SCENIC UPPER TEXAS COASTAL SWAMPS, BEACHES, PLANTATIONS A LITTLE CLOSER TO GOING NATIONAL Jefferson County’s commissioners are the latest to give a formal thumbs up to a proposal for the Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area, which would bundle together a patchwork of parks, historical sites, and variously refinery adjacent nature preserves from the Bolivar peninsula down to Matagorda Bay. The concept for a regional rec zone was developed shortly after Hurricane Ike’s big splash on the Texas coast in 2008: researchers noticed that some of those larger patches of undeveloped wetlands helped buffer storm surge damage, and started looking at whether keeping them around could be profitable in other ways. No new land would be scooped up for inclusion in the 4-county zone, unless it were offered voluntarily — but the whole region would be marketed under the National Parks Service’s banner as a package to birdwatchers, beachgoers, Strand-walkers, and the like. The proposed area would still need some level of National Parks Service staff, and approval from Congress — which is currently considering major cuts to the Department of the Interior’s budget. [Beaumont Enterprise; Houston Chronicle] Map of proposed Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area: LSCNRA
HOW MANY DOWNTOWNS DOES HOUSTON HAVE? The list of Houston neighborhoods with potential to be mistaken for Downtown by outsiders, Blake Mathews of KHOU writes this week, is long, and includes at least “Uptown (Galleria), the Texas Medical Center, Greenspoint, Greenway Plaza, The Woodlands and perhaps even Westchase.” So what makes a Downtown? Mathews runs through some factors for consideration, ranging from the city’s population density center (which falls somewhere west of Downtown) to total office space (Uptown has less than downtown Houston, but more than downtown Denver) to building height (with a specific shoutout to the Williams Tower, pictured here.) [KHOU] Photo of Williams Tower: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool
HOUSTON PARKS BOARD RELEASES FLOCK OF BAYOU GREENWAY SIGHTSEEING SUGGESTIONS Not to be left out of the Super Bowl LI frenzy, the Houston Parks Board has been publishing weekly additions to what’s now a list of 51 “super” Bayou Greenways-accessible attractions — ranging in scope and scale from Buffalo Bayou Park to the Orange Show to a pair of nesting eagles somebody spotted near Greens Bayou. The list is broken up by watershed, with each bayou getting a separate map of sites along its existing or planned bike trails (though tour by kayak is also recommended in some places). Other entries on the list include the Watonga Blvd. bridge bat colony (on White Oak Bayou, south of Pinemont Dr., shown here), Parkwood Park in Riverside Terrance (off Brays Bayou and these days billed as Beyoncé’s childhood park), David Adickes’ Mount Rush Hour statue grouping in American Statesman Park (fringing the Downtown confluence tangle of I-10, I-45, and White Oak and Buffalo bayous), and NRG stadium itself, with a nod to the nearby Astrodome. [Houston Parks Board; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Watonga Blvd. bats: Houston Parks Board
STEERING CLEAR OF THE SUPER BOWL CROWDS, WHETHER THEY SHOW UP OR NOT Steve Jansen of the Houston Press runs through some numbers this week for the impending Super Bowl LI — many of which depend on the wide range of visitor estimates put forth by booster groups and analysts. The Super Bowl Host Committee claimed to expect over a million visitors back in 2014 (though that number appears to include local folks stopping by all of the week’s lead-up events); more recently, a consulting firm hired by the committee offered an estimate of 138,000 non-local visitors. Jansen writes that “there will certainly be fewer football fans in town since the Houston Texans and the Dallas Cowboys aren’t playing in the grand finale. But it doesn’t matter a heck of a lot, because the phenomenon of ‘the Super Bowl is awful, I’m getting the hell out of here’ — called the crowding-out effect in economic parlance — is going to happen no matter what . . .” [Houston Press; previously on Swamplot] Photo of George R. Brown Convention Center remodeling and Super Bowl signage: Jesus Jimenez via Swamplot Flickr Pool
The glossed-up scene above, which shows a pushing-its-limits White Oak Bayou flirting with the lower edge of the Height Hike and Bike Trail bridge, made an appearance in this month’s edition of Kia Ora, Air New Zealand’s in-flight magazine. A sky-high peruser on Reddit noticed the article, which is currently employing the flood photo to promote Houston and several other Texas cities as tourist destinations. The original source looks to be a Getty Images contributor who captioned the shot (along with another expansively aquatic view from 2015) as stock images of Downtown Houston in the rain. For comparison with the normal scenic view of Downtown’s northernmost freeway tangle, below is a recent shot of that trail construction near the Leonel Castillo Community Center, which caught the same angle and foliage (minus the high water, but plus some heavy equipment):
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Water Under the Bridge
This week’s SpaceCom expo at the prettied-up George R. Brown Convention Center included a preview of some more down-to-earth plans for the immediate neighborhood — including the NASA-themed drop tower Mars mission ride to be installed for Super Bowl visitors at Discovery Green across the street. The ride, called Future Flight, will include virtual reality goggles; the rest of the setup will include a chance to try out the goggles for people who like virtual reality but don’t want to take the plunge, as well as some exhibits of next-gen space hardware and some kid-geared activities.
The ride’ll be free — if you can get a spot. Chris Baldwin points out that about a million people are expected to show up at the pre-Super Bowl festival planned for the week before the game, but timeslots on the ride will be limited to a few thousand per day between January 28 and February 5 (and the details on how to get a spot aren’t out yet).
