Sprucing Up Broadway; Astrodome Anniversary; Montrose and Studewood Speed Limits

View East Along Walker St. at San Jacinto St., Downtown Houston

Photo of Walker St. at San Jacinto, Downtown: El Kento via Swamplot Flickr Pool


38 Comment

  • Urban streets might as well all be 30MPH. With the increase of traffic over last decade I would be surprised if anyone could actually drive the posted speed limits be it 30 or higher.

  • Still can’t figure out why the Astrodome keeps getting national media attention, since no one outside Houston cares about it.

  • The quantity of lipstick required to be shipped here for the pig that is Broadway will singlehandedly keep the Port of Houston in business for months.

  • I wonder what it would cost to just bury Broadway? A nice direct route from 45 to the airport, 20ft BGS.

  • is broadway actually the quickest route, how many stop lights before the airport? I always take Monroe since you just have to go through one stoplight to get to the airport, but never taken the other routes except 35 if rush hour.

  • I’ve got a truly Houston solution for Astrodome:
    Put a liner in it and use it for oil storage. Given the current contango, you could sell it out in no time.

  • @Memebag
    I’m fine with it being a Potemkin village. You should too and not be surprised in the least because its just a facade for THAT neighborhood, not all of Houston. Houston has some great neighborhoods that all our visitors should see. But they wouldn’t be great if we put a giant airport in them (or landfill) and when building airports (and landfills) less desirable neighborhoods are sought out because there is less of a (well funded) resistance and land is cheaper. Broadway can be littered with directions on how to get our visitors to the nicer spots of Montrose, the Heights, Galleria etc etc.

  • When you read the article about property taxes, it turns out that some counties in NY have screamingly high taxes, while in Texas, they are just sorta high. Nothing to see here…

  • @HeyHeyHouston: I expect a lot of people are fine with spending funds making a neighborhood look better instead of making it be better. No surprise there.
    But I don’t think your timeline or cause analysis are correct. They didn’t seek out a “less desirable” neighborhood when building Hobby – it dates back to the 1920s. That was a much nicer neighborhood when my dad grew up there in the 50s. I don’t think the airport made that a bad neighborhood. I get the feeling white flight did.

  • The weird thing is that Broadway is actually the opposite of a Potemkin village. The run-down strip centers and apartment complexes are the facade that hide the fairly desirable, mid-century historical district beyond.

  • @HeyHeyHouston, the airport was there first. There was no neighborhood there in 1927 when the airfield was opened. Here’s an aerial shot from 1953 and there was still no neighborhood north of the airport. http://www.historicaerials.com/aerials.php?lon=-95.277&lat=29.66&year=1953&scale=1

  • Regarding the beautification project on Broadway: Let’s start with the obvious: It is an ugly street. And, once you get done fixing it all up purty-like, visitors will get to see the traffic horror that is at the intersection of Broadway, Park Place, and the Gulf Freeway (right by the South Loop interchange).
    As a long-time local, I’ll go a a few exits down to Monroe which is less cratered, less blighted, and less traffic to get to Hobby. I’ll take Monroe or Airport back to the Gulf Freeway since it offers me more time to get on to the inbound Gulf Freeway, too.
    What if we spent the $17 million that TxDOT wants to spend on roads, sidewalks, drainage, and wheelchair ramps and just build an elevated express lane from the freeway straight into the airport? Taking this folly further, we could wrap the whole ramp in white muslin so that visitors wouldn’t have to see the blighted areas – coming or going. Sure, the muslin will get dirty but they can blow the extra $7.5 million Hobby Management District money on replacing it with seasonal colors. I’ll bet we can get a bulk discount if we buy it by the shipload, which will help out the Port of Houston’s tonnage. Win for everyone!

  • “Nothing to see” regarding the high property taxes in Texas getting attention? I beg to differ. As home appraisals continue to rapidly climb, the differentiating affordability story is fading…

  • @Memebag, Googlemaster
    Ok, the egg came first. Fact remains that the area immediately surrounding the airport got filled in with not one of Houston’s top ten neighborhoods because people didn’t want to spend $$ on land/houses directly next to an airport.
    Additionally, the money is being spent by a non-profit. So its not your money. I expect a lot of people are fine with telling other people how to spend their funds. No surprise there.

  • RE Taxes:

    I moved back to Houston after a stint in New York. Texas may have high property taxes, but keep in mind that New York has state and, if you live in NYC, city income taxes. The total state and city income taxes alone far exceeded what I now pay in property taxes to live in a home that is more than double the size (with a yard and pool to boot). While I didn’t own in NYC, if I had, my state and local tax burden would have been easily double. Also, don’t forget that New York imposes real estate transfer taxes when you buy or sell a home, which can be quite substantial.

