Zero Tolerance for the New Buffalo Bayou Bridge

A number of readers have been asking what’s up with the new construction office set up on the former site of the Robinson’s Warehouse at the southeast corner of Montrose and Allen Parkway. The Aga Khan Foundation bought the low-lying property in 2006 with plans to build another of its Ismaili Centers on it — featuring lecture, conference, and recital facilities, a prayer hall and a social hall, and offices and gardens. Is that building ready to go up?

It doesn’t look like it. In the meantime, the construction office was parked on the property for a different project entirely, across the street: The new Rosemont Bridge, meant to connect the north and south sides of Buffalo Bayou Park. When Mayor White first announced the bridge project in late 2008, it had a different name and a different design. Called Tolerance Bridge, it a featured Moebius-strip-like superstructure that was meant to appear impassable from a distance:


The bridge’s name and design didn’t meet much public acceptance, however. Construction began last month on a simpler version, designed by landscape architecture firm SWA:

Here’s a site plan, rotated so north is up. The construction trailer is just below Allen Parkway, at the bottom:

Photo: Charles Kuffner. Site plan and section drawings: SWA Group.

73 Comment

  • The artwork will not be a part of the bridge according to my friends involved with TIRZ #5 (they are paying for the bridge).

    There will be an art installation on the ground near it. I don’t know if it’ll be the same piece.

    The site plan is very much toned down from the original one. Originally the bridge was going to go from the northern terminus to a point south of Allen Parkway with a side shoot to go to the south bank of Buffalo Bayou. They toned it back a lot. It’s still better than growing number of people walking on the sidewalk on the Studemont Bridge.

  • this has got to be a scam. That robinson warehouse property was sold in 2006 and has sat empty without taxes paid to the city for 4 years now. I know a for profit buyer would have to pay accrued taxes but i think these “non profits” get a free option on land that costs all of us.

  • If I was a member of that religion, I’d want a site less conspicuous, so as not to attract the redneck haters.

  • Like Katy? Right, cause all the Rednecks live in and around Montrose.

  • And the bridge plan really screws with the Houston skyline. IMO.

  • The crappy artwork over the bridge not being installed will help.

    Since so many people hated it, TIRZ #5 removed it from the design.

  • Glad to see there will be a new way to cross the bayou and avoid the three foot “sidewalk” on the shoulder of the Montrose bridge. I saw concrete going down this morning in front of the Legacy so I guess they’re making progress. Why the name Rosemont?

  • The bridge as it is now looks pretty low profile. And it’s a religious organization, they don’t pay taxes, do they? I’m not sure I get your point JPSivco. Have you voiced this same complaint for the new Catholic cathedral downtown?

  • So, is this part of the construction they are doing on the westbound side of Memorial between Sawyer & Waugh?

  • So…wait a minute. If I’m coming from Washington Ave and want to hit the north side of the bayou, I should be able just to cross Memorial then hop off.

    Instead it looks like I have to cross Memorial, cross the bayou, turn around recross the bayou then hop off. While the distance covered is not a big deal, my concern is the large number of folks that will be using this bridge will create extra congestion, especially around that turning point, and especially with all the cyclists that will no doubt be bottlenecking on this wishbone corner.

  • EMME! i like it. at least they followed through and built the God damn cathedral. my point is there are non profits that are land speculating and not required to pay taxes. this corner seems to be one of them. there is still a giant lot in midtown that says “future home of the Houston Fire Museum coming Summer 2006” -i bet it is apartments one day. and countless industrial parcels along beltway 8 that have “Future Home of Our Church” on them. AD players bought their galleria property in 2003. no Shakesperean soliliquies in the 5000 block of westheimer 7 years later!!

  • i really wish they could have added an offshot over Allen Parkway.

    I have to agree with JPS on the Aga Khan Foundation. It looks like they are land speculating.

  • The offshoot was part of the original plan, but they need agreements with land owners on the south side of Allen Pkwy to build the ramps down to the sidewalk.

  • Ironically I suggested that Whole Foods take over the old Robinson Warehouse as a store and redevelop the rest of the land running to West Dallas. Sadly warehouse is gone, and now the Whole Foods that would serve “greater Montrose” is going elsewhere – for shame

  • Eric, the proposed location of the ‘greater Montrose’ Whole Foods will only be .5 from your original ironically suggested location.

    I’m bummed that the new location will screw up (with new left turn congestion)my last alternate route home.

