place, politics/taxes aside. I have loved living inside the loop in Houston. For years, I did miss the beaches of California — Texas does a terrible job of promoting/developing beach towns. Houston still has much to improve and many of the neighborhoods are really lacking, but every now and then you can find a great suburb (e.g., The Woodlands) that does most things right.

  • @ Old School: Okay, I’d buy the organic matter explanation. I can think of several ways off hand that that would benefit the soil and improve porosity. That makes sense It was your “brown sandy soil” claim that threw me. (However, if you ARE seeing coarser particles of soil and you didn’t put them there then there’s no two ways about it, you’ve had some erosion.)

    I’m not really convinced that this is Houston’s big fix. I mean, it should certainly be policy for parks and open spaces, public easements, and perhaps for commercial common areas but its a lot more difficult seeing this as something that is going to make a big difference in terms of flood control in a neighborhood. It just seems like a political and administrative headache, at least as bad as the drainage fee. It would reduce water consumption and that’s good for a variety of other reasons; but to the extent that water conservation is required, it may just be best to raise the price of water over and above some threshold per household. Make it expensive to water lawns, fill swimming pools, take excessively long showers, or to not fix water leaks. See what happens.

  • How do we replace a San Augustine lawn with something else? I would like to do it but it has to be practical. Are we talking about tearing out existing grass and replanting grass squares? Or is there something in the realm of feasibility. Please explain as if I know nothing about grass (I don’t)

  • http://npsot.org/wp/houston/files/2015/02/NPSOT-Houston-Information-Pages-2015.pdf

    Prairie gardens are actually getting popular and there are lots of landscape designers in Houston who can do them. There is a ton of info on the internet too. Above is a good resource about native plants that can be used in Houston landscaping. There is also a good blog by a guy in Plano who did a prairie garden in his yard (be ware the April fools post claiming to regret pulling the St. Augustine). But it is really easy to do with some trial and error and good bit of patience. You do have to rip out the St. Augustine where you want to plant natives. St. Augustine is like a vine and is very good at choking out other plants. If you St. Augustine is well established, it will come out in rolls like carpet. If it is spotty, you have to use a rake to make sure you rip it all out (not fun). Then you can do transplants or some things will grow well from seed (wildflowers and grasses do well from seed if you can keep the birds from eating them). Seeds should go in the ground in the fall. Transplants in the spring. You can get just about everything in transplants from native plant stores in Houston or at native plant sales. If you plant prairie grasses from transplants, you space them out and they will fill in as they propagate over time. Some watering is needed the first year to make sure seeds germinate and transplants do not burn up before they get established. But then most everything will flourish and not need any more watering or maintenance. It is not fool proof. I planted lizard’s tail thinking that they would do well in my backyard when it flooded. It turns out that they dry out very easily and really need to be in a marsh or by a stream. But then I also planted frog fruit under a big live oak. It struggled the first year and was all patchy, but came back full force the next spring and completely filled in where I planted it. With a little research on the internet, anyone can do it.

  • I googled some pictures of prairie garden yards in Houston. Most look like the yards I see around my neighborhood and wonder if the house is abandoned.

  • @ Memebag: Dollarweed is edible. You can make a bitter and savory soup out of it. Those folks are just growing a garden, that’s all. They’re hipsters. Looking like they’re poor and don’t give a damn is merely an expression of “irony”. You should go ask them if you can buy some from the improvisational farmer’s market that is their yard.

  • RE: native grass lawns.
    St Augustine is native to Houston, so is Bermuda. You already have a native grass lawn, congrats.