05/04/17 3:45pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WILL THE BAYOU CITY PLEASE START ACTING LIKE IT? “Is the new business going to incorporate the bayou, or keep its back turned to it? Would be nice to see the trend continue of businesses along the bayous turning around and accepting the existence of a recreational green belt and trail network in its backyard, rather than using that as the side for the dumpsters.” [Superdave, commenting on Sixties Ex-Dry Cleaning Spot To Be Made Over as a Brays-Side Wine Bar] Photo of Brays Bayou at Stella Link Rd.: Frank Karbarz

04/27/17 2:45pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE MARCH OF PROGRESS, AS PERFORMED BY HOUSTON MIXED USE PROJECT PLANS Rendering of Tianqing Group/DC Partners Allen Pwky. Mixed Use Site, Allen Pkwy. at Gillette St., Fourth Ward, Houston, 77019Rendering 1: Shiny multifamily tower, midrise condo and office buildings, multilevel retail center with parking neatly concealed in above- and below-ground garages tucked under the buildings. Sleek architecture looking like something on Vancouver Island or in Dubai. Rendering 2: [Single] midrise office building and 6-story stucco apartment complex with hats. Big parking garage with a 2 story retail strip center wrapped around one side. Rendering 3: 4-story ‘Houston wrap’ apartment complex. One-story strip center with big parking lot. Final rendering: Large strip center with big box anchor and acres of parking. Architecture identical to retail center recently built in Pearland. [Old School, commenting on New Gleaming Mixed-Use Visions of a Former Fourth Ward Incinerator Brownfield] Outdated rendering of mixed-use development planned along Allen Pkwy.: Tianqing Group

04/26/17 4:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW HOUSTON GOT ITS SPRAWL, AND OTHER TALES OF PSEUDOZONING Illustration of Oversized Parking Lot“Blame our city’s efforts at ‘planning’ in lieu of zoning. In the early 70’s, due to insufficient wastewater infrastructure, the city enacted a ban on apartment buildings of more than 4 units inside the Loop (driving much of apartment development to Uptown and Meyerland) and enforced a 5000-sq.-ft. minimum lot size. This gave rise to the Montrose 4-plex (of which there are still some examples remaining), but put a cap on residential density inside the loop. Then in the 1980’s, we got 25-ft building setbacks, followed by mandatory minimum parking requirements. This added a cap on commercial density to go with the cap on residential density. The rest is history: for the next couple of decades, the car became the focal point of the built environment, and we became the low-density city we are today. With repeal of some of the more retrograde density caps we’re starting to get some residential density, but setbacks and parking minimums are still getting in the way of the necessary commercial density needed for real walkability.” [Angostura, commenting on Comment of the Day: No, Sprawl’s Not Just a Number After AllIllustration: Lulu

04/21/17 5:15pm

SUNNYSIDE PASSED OVER FOR LIST OF HOUSTON PLACES THAT ALWAYS GET PASSED OVER Complete Communities pilot areasThe Texas Low Income Housing Information Service released a statement right after Mayor Turner’s Monday announcement on the Complete Communities program questioning why Sunnyside didn’t make the cut, Steve Jansen reports this week for the Houston Press.  Despite the neighborhood’s oft-heralded blight resume (it made the LARA team during Mayor White’s time in office, and even got rolled into its very own tax increment reinvestment zone last year, a distinction theoretically reserved for “unproductive, underdeveloped, or blighted” areas), Sunnyside didn’t make the list of the first 5 pilot neighborhoods for the new program, which so far looks like it might shuffle existing development money toward the targeted areas without adding any new cash. The statement, coauthored by a Sunnyside-area civic association leader, notes that the neighborhood even has a ready-to-go redevelopment plan that’s been in the work for the past few years.  [Houston Press; previously on Swamplot] Map of pilot areas for Complete Communities program: City of Houston

04/18/17 3:45pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: FOR WHOM THE TRAIN ROLLS Trains to Office Buildings“. . . The few large cities that you’re referring to, where central living expenses are far higher than Houston, all provide far more extensive mass transit options. I know I have multiple transit options after midnight in other large cities — not so for Houston. For those without reliable transportation and non-office hours, the availability of Park and Rides does not solve or address accessibility issues.” [joel, commenting on Grand Central Park’s Official Debut; Houston’s Not All Sprawl] Illustration: Lulu