  • Maybe Rosemont is Montrose, backwards, which would explain the extra roundabouts.

  • A Simpler bridge? More like dumbed-down and cheap. That about sums up the state of Houston development and infrastructure design these days.

    Meanwhile Dallas builds a state of the art performing art complex with buildings designed by world-class architects and will soon start construction a bridge by Calatrava. All of which have already brought $millions worth of media exposure for Dallas and will bring $millions in tourism for years to come. Houston “leaders” just don’t understand how this concept works.

    Making design decisions by committee and/or based on public opinion is always a recipe for mediocrity, especially on public projects.

  • I can shed some light on the name – one of the original residential subdivisions in the area is named Rosemont Heights. Unfortunately, few traces remain. Most of the original housing stock was destroyed or severely damaged in 1953 when a fire at the nearby Alco Fireworks factory resulted in a massive explosion.

  • John, let me get this straight. A bridge over the Trinity River is going to bring tourism to Dallas? You’ve gotta be smoking crack.
    JPSivco, if Aga Khan is land speculating then they haven’t done a very good job of it. Had a developer experienced the curse of the high bidder, we’d have already had apartments by now and they’d have probably cashed out (barely), passing it along to some ill-fated teachers’ pension fund. As it stands, Aga Khan may have sacrificed so much equity in the deal that the only thing that they can reasonably pull off is a temple; it’s not like they were going to need ANOTHER federal write-off anytime soon.

  • I’m usually as cynical as the next man but I think the Fire Museum really were hoping to develop that parcel. They even commisioned a statue to stand out in front of the new building.

    Of course whether they can actually raise the funds for the project in the current climate is another thing altogether.

  • This is pretty awesome, but it would’ve been 10X better if the City had retained ownership of the old RR grade (which is now part of the Legacy Memorial property) so that this bridge could be part of a continuous bike trail from the Bayou to Washington.

  • “Called Tolerance Bridge, it a featured Moebius-strip-like superstructure that was meant to appear impassable from a distance… “

    Is there anything worse than contemporary public art? Not much in my book… and the earlier version of this pedestrian bridge has all the bell and whistles associated with crap masquerading as high concept. Seriously, the “moebius-strip” concept looks like it would have been a delight for skate boarders with a higher than average death wish but at the end of the day this concept is inelegant and akin to the faux-steel truss bridges crossing 59 — festooned with their post-modern trailer hitches.

    There’s much to be said about simple, clean design with form and function in harmony… but attempts to bring art into the picture – in this case the former bridge design – is woefully misdirected. When will Houston attend finishing school and amp up at least some degree of sophistication?

    I’m w-a-i-t-i-n-g…

  • I liked the look of the bridge, but didn’t care for the name of it. Many in Paris hated the Eiffel Tower when it was built, now it is loved. Many in Barcelona hated Gaudi’s work, now people come in droves to La Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell. Whether you like the bridge or not is almost irrelevant at this point. Art is intended to bring out conversation, thought, and debate among people so in that regard: mission accomplished.

  • “From TheNiche:

    John, let me get this straight. A bridge over the Trinity River is going to bring tourism to Dallas? You’ve gotta be smoking crack.”

    No, smartass, not a “bridge”, a Calatrava Bridge. If you knew squat about the subject matter, you’d know what affect Calatrava’s projects have had on tourism in the cities and towns where they have been built; you’d understand why they’ve been trying for more than a decade to at least one of the proposed three bridges built. Try educating yourself before spouting off your latest clever insult. It’s boring.

  • Niche, furthermore, are you really that daft? Have you never heard of the Brooklyn Bridge, Golden Gate Bridge, London Bridge (Tower of London), and dozens more like them? Ask NY, SFO, and London whether or not those bridges have had anything to do with tourism? Search the internet for “Calatrava Bridges” and maybe you’ll get a clue – no crack needed.

  • Calatrava Bridge?!

    Really? An overrated architect pushing second rate designs that a few political elite waste millions of tax payer dollars. I guess Dallas is saying their architecture and art community is a load of crap! They have to outsource to an overpaid architect pushing THE EXACT SAME DESIGN CONCEPT OVER AN OVER AGAIN FOR THE LAST 15 YEARS!