  • How long before developers jump at the chance to tear down the old apartments along Broadway for wraps with retail? The street does already have a lot of trees along much of it–the problem is it doesn’t have enough trees to cover up the view of all of the old garden style apartments.

  • @ Heights Resident: I hear you. I did a brief stint in New York City before I came to Houston in 1998. I paid fully one third of my income in Federal, State, and Municipal income taxes. Given that I was a student intern/ office boy in an architecture firm, making almost-slave wages, it was rough.
    @Thomas: shhh. Don’t complain about blighted apartments. That makes you a busybody at best, a racist at worst – at least according to certain Swamplot regulars. Just turn a blind eye, and move on.

  • @HeyHeyHouston: Scenic Houston is a 501(c)(3), which means contributions to Scenic Houston are diverted from paying taxes. So some part of that is my money.
    So back to why I should be fine with Potemkin villages to hide poverty. Why should I? Because we can’t fix neighborhoods near airports? If so, why did that neighborhood work so well for so many years? Why give up now?

  • Memebag, color me confused: are you suggesting that the people involved with Scenic Houston, who joined and donated presumably because of a shared interest in street beautification, should instead be in the business of offering social services? That there exist no non-profits or governmental entities in Houston doing that type of thing, so Scenic Houston should fill the gap? If so, should they then change their name and mission statement? What if that’s not where their expertise lies? Should they dismiss their board and director? If they’ve received grants with requirements re beautification, should they return those funds? Should all non-profits swap missions? Should the Red Cross or the local food pantry be doing urban beautification? Should after-school programs provide care for Alzheimer’s sufferers? Should the charitable foundations of NFL players lead baseball clinics for underprivileged youths?
    And what does “fixing a neighborhood” mean?

  • @luciaphile
    No, he is saying that he should get a say in how all money (since is could and should probably be taxed and spent by our ever so capable central governing bodies) should get spent. It’s not their money, it’s partly everyone’s. It took a while to get it out but that what it comes down to. He and everyone else is entitled to it.

  • There is some merit to the argument that the best way to counter urban blight (in general, not along a specific thoroughfare) is to enable poor people to become wealthier. If they have more financial resources, then people in real estate will try to coax it from them by selling or renting them more and better housing, and likewise neighborhood businesses will have an interest in keeping things up to remain competitive. There’s also a viable argument for direct public investment in the improvement of certain strategic zones, such as the approach to an airport.

    Outlays of both sorts have merit, but we shouldn’t confuse the purposes as being somehow related; they have very little to do with one another. If anybody is wondering, this is the primary reason that I give ZAW such a hard time about his crusading for Sharpstown. He doesn’t understand that his forced approaches to the issue can only displace urban blight between jurisdictions rather than addressing it systematically based on its functional causes.

  • Thank you for at least not engaging in more name calling, Niche.
    We actually agree on the two issues that you have said. I have always been a proponent of BOTH job opportunities for the poor, AND investment in neighborhoods. But you seem to think that multifamily investors (and architects, and contractors) should be left to police themselves on things like building codes. Your latest argument is that local government should have nothing to do with it; that we should rely on State and Federal agencies to enforce these codes. But we both know full well that they’ll never have the money or the manpower to do that effectively. It’s fairly obvious what your real goal is.
    The crux of my argument has always been that If neighborhoods are going to change for the better, it has to be a full court press. Job opportunities, public investment , enforcement of the law, AND a whole host of other things like improved schools, better policing, social services, private investment, and the like. At the same time, something has to be done to prevent poorer residents from being displaced when the neighborhood does change for the better – ergo my arguments about considering new ways to use low income housing tax credits. I won’t deny that this is a monumental thing to ask for. But just relying on one thing to help won’t make a real difference.
    On Broadway, I certainly am in favor of upgrading the road. The apartments are another question. They probably do need to be demolished. One would think Broadway should have hotels and hotel-office space for companies, like JFK Blvd heading to Intercontinental. But if demand isn’t there yet for these things, it might have to wait. Until then, is it really so awful to want those apartments spruced up a bit?

  • @luciaphile: No, I’m just saying HeyHeyHouston’s attempt to end the discussion by saying it isn’t my money is an invalid argument. If the money is tax exempt then it is all of our money. ScenicHouston is diverting our money into this plan. I’m not saying they shouldn’t do it, just that we can still discuss it.
    But only if we want to. It sounds like HeyHeyHouston doesn’t really want to.

  • Memebag, I’m about to go to the store and buy a bag of chickpeas, a head of cauliflower, some cherry tomatoes, an onion, a bit of ginger, and some curry powder. All of that will be tax-exempt. Thanks for letting me have the use of your money. Or do you want some of my groceries?