The burnt-orange scaffolding of the drop tower roughly matches the color scheme for the latest long-haul rocket setup NASA is working on:
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Free Free Falling Downtown
COMMENT OF THE DAY: TAKE IN THOSE SCENIC INDUSTRIAL HOUSTON SIGHTS JUST LIKE A LOCAL! “I’ve got a better business plan when it comes to views from the new Beltway 8 bridge: Since the new one is going to be a suspension bridge much like the Fred Hartman bridge, climbing it like the [Sydney] Harbor bridge will be out of the question. So here’s what I’ll do: For a fee, I’ll place a hole of strategic size in your back left tire. I’ll calculate the proper size in accordance to your vehicle make, number of passengers, and weight. You then take a leisurely drive up the bridge — and by the time you reach the apex of the bridge you will be forced to pull over as you can no longer drive on your flat back left tire. Then and only then will you have the glorious view of the Ship Channel that you crave as you wait for AAA. Remember, my fee will be very modest and you’ll be experiencing the REAL Houston bridge view experience that only we locals have been blessed with for years.” [DNAGuy, commenting on Houston Home Sales Bounce Back; Calling Brooke Smith as the Next Heights] Photo of Fred Hartman Bridge: Jackson Myers via Swamplot Flickr Pool
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW ASTRODOME DÉJÀ-VU COULD FUEL THE NEXT HOUSTON BOOM AND BUST “We shouldn’t have a [tourism] industry because it’s cyclical? Hello — oil industry? That’s the epitome of a cyclical industry. But I do agree with Memebag: Our climate absolutely sucks for an outdoor tourism industry, not to mention being the only city I’ve ever seen that had all the pollution of a deepwater port with none of the scenery. If only we had a gigantic, air conditioned space that could hold an amusement park . . .” [Chris C., commenting on Comment of the Day: Houston Is Not Here For Your Entertainment] Photo of 2007 carnival inside the Astrodome: Jeff Balke
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOUSTON IS NOT HERE FOR YOUR ENTERTAINMENT “I am glad that I do not live in a city where tourism is a focus. Tourism jobs tend to be low-wage/low-skill jobs. Tourism tends to be cyclical and creates a feast or famine phenomenon for local merchants and the local economy. We do not need that here. I prefer a city that focuses on real economic growth as well as quality of life issues like mobility, schools, parks and public safety. I do not want a bunch of lookie loos in my city. Come to live and work here, please, but go visit somewhere else.” [Jardineor1, commenting on Mayor Turner Wants a Theme Park in the Middle of Houston Again] Photo of 1967 model of Astroworld: Bill Davenport
COMMENT OF THE DAY: ELEVATING HOUSTON’S FREEWAYS TO GLOBAL MASCOT STATUS “If you want transit to be ‘Great for Tourism,’ then you’ve got to look at transit systems such as in NYC, London, and Tokyo that are not only exceptional but that serve as cultural iconography for the city. There has to be some showmanship. Houston’s METRO was never building a cultural icon, even if some people embraced it as such back in 2004 for lack of any sort of imagination otherwise. Ironically, I’ve given rides to the airport from international visitors from places as different as India and Australia, and they seem to really enjoy riding on the freeways, taking in the vast expanse of concrete and the tangle of overpasses and underpasses. Houston’s freeways are a spectacle! Houston’s freeways are cultural iconography!” [TheNiche, commenting on Feds: Unused Richmond Light-Rail Funding Offer Now Expired, Getting Thrown Out] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY: A WARM UNWELCOME TO HOUSTON TRAVELERS “Glad to see these improvements — I hope that one day the airport system will invest some money in making the terminal more appealing to those who arrive in Houston. Baggage claim sucks, and the exit into a dark, humid, and sometimes-overwhelmingly-filled-with-fumes parking garage is even worse. I have never flown into another airport anywhere that has created a less welcoming environment than Hobby, especially in a major US city.” [sjh, commenting on Checking In at Newly Upgraded (and Once-Again International) Hobby Airport] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HIP, TASTY, FUNKY, AND SAVVY HAVE LEFT THE BUILDING “I think any time you need words on a sign or mural to declare that your city is hip or creative, it’s likely that your city is in reality struggling to be hip and creative. It means your surroundings and culture don’t already innately project that image.” [notsohip, commenting on Some Initial Feedback on an Elevated West Loop Lane; Rebranding Houston] Photo: Swamplot inbox
COMMENT OF THE DAY: TOP HOUSTON PUNCH LINES “If an out-of-towner wanted to make fun of Houston, there are a multitude of easier targets than the Rothko Chapel. Just the drive in from the airport on I-45 will give any out-of-towner loads of risible material.” [Robert Boyd, commenting on Sniffing Out the Subtle Secrets of the Rothko Chapel] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WELCOME TO HOUSTON! WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE WHILE YOU’RE HERE? “Sorry, I think there is a big difference between ‘tourist’ and ‘visitor.’ ‘Tourist’ makes me think of someone on vacation, while ‘visitor’ as someone stopping by on his way to someplace else, or visiting for business and leaving ASAP. Who on earth would see Houston as a tourist destination?” [GlenW, commenting on Dumping Suburban Water Features; Houston’s Growing Tourism Haul] Illustration: Lulu
The campaign may include some ingredients that remind us of its predecessors — the new video reintroducing Houston to potential visitors, for example, features a rockin’ sound track from a New York band and lots of images of happy people enjoying mostly Inner Loop attractions — but make no mistake: This new branding effort from the Greater Houston Partnership is fundamentally different from the mostly goofy and un-self-aware “Houston’s Hot,” “My Houston,” “Space City,” “Expect the Unexpected,” and “Houston Proud” campaigns from other organizations that preceded it. “Houston: The City with No Limits,” a concept and campaign unveiled yesterday, centers on a catchy slogan that rings true, because it highlights an essential part of the city’s ever-expanding built landscape and our unquenchable urge to spread ourselves out.
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Facts on the Ground