    Dallas and Houston are pretty much broke right now. Dallas seems to think gambling on a bridge and a catch-up project for performing arts will save them. Houston isn’t wasting money on projects like this because philanthropist and local companies do it for the taxpayers (the way art should be supported). The Houston Ballet is building their new practice facilities on donation money just like the rest of our performance art venues. Considering we are only second to New York City in the U.S. in seating capacity for performance art, we are doing pretty damn good. Add on top of this that the energy companies are positioned very well, the arts will continue to received the support they need.

    I’m quite proud that our city isn’t wasting money on projects the Dallas will. Houston doesn’t want or need to be pretentious and push a name of an architect that has been successful in swindling political elites out of taxpayer dollars over and over again. Calatrava’s name has gone down in much of the architecture community and Dallas getting one now says they are playing the “me too” card.

  • John, ease up. You do not want to blow a gasket so early in the morning. Back to the point made by TheNiche. Would one bridge in Dallas, however unique the design, significantly increase tourism?

  • kjb434,

    Take a chill pill already. Did Calatrava turn you down for a job offer or something?

    Among much other garbage, you wrote “They have to outsource to an overpaid architect pushing THE EXACT SAME DESIGN CONCEPT OVER AN OVER AGAIN FOR THE LAST 15 YEARS!”

    Your line of thinking is exactly why Houston and especially Harris County builds so much crap; the idea that you MUST hire local architects and engineers or else you’ll hurt their feelings or they’ll stop pouring money into your political campaigns. It is a disgrace. If the locals can’t compete with the big boys, too bad.

    The best public projects around the world are designed by the best architects, usually through design competitions. It’s a shame that the Houston A/E industry is so afraid of competing.

  • John, I think it’s possible that there will be tourism dollars generated by this bridge, but it’s not a given, no matter how famous this architect is. It’s a long shot. Out of all of Caltrava’s projects, how many are actually well known outside of the architectural community or the city where the project resides? I would say only a few. Some Dallasites may brag about it, but I don’t see it bringing in droves.
    The other examples you gave are in cities that are already tourist destinations. The Eiffel Tower never would have become a tourist attraction if it had been placed in Des Moines or Leeds or Yekaterinberg.

    And other places are historic. I find archaeological sites like the medieval city of Ani, or even a hill of dirt like Cahokia Mounds to be more interesting than some bridge that was designed 5 years ago by some guy who is in vogue at the moment.

    The Brooklyn Bridge was a massive project for its time and helped spur the development of NYC itself. The Dallas project won’t do that. The Tower of London is where people were imprisoned and beheaded. One can only hope that no one will suffer these fates over the waters of the Trinity River.

  • eiioi, You could be right about Dallas. The design is not one of Calatrava’s best, in part because too many people are involved in the decision making. It could wind up being nothing more than the type of utilitarian dreck we usually get from TxDot.
    I disagree about the Eiffel Tower. It would be a sensation anywhere. It’s existence in Paris is part of what drove Paris’ tourism business in the first place. People HAD to see it.
    Of course the Brooklyn and Golden Gate bridges were not built (nor should any bridge be built) solely as tourist attractions, but have you ever been to them? Both are overrun with tourists 365 days a year, even though in both NY and SFO, there are an almost infinite number of other things for tourists to do. Why do millions spend time and money just to see, walk, bike, or drive across these bridges? I’d argue it’s because even decades or a century after being built, they are still examples of extraordinary design, engineering, commitment, sacrifice, and they are beautiful, majestic, and awe-inspiring – even though they are just bridges. Public infrastructure can occasionally be all those things, except apparently in Houston and Harris County.
    The last structure we created that was similar was the Astrodome, and of course we’ve let it rot away. Many are too glued to the present to know better, but when the Dome was built, it was a major tourist attraction. People came just to see it, and if they were in town for other purposes they made extra effort to see it. What’s wrong with that?
    I think it’s sad that Houstonians now are far to willing too settle for the least that we can do. So, at least we’ll have a bridge over Allen Parkway and Memorial Yippee!

  • The sight of that ugly giant apartment complex in the background gives me the shivers. I lived there for 2 years. For 2k a month, you get an apartment whose walls, floors and ceilings are so thin, you can hear your neighbor’s roaches mating.

  • The Astrodome was a marvel at its time, but now it is just a marker in time for an achievement that has been surpassed.

    The Golden Gate and Brooklyn Bridge have staying power because they represent infrastructure that also provide a critical public service and can’t be easily replaced.