  • @ ZAW: Ummm…I’m sorry, what name do you think I just called you?

    I have never said that I think that multifamily operators should police themselves on issues of public safety. That’s just ridiculous. I have stated an opinion recently that I think that issues of health and safety standards should be enforced by a jurisdiction like the State or Federal government, that inspections should be periodic and mandatory, and that fines for non-compliance should be steep; I prefaced that statement of opinion with a separate statement of opinion that my opinion does not matter. It is not as though I’m being disingenuous about the odds of that happening. I further stated that investors should take the law as an exogenous factor (something they can’t control) and abide by the system. They likewise should not seriously anticipate a new tax credit program anytime soon, but that’s okay, you’re welcome to wish for it. I wish for it too.

    You frequently mischaracterize what I have said, and although that may imply dishonesty I will not jump to the conclusion that you have been dishonest because I’m better than that. I would suggest that you follow my example in the future.

    You’re wrong to say that relying only on one program won’t make a real difference. Its true that a portfolio of programs could make a difference that’s greater than the sum of their parts, but for practical purposes that should not preclude the possibility of doing whatever it is that is politically realistic that can be done within the existing framework. Sometimes the budget and the existing framework aren’t the constraint and its a matter of leadership. For instance, I feel like when the squeaky wheel gets the grease that we aren’t really geared toward an egalitarian solution of any sort. If anything, we might be making it worse…for instance by bothering a guy like Cody incessantly on a 30-unit Inner Loop project that’s higher-profile than a 400-unit project that’s disgustingly unsanitary and off the radar in Sharpstown. Everything little thing makes a difference; the devil is in the details. This is a subject matter that demands precision and nuance, and I don’t see that you’re approaching it accordingly.

  • @Memebag
    For future reference, you want a say in how all non-profit money is spent. Got it. From Boy Scouts, to Planned Parenthood to the Red Cross.

  • @HeyHeyHouston & Luciaphile: Maybe y’all don’t understand how tax exemptions work? Do I need to explain it? Or are you just trying to avoid talking about the neighborhood near Hobby?
    Why don’t we discuss both?
    Tax exemptions: If I donate to charity, I don’t pay taxes on that money. That’s money I have effectively routed away from the government toward something I want funded. The money paid to the government belongs to all of us, since it is our government (see Gettysburg Address). So the general population has an interest in what is tax exempt, and what happens with tax exempt money.
    Hobby airport neighborhood: Why should we settle for optics? Why shouldn’t we instead try to fix the underlying causes? Won’t it just look like crap again soon if we don’t? Is this a wise use of (tax exempt) money?

  • @Memebag
    You’re absolutely right. We have all decided that it is not our money so we therefore can’t claim it still is. If you want that changed, then your fight is which changing tax exempt status for non profits. So please stop trying to claim money we’ve agreed isn’t ours.
    I would argue that we are already doing this with billions in social services. It sounds like you feel like we should do more. I would suggest creating your own non profit and doing whatever you want with your own money. You won’t find me trying to tell you what to do.

  • I think I grasp your logic, Memebag, though may I say that if you expounded it to a random group of people, you might find it is slightly less obvious than you think. Not least the part about the whole of someone’s contributions to a 501(c)(3) being “our” money, not merely some percentage of it.
    Extending your point further: if the tax-exemption on charitable donations was rescinded, and those bad-faith Scenic Houston donors responded by electing to forgo income by working less (thus diverting our money away from us before it is even born!): what would “we” then be entitled to? Their coerced labor?
    I’ve got it! We could put them to work Sprucing Up Broadway!

  • Would you like me to come up with a list of names you’ve called me, Niche? First there was racist. Then classist. Then hypocrite. Then jerk. Now heavy handed. All because I’m sick and tired of urban blight, concentrated poverty, failing schools, and all the other things that are keeping certain neighborhoods shitty.
    As far as miscasting your arguments. I still don’t see how you would expect the State or Federal Government to actually perform the kind of inspections you’re talking about. They’re never going to have the kind of manpower needed to do that. Local government could do the inspections – and I wish they would – but you don’t want that because according to you, local governments are corrupt (while, presumably, Federal and State Governments somehow aren’t).
    We completely agree , if you’re being honest about it – that fines for life safety problems need to be much higher than they are. But Texas statute is actually what’s keeping me low – and you expect the State to take over the process and boost the fines? I just don’t see that happening.
    In any case, as I said – on Broadway: clean up the streets; clean up the apartments, too. Both are needed, at least until those apartments can come down and be replaced with hotels and offices.