04/06/17 5:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: AN ABSURDIST EVERYMAN’S VISIT TO HIS LOCAL MANAGEMENT DISTRICT BOARD Illustration of Master Planners“If you attend a TIRZ meeting at 8:00 AM on a Friday morning, you will realize the distrust and dissent that the TIRZ has created in a once cohesive community. As the meeting convenes, you can hear the roar of the cement truck in the background, covering every square foot of the TIRZ district with parking garages and multistory apartments. And where is the detention for all this impervious surface? The storm water runoff is detained in the residential streets and private homes of the surrounding neighborhoods. Just try signing up for the Public Comment period. Your 2 minutes disappear as the Chair detects an speaker unsympathetic to the TIRZ and cuts the mike. Your questions are not answered, so you try again, this time with an Open Records Request. Now you meet the TIRZ lawyers, plural, a sassy bunch, who can look you in the face and say with impunity that the record does not exist. It was just a typo.” [Long Time Houstonian, commenting on State Bill Would Call for TIRZ Elections in Certain Cities That End in ‑OUSTONIllustration: Lulu

04/03/17 1:45pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: FOR IF YOU GAZE LONGINGLY AT TRENDY DEVELOPMENT, IT GAZES ALSO BACK AT YOU Looming Townhomes“All you ‘trendy people’ in Spring Branch need to bear in mind that even though your property values have risen dramatically, legacy homeowners don’t just immediately convert or turn over into ‘trendy people.’ That’s a process that takes time — [and] once it happens, you’ll feel nostalgia for the way things were. The newcomers won’t be ‘trendy’ — that term has positive connotations and you’ll reserve it for yourself. You will speak of them in derogatory tones, using words like yuppie and hipster. You’ll complain about how they’ve overrun your neighborhood, creating parking SNAFUs, cyclist-disrespecting traffic, and drunk drivers. You’ll complain about how closely packed the new townhomes are, even though you live in one; and about how loud the bars are, even though you bought a house next to one that had been there for 20 years. You’ll complain about how your property taxes rise 10 percent per year every year, and simultaneously protest new public housing, even though your unrealized capital gains are being subsidized by state statue — and you’ll demand even more subsidy! You might even vote for Dan Patrick. You’ll vote for localized prohibition and think that it’s ‘weird,’ kind of like living in Austin would be, except you don’t live in Austin and aren’t as weird as them — which is a terrible thing because they aren’t very weird either. You will have been co-opted by the powers that be. This is understandable. You were trendy, and will fall in line with somebody, sort of thoughtlessly, and complain relentlessly. That’s what it is to be trendy. It’s what you always wanted.” [TheNiche, commenting on Comment of the Day: Send the Trendies Outside the Loop, PleaseIllustration: Lulu

12/07/16 2:30pm

from Boomtown, Floodtown (Texas Tribune and ProPublica)
from Boomtown, Floodtown (Texas Tribune and ProPublica)

From some of the same folks who brought you those fun-with-worst-case-scenarios hurricane flood maps earlier this year —  Neena Satija and Kiah Collier of the Texas Tribune, and Al Shaw of ProPublica — comes a fresh set of animated maps of a few of Harris County’s most flooded and floodable places, along with a bit of investigation into how they got that way (and whether that might change any time soon). The new illustrated presentation shows off the spread of properties that took a dip during some of Harris County’s last few citywide submersion events (flooded properties from Tax Day 2016 are shown in yellow above, along with the Memorial Day 2015 flooded properties in orange).

Texas A&M Galveston researcher Sam Brody tells the authors that “more people die here than anywhere else from floods. More property per capita is lost here. And the problem’s getting worse.” In sorting through some of the whos, whats, and hows of Harris County’s flood infrastructure and chronically soggy residents, the article juxtaposes the recent flood damage data with the likes of FEMA-mapped 100- and 500-year flood zones (shown above), a visual tally of the land area developed last decade, and a view of what’s left of Houston’s coastal prairie (as of 2010):

CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Harris High Water
11/16/16 3:30pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHEN HOUSTON CHILLED OUT AND GREW UP AC“I have 3 words that explain why Chicago developed as a ‘modern city’ well before Houston: ‘winter’ and ‘air conditioning.’ Think about it . . . Heating a big tall building to make it comfortable is easy. In contrast, cooling that same building is not so easy — especially in the post Civil War and 1890-1920 time frame. Now, the development of commercially viable air conditioners in the 1920-30’s was an expensive luxury. Then the WW2 years and rationing, and voilá — [only] modest growth of ‘big city’ until the late 1940’s and 1950’s. So when did Houston really start to grow? Yup, you guessed it: post WW2 and the 1950’s, when most middle class people could afford air conditioning in their homes and businesses. So if you want cool ‘old’ pre-war buildings, go north and east towards cooler weather. But if you want a modern or post-modern or even contemporary building, just look at Houston, or Atlanta, or Los Angeles, or Las Vegas. (And thank Mr. Carrier for his invention of air conditioning as we know it.)” [In the Doghouse, commenting on A Brief History of Houston’s Future Historic Preservation CultureIllustration: Lulu