    The Astrodome can and has been easily replaced by newer facilities that perform the original function much better. Add to the fact that the awesomeness of the dome was clipped by other facilities such as the Louisiana Superdome.

    If we are talking about bridges, Houston really doesn’t have any location for a signature bridge other than on the east side of town. Loop 610 could be rebuilt to be a signature bridge. To many in the engineering community, the old bridge is a signature cantilever design and is quite unique. The far east side of town has the Fred Hartman bridge which is a magnificent structure and is really the only “designer” bridge in the state.

    The only reason Dallas has a place for a bridge is because the Army Corps built the Trinity River Floodway which pretty much set a large strip on each side of the river off limits to development other than long viaducts for roads. If that project never existed, Dallas wouldn’t have room for a signature crossing today.

    A signature architecture piece in Houston near downtown will not be primary reason tourist show up. What else in downtown is there for tourist to go other than performing arts or events at Minutemaid, or Toyota center. Much of the activity in downtown and along Buffalo Bayou are for locals to enjoy. I much prefer that Houston leaders within the city and in private push projects that benefit locals before pushing for tourist.

    Discovery Green represents a great place for local and convention goers. Not a tourist spot. The parks along Buffalo Bayou from UofH Downtown to Shepherd are great for locals to enjoy. The sport facilities are great for locals to enjoy. The Museum district represents a great place for people from all over the regions to visit. I much rather the focus be on these places.

  • John,
    I don’t think it’s necessarily the design that will be the limiting factor to its success. It’s that it’s not unique and it’s also in Dallas.
    What’s wrong with Dallas? Well, we can complain about their city government or any number of small things, but basically Dallas is alright. And so is Houston. But nobody else in the world seems to think so. Therefore, it won’t become a tourist attraction for outside visitors. A bridge or monument can have an additive effect to a city that’s already been dubbed a “tourist attraction”, but it won’t create any tourism alone.
    Regarding the Eiffel Tower, let’s say an equivalent to the CN Tower were placed in Surgut, Russia. Would you go? Would a lot of people go? I don’t think so. Be honest, have you ever even contemplated a trip to the KVLY-TV mast in North Dakota?

    A city generally needs to be an attraction already before a piece of architecture with no historical significance attracts visitors. Unless of course, it’s a floating building or some other technological marvel. The Astrodome was somewhat amazing because it was the first dome, had A/C, had its own “grass”, etc, but after the first couple years, people went there primarily to see a sporting event, not to look at the architecture.

    I would say that the Fred Hartman bridge in Baytown is probably the best in Texas, but I would be shocked if it got any more than 10 people per day driving over the bridge just to catch a glimpse.

  • Apparently kjb434 and I are thinking on the same wavelength … about the Fred Hartman Bridge.

  • Actually, the Menil, Rothko Chapel, and University of St. Thomas constitute a district with significant architecture by noteworthy architects that serves as a destination for out of town visitors – well at least those out of town visitors who have a greater appreciation for culture than do some of the denizens of this message board ;-)

  • @eiioi

    “A city generally needs to be an attraction already before a piece of architecture with no historical significance attracts visitors. ”

    The city of Bilbao was not on anyone’s list of tourist destinations until the Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim was built. There are plenty of other sites around the world that attract those with an interest in landscape, architecture, etc, without regard to whether the destination was already a tourist destination.

  • “From kjb434:

    The Astrodome was a marvel at its time, but now it is just a marker in time for an achievement that has been surpassed.”
    So was the Roman Colosseum, the Eiffel Tower, and hell, even the Pyramids and the Acropolis. Leave it up to people who think like you, they’d all be gone. I’m guessing you think it’s great that Penn Station was demolished too, and you’re chomping at the bit for a concrete box to replace the Alabama and River Oaks theaters.
    Just for the record, the MinuteMaid is a joke. Are we the only city in the world that would eliminate the possibility of actually having trains at its Union Station to get people to and from the ballpark, while at the same time planning a metro rail system??? But, hey the renovated Union Station building makes a great lobby – no need for silly tracks.
    Toyota Center is another design embarrassment. For that much money we should have an arena that does not look like a shopping mall. And while we’re at it, Reliant Stadium is full of wonderful amenities, but as a building it’s pathetic. Once again, Dallas did it right – not using 19thC engineering practices to support the roof, what a concept.
    BTW, don’t get the wrong idea, I’m no fan of Dallas. I was born and raised in Houston, so contempt for Dallas comes with the birth certificate. J/K. I am passionate about Houston and bemoan the fact that for the last 20 plus years, we continue to settle for less, the least, and the cheapest way out when it comes to public projects. These projects will be with us for generations and they should be the best that they can be – even a ped/bike bridge over the bayou.

