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):

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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

08/24/16 4:15pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW TO EASE HOUSTON INTO THE ZONING ZONE Illustration of Master Planners“Another example of the city’s zoning-style regulations that have been built up over the last 20 years or so. They couldn’t get people to vote for zoning, so they are building a zoning apparatus slowly and in small pieces.” [Anonymous, commenting on The Setback Setbacks at 1403 McGowen St.Illustration: Lulu

08/11/16 11:30am

GOOGLE’S MAP OF HOUSTON’S INTERESTING PLACES Google Maps Areas of Interest ScreenshotThe light smudges of orange seen here are some of Google Maps’ latest updates to its slow digital document-everything push: highlighted areas of interest, based on density of retail and dining options. A glance around the new map, which rolled out late last month, reveals a fair amount of orange shading in strips and spots from Downtown west toward the Galleria and out along the Westheimer corridor, with bits of color appearing around Heights hotspots and the Rice Village area, among others. The areas east and north of the city’s center, however, are notably barren by Google’s accounting; Kyle Shelton writes that “This doesn’t, of course, mean that no activity occurs. It means the algorithm Google used did not register the form of activity that predominates there: more isolated shops and businesses spread among homes, along roadways or next to larger industrial tracts. What are the consequences of Google Maps, a visible, popular product showing that no areas of interest exist in these areas? How might that designation affect the bottom lines of businesses not within a hub?” [Urban Edge via Houston Chronicle] Map of Houston Areas of Interest: Google Maps

08/10/16 3:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE SECRET INGREDIENTS IN ANY GOOD BEDROOM COMMUNITY RECIPE Illustration of Soggy Burger“The idea that The Woodlands is a mecca because of some secret sauce is absurd. Places like that can only exist in the vicinity of a larger city. The Woodlands has maintained itself as a high-end housing community, which is of course an achievement that took careful planning, but it’s entirely unsustainable without nearby cities to absorb the lower service economy sector/poorer individuals that any city needs and will have regardless. A similar point can be made about West U, which recently made some list about wealthy cities.” [MrEction, commenting on Avoiding the Lonely Drive to Work; Houston Olympics Speculation] Illustration: Lulu

08/09/16 5:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WATCHING FOR SIGNS OF A 380 TURN FROM TURNER Illustration of Master Planners“Mayor Parker threw a lot of candy to developers in the form of 380 agreements and the massive downtown residential housing initiative. No new 380 agreements have come up before council since Mayor Turner took office. If big new projects like the Halliburton site or Tarkett site do not get 380 agreements, it will be pretty clear that there has been a big shift in power in the Mayor’s office away from developers.” [Old School, commenting on Houston Housing Authority Authority Resigns In Wake of Briargrove Mixed-Income KerfuffleIllustration: Lulu

08/08/16 5:15pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE MORE HOUSTON CHANGES, THE MORE IT STAYS THE SAME Sand City“The problem is that Houston is in a constant state of flux. The Houston you know at 20 is unrecognizable at 50, no matter what year you were born. There is no classically recognizable Houston or Houstonian — the only thing most Houstonians share as a character trait is a mutual lack of interest in the past. When I wrote a novella about Houston, I made it ground zero of a global amnesia plague. Seemed appropriate.” [AMP, commenting on Novel Approaches to HoustonIllustration: Lulu

07/29/16 2:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: START SAVING WATER EARLY FOR LOWER FLOODING RETURNS Saving Water “Like I said before, the real solution is engineering and good land cover practices upstream. By the time the flow gets to [the Bay], there is no real answer. Just like your child and your 401k, the earlier in the life cycle you contribute, the more impactful that contribution will be further down.” [Rex, commenting on Comment of the Day: All Houston Floodwater Backs Up in the Same DrainIllustration: Lulu

07/25/16 12:30pm

CROSS-COUNTY ACCOUNTING FOR THE HOUSTON FLOODING PUZZLE Katy Prairie Conservancy west Houston mapKim McGuire checks in on the local hardscape in Friday’s Chronicle, as part the latest piece in a series examining roots of the area’s chronic flooding habit. The Houston Area Research Council tells McGuire that roughly 337,000 out of 1.1 million acres of Harris county were covered by surfaces impervious to rainfall runoff as of 2011 (the most recent year of data); meanwhile, softer surrounding counties (including the ones hosting much of the much-reduced Katy Prairie) have been racing to catch up with much higher rates of added hard area. McGuire notes that while developers are generally required to add detention basins to projects that increase the rate of runoff from their land, this does not actually require them to “eliminate runoff from their projects.” Mark Mooney, an engineer for Montgomery County, also tells McGuire that despite the regulatory scrutiny on any individual project with respect to keeping a balance betweeen added runoff and added detention, its still “clear [that] the way water moves through our county has changed. It’s all part of a massive puzzle everyone is trying to sort out.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Map of Houston drainage and current/historic Katy Prairie extent: Katy Prairie Conservancy