10/19/16 5:24pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: YOU CAN LOVE THE BAY YOU’RE WITH AND STILL HARBOR SHIP CHANNEL FANTASIES Bayou illustration“I know that Galveston Bay is the economic engine of the Houston area, but it’s fun to ponder what 42 prime bayside acres could be other than a barge staging area, or what the bay woulda/coulda been had oil not been discovered nearby. Coulda been San Francisco, got Can Cerisco.” [JoeDirt, commenting on Kirby To Lease New Ship Channel Barge Parking Area, Pay for Barge Collision Oil Spill] Illustration: Lulu

09/28/16 1:30pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: SAVE-THE-DOME SAGA’S PARKING GARAGE ENDING LEAVES ROOM FOR A SEQUEL astrodome“I think people are missing the larger view here. Of course there is plenty of current surface parking — but putting parking beneath the Dome begins to open up the possibility of densification on this site and on the old Astroworld site. This is the first, and necessary, step in transforming this entire area. I am betting that in 20 years or so this site will barely resemble the vast wasteland of parking lots and open space that it is today.” [SH, commenting on County Approves First $10.5 Million for Astrodome Basement Parking Garage Plan] Photo: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool

09/22/16 3:30pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: DON’T ACT SO SURPRISED WHEN YOUR OUTER LOOPS GROW UP AND TAKE YOUR JOBS Trains to Office Buildings“I can understand the desire to keep jobs Downtown, as our freeway infrastructure was always designed for funneling traffic to Downtown but not through it (which has definitely backfired on us in recent times). Same for those toy trains we’ve just spent a fortune on for the past decade — the more jobs located downtown, the better the chance of seeing population gains and redevelopment in the surrounding areas as well. However, none of this is reason enough to double down on generation-old infrastructure . . . [and] really, Shell’s offices are nowhere near the ‘burbs of Katy. It’s in one of the largest office markets in the entire city that has been around for a long time now.” [joel, commenting on Shell’s Downtown Operations To Shed Offices, Scurry Over To Larger West Houston CampusesIllustration: Lulu

09/19/16 3:45pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW HOUSTON’S PARK(ING) PROPONENTS SHOULD TAKE IT TO THE STREETS Park(ing) Day 2016, 500 McKinney St., Downtown, Houston, 77002“While I understand, generally, the sentiment behind this initiative, I think in Houston it may be a little misguided. If we want a more walkable environment, with fewer buildings set back behind parking lots, we actually need more on-street parking spaces (to both accommodate business patrons arriving by car and help buffer pedestrians on the sidewalk), and fewer off-street ones.” [LocalPlanner, commenting on The SUV-Sized Parks Parked By City Hall Will Expire in About An HourPhoto of Park(ing) Day: Allyn West

09/02/16 2:45pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW HOUSTON LEARNED IT’S NOT FLOOR COUNT, IT’S HOW YOU USE IT Missing Skyscraper“Competing for the tallest building is the civilizational equivalent of comparing certain body part sizes. Houston may have been ‘robbed‘ of it back when it was a headstrong teenager, but with maturity comes the realization that it’s really not necessary to spend ridiculous amounts of money just to have the tallest, shiniest building on the block.” [meh, commenting on ExxonMobil Backs Off Property Tax Dispute; Fiesta Wayside’s New Look]

08/31/16 5:15pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: FLUSHING OUT CONTRIBUTORS TO HOUSTON’S UNEQUAL SEWAGE DISTRIBUTION Toilet on the Job“Resources should be allocated based on ‘worst first’. It’s very likely that areas of wealth are also areas of redevelopment and thus, improvement — whereas poorer areas are stagnant and don’t get the same type of improvement because there is no investment out there. I know when I’ve tried to invest in a rough area, the city shit on my face. So I’ve backed down quite a bit. My guess is that people smarter than me stopped well before I did.” [Cody, commenting on Houston’s Poor and Minority Neighborhoods Literally Deal with More Shit, City Data Shows] Illustration: Lulu