    Agreed, the Hartman Bridge is awesome. I’ve driven way the hell out there just to drive over it more than once, and so have many people that I know – some of them tourists.

  • Mies, right on!

    Tens of thousands of people go to SW France just to drive over the new Millau Viaduct or just to see it. There is nothing else there. It’s on my short list.

  • I walked around the area last weekend. And several of us are aware of and appreciate Houston’s bridges and architectural features. It’s not the people on the message board who don’t appreciate Houston: it’s most out of town visitors.

    But appreciation is not the same as spending tourist dollars here. I won’t beg them to come to the city to see how cool it is, or fool myself into thinking that a bridge will bring lots of out of town visitors either.

  • John,

    Then I ask you: What do you want to build in Houston that will generate massive tourist counts?

    I’m not talking about something that’ll appeal to a few architecture, art, and engineering design lovers. Something that will actually attract people to Houston

    Comparing the Astrodome to Colosseum is a stretch. The Eiffel tower was completely dismantled for a few years and eventually rebuilt later. Union Station here in Houston has been out of service for years when MinuteMaid park was built. If the park was built, it would have likely been dismantled. Amtrak doesn’t serve enough customers for a fancy rail station that is not convenient to its line. The Union Station location is also out of line with any commuter rail lines. It’s current use as the office for the Astros, a party facilities, and a grand entrance to the ballpark is a fitting place for it in the Americana memory.

    The Intermodal Station ultimately planned just north of Downtown will converge Amtrak, Greyhound, Commuter Rail, Light Rail, and buses to one point. The plan is to build a massive station that serves all these. Initially it’ll be a small station just to be a transit center. The ultimate plan will make it a big focal point on north of Downtown that can bee seen from the freeways, bike paths, and eventually linear parks along White Oak Bayou.

    Referencing Bilboa, Spain is a stretch. The museum is a small component to that town’s massive redevelopment along the riverfront to compete against other vacation towns in northern Spain and Western France. It was an add on. Bilboa was already a big tourist destination. It’s name was just elevated a little further, but since has faded back to where it was before in the tourism draw.

  • kjb434,

    “The Union Station location is also out of line with any commuter rail lines”
    There are no lines yet, thanks in large part to Harris County and GOP politicians.
    Your explanations regarding Union Station imply that there were no choices in the matter. Where the rail lines will be built/could be built are all choices. The powers that be at the time were (and some still are) adamantly opposed to rail in any form. “Highways or No ways” There were many proposals at the time to “plan” to incorporate future rail into the ballpark’s plans. Despite your view, this certainly could have been accomplished. There was nothing but parking lots on that side of town at the time, anything was possible.
    Now that an expanded convention center, new hotels, new office buildings, new highrise residential,Discovery Green, and soon a new soccer stadium will all be within blocks of Union Station, the mistake of not incorporating rail into the site is even more apparent.
    Let’s see people from all over the region could have taken trains directly to these venues. Conventioneers (and the dreaded tourists) could have taken trains directly from the airport to these venues. How horrible!
    It all about choices and vision, my friend.

  • @kjb

    “Referencing Bilboa, Spain is a stretch. The museum is a small component to that town’s massive redevelopment along the riverfront to compete against other vacation towns in northern Spain and Western France. It was an add on. Bilboa was already a big tourist destination. It’s name was just elevated a little further.”
    Once again, you seem to be just making crap up…

    Here is a link regarding the major impact of the Bilbao Guggenheim…


    Could anyone else see this link? Why don’t you tell us the excerpts?

  • I love reading this stuff because you have a few know it alls that spew so much garbage that it is funnier than watching “Modern Family”. Kjb34 you really should refrain from trotting out your Dallas note cards because you never quite know what you are talking about. The newly opened Performing Arts Center was built with private and public funds and had been in the works for 10 plus years and the bridges are the same. One of the bridges was to be re-built anyway and private donations will cover the cost difference. The other two bridges are unfunded. I had to laugh at your remark that if the Army Corp had not built the Trinity River levees, there would be no need for a bridge or whatever you said. Well if Houston didn’t have a Ship Channel there would be no reason for the Hartmann Bridge either. The broader point is that Dallasites and their leaders support a bigger vision than their counterparts in Houston and they are willing to put their money where their mouth is.