  • @HeyHeyHouston: Huh?
    @Luciaphile: I never said all of the contributions are our money, nor did I say anything bad about people donating to Scenic Houston. I drew a parallel to Potemkin villages, and tried to raise the question of why we should spend money making a road look better instead of spending money fixing the problems that made it look bad in the first place. And I’m still asking that question. Why settle for a pretty road that will be ruined in short order? Are we powerless to solve the underlying problems?

  • @Memebag
    We’ve already agreed how tax exemptions work. Therefore it is no longer ‘your money’ because as a group we’ve decided it is exempt. If you don’t like our current agreement on 501c3s, then fight that fight not how Scenic Houston spends their money.
    You are still entitled to spend your money addressing the societal and economical issues of those who live around Broadway. It’s much cheaper to tell other people where to spend their money and talk about it on the internet.

  • Memebag, I reject the idea that there are many things more lasting that a private group could offer a neighborhood than streetscape improvements. If anything it’s the very modesty of the goal that makes it so worthy. I reject too the notion that the people who live on Broadway are an undifferentiated mass incapable of appreciating civic amenities whether or not those are in the service of the larger purpose of beautifying the approach to the airport. Do they not walk, drive, or bus up and down that street?
    I’d go further: I believe that if your personal space in a city is small or shabby, then attractive streets and anchoring public places take on even greater value. I’m influenced there – in the way one is influenced by something that expresses well how one already felt instinctively – by The Geography of Nowhere. I realize WKH is now despised in urbanist circles. I remain a fan, based on that one book.
    You say the result will be a Potemkin village. But a Potemkin village requires someone in a position of power to pass by. Are you suggesting that air travelers to Houston bear some Romanov-like responsibility for the condition of its neighborhoods, more than Houston’s own citizenry? Because we all know that all Houston believes it owes anyone is to keep the “We’re Open” sign lit.
    Moreover, I don’t think there is the least naivete about the divided nature of Houston, with its immigrant-fueled population growth. It’s hard to imagine that as out-of-towners fly in over the apartment complexes around Hobby, they murmur to themselves, “Ah, the swimming pools of the capitalists …”
    The sort of “cosmopolitan” city Houston aspires to be features enclaves of the wealthy, amid the sprawling poor; hopefully, in Houston’s case, that can be amended to, sprawling middle class. But if for populist reasons civic beautification is deemed morally repugnant, then Houston really will have shot itself in the foot.
    According to commenter Benjy Compson, the neighborhood is a fairly routine one, not a disaster. But it sounds like you also know it well: what, specifically, would you do with $7 million – locally, right there – to address what you call the “underlying problems” of the area? Are you talking drainage improvements, sidewalks, bus shelters – or interventions in the lives of the people who live there? Should Scenic Houston give everyone in a 1-mile radius $200 for landing on Broadway? I’m listening; but please don’t say give it to the schools, or I’ll know you really are trolling me.

  • @HeyHeyHouston: You aren’t reading my posts. Tax exempt donations divert taxes away from government. That is money that would have been spent by all of us, but won’t be. I don’t know how else to explain that to you.
    @luciaphile: From Merriam-Webster, Potemkin village: ” an impressive facade or show designed to hide an undesirable fact or condition”. No mention of someone in a position of power.
    I’m not saying Scenic Houston should do (or not do) anything. I don’t know how to improve the Greater Hobby neighborhood. A quick look at the demographic data shows the population is less educated than the rest of Houston, but the median household income is slightly above average.
    If all Scenic Houston changes is how Broadway looks, how long will that last?

  • @Memebag
    Never needed an explanation. Fundamentally, your point is wrong. We do not have a say in how charities spend their money BECAUSE we (as a group) have given up our claim to taxing that money. We cannot say “You can keep our claim (taxable portion) because you are doing good” and then tell them how we’d like our previous claim to be spent. If it is tax money then we have a say. But its not. We also have a say in whether or not a company is tax exempt. So (once again) your only choice is to fight whether an organization should be tax exempt (plenty do for many reasons. ie Boy Scouts, Planned Parenthood, religious organizations). But given they are already a 503c org, you do not have a say in how they spend their money unless you are apart of the organization. I cannot explain that more clearly.
    Real simple for you. Do you have say?
    Taxes : Yes
    If an org should be 503c: Yes.
    How 503c spends its money: No.
    Your options are:
    To realize this and do nothing about it.
    To realize this and do something about it (fight their status or start your own charity).
    Keep repeating yourself, maintain your entitlement and be ignored.

  • Memebag, I think the unlikelihood they’ll raise such a large sum of money for a single thoroughfare probably means the street will remain the consciousness-raising exercise you prefer!