    “Two other Ismaili Centres, in various stages of development, are currently being established in Toronto and Houston.”

    The only speculating is with regard to the plans and when the groundbreaking will occur. More than likely it will take its place among the architectural treasures of Houston. And might be the most spectacular.

  • john, not sure why you are so angry about houstonians not loving Calatrava. in any event, you aren’t helping your argument by claiming dallas is sooooo much better than houston. you have either never lived up there, or live in the deep suburbs here.

  • John, the Union Station site by Minute Maid would’ve made an iffy commuter rail hub for two reasons:

    First, it’s a stub terminal. That means all the trains have to reverse in, reverse out. This means you can’t do through running, and it also necessitates complicated switchwork at the throat (see LAUPT or any of the Chicago terminals for an example).

    Second, it’s on the EAST side of town, which means that most of the commuter rail lines would have had to backtrack *all the way around downtown* before letting people off, adding perhaps 5-8 minutes each way. Note that if we do build rail to Galveston, it would be fairly simple to put a station near Texas/Nagle, which is within walking distance of the Dynamo Stadium and the stadium formerly known as Enron Field.

    I don’t think the NIT is the best location for a train terminal – see this post – but between the NIT and Union Station the NIT is the better bet.

  • eiioi,

    Sorry if the link got garbled along the way.
    If you google ‘yaleglobal guggenheim bilbao’ you should find it.

    As for the contents,it refutes everything being said by kjb. The following is a brief snippet…
    They call it the “Guggenheim effect”: the power of a well known brand and spectacular architecture to give a moribund city such as Bilbao a new lease of life.
    Bilbao’s economic renaissance, following the opening of the Guggenheim Modern Art Museum in late 1997, has been so dramatic that it has become a case study for the regeneration of other centres struggling with dying industries and inner-city blight.
    In only three years almost 4m tourists have come to visit the titanium-clad masterpiece of the architect Frank Gehry, helping to generate about E500m ($455m) in economic activity. The regional council estimates that the money visitors have spent on hotels, restaurants, shops and transport have allowed it to collect E100m in taxes, which has more than paid for the E84m investment in bringing the Guggenheim to this northern Basque city.

  • Mies,

    Check this article from Forbes written after the Yale article. The last paragraph is interesting:

    “Despite attempts to emulate the “Bilbao effect” elsewhere in the world, very few new museums or galleries outside capital cities have succeeded in getting so many visitors. Gehry’s architecture and the Guggenheim’s art have proved an irresistible combination.”

    Essentially saying that the Bilbao Effect more the exception than the rule.

  • Mies, I’ve heard that it’s helped tourism, and I’ll assume for the moment that everything in that snippet is 100% correct.
    Now imagine that many cities try to have a similar Guggenheim museum. The larger cities in the region — Madrid, Paris, Milan, Rome — don’t want to lose their edge or some other chauvinistic argument and say we need something like that too. Nice, Barcelona, Marseilles, Bordeaux, Nantes, etc. are cities with not so many tourists, but the thinking might go something like this: “If Bilbao can do get more tourism that way, then we can do it too.”
    The Bilbao museum would no longer be unique and they would lose visitors. Plus, the tourism boost resulting from each additional museum in the other cities would be less and less.
    The example might seem a little extreme because they won’t ALL want to have a Guggenheim museum, but they the temptation to follow suit with a boilerplate idea – but all the while heralding the project’s uniqueness – is clearly there. Dallas is the example of that.

    Plus in Dallas, it’s a bridge, not a museum. There’s less to see for tourists and a bridge will never ever generate any direct tourism dollars unless it’s tolled.

  • “Essentially saying that the Bilbao Effect more the exception than the rule.”
    Exactly. There’s only a finite amount of tourism dollars. Not EVERY city can increase tourism into their city, especially by all building a fancy bridge.

  • eiioi, you and kjb434 should work for Harris County. Judging from your comments You both seem to have similar love for the status quo, and disdain for anything and anyone with vision that goes beyond the status quo. What a sad and pathetic world this would be if everyone had that attitude.

  • Have you guys ever heard of this place called Fort Worth? it’s got a museum cluster that draws people from around the world for the architecture and the art. In fact the Bilbao effect probably owes a lot to the precedent of Louis Kahn’s Kimbell museum.

  • John,

    I’m not against visionary thinking. I’m against absurd spending on playing catching up with the Jones because you always think the grass is greener on the other side.

    Houston has some top notch visionaries in various organizations that focus on what Houston does have: BAYOUS. The Buffalo Bayou Partnership (BBP) and Bayou Preservation Association (BPA) are just two big groups that focus on transitioning our bayous from just drainage features into real assets. Components of the Buffalo Bayou Masterplan are being accomplished in pieces.

    The County that you just ridiculed is leading the effort with the City of Houston to massively transform the area just north of downtown. They are focusing on creating a bypass channel for White Oak Bayou to greatly help flooding White Oak and in the downtown area from extreme events and with the project there be an extensive addition of trails and parks in the area. I just recently met with the city engineer and county officials regarding planning of this.

    This will tie into the the partnership of the Harris County Flood Control District and Army Corps of Engineers current federal project study of Buffalo Bayou/Lower White Oak Bayou. The bypass channel could be a federally reimbursable component that provide flood relief that the County and City can build upon to create a whole new area north of downtown. METRO is working with these groups to moving it’s bus facilities to allow the new channel to have a path to make the connection.

    Various developers from around the country have shown interest in piggy backing on the project to build mixed use developments that will provide new residential adjacent to downtown and also the expansion of UofH Downtown campus.

    This is no small project and the pieces are in the work. The timeline for a potential channel would be about 5-7 years away. The development would follow or be in tandem.

    This isn’t some concept plan, but actually movement to get this done.

  • Thanks to all that posted. I am enjoying the lively and informative dialog. Two comments/questions. eiioi,- I thought Nice, France was a big tourist town? John – ease up my man, no need to belittle someone just because they disagree with you. It is not personal, they just disagree.

  • kjb434,

    I’m well aware of the BBP and it’s projects. I give them money every year, have three friends on the board, and one of my best friend’s is one of their lead consultants. The County is NOT leading the effort. They are now heavily involved, years later, and that’s a good thing. I’m not sure what this has to do with the conversation.

  • Tourism aside, design of pedestrian bridges matters – it’s the combination of the quality of all the small and large projects that gives a city its character – and subsequently desirability – to live, visit, attract new corporate citizens.
    I just returned to Houston from a 5 year professional tour of duty in Hell – aka Dallas. That said, it is true that the public and private communities there DO put their money where their mouths are in regards to creating a liveable city where the design of civic projects large and small matters beyond value engineering.
    IMO the character of my beloved hometown Houston is average at best and in some serious need of public and private Texas “gumption” to kick us out of this civic rut.
    I am not a fan of the original design for the Buff Bayou ped bridge, but it is important that its design not be abandoned for low bid, low cost construction that adds nothing to the character of the 4th largest city in the country.
    Good enough is not good enough.

  • They are now.

    I would call the City Engineer a liar. The BPP’s role is conceptual planning. The County, HCFCD, and City are the ones that move a project of this magnitude. The concept has been on the drawing board from the first White Oak Bayou Federal study which is now finishing up construction (mostly upstream of Loop 610).

    The bypass channel looks to be a very good component for the current study base on what I’m seeing as a member of the Initial Stakeholder Group. We’ll likely to know a few months.

    The reason this is important is that this project would transform the areas immediately north of downtown.

    This is visionary thinking that benefits the residents first. I think that is way more important that going after tourist first.

  • Sorry Joe, Didn’t intend to offend. Don’t recall belittling anyone. My bad. I LOVE Houston, am passionate about it, and will fight against the sort of sustained mediocrity that has taken over major public policy the last decade.
    Too many people continue to think that this is some small town, instead of the huge metropolis that it actually has become. Policy makers continue to make decisions as if this was Mayberry. Nothing wrong with Mayberry, but Houston will grow to ten million people through the next generation and we need to be making decisions based on that reality.
    We are already decades behind on mass transit thanks to naysayers and I’d rather not see fall behind in other areas. Playing catchup only costs more.

  • Glad2bhome, I couldn’t agree more with you.

  • kjb434,

    We agree that the Bayou projects are very good things. What is your problem with tourism? Tourism is the one of the top 3 industries in the world. Why should Houston continue to be near the bottom of every list of great places to visit? Though every guests I’ve ever had come here, leaves loving Houston and generally being surprised and almost shocked at how great a city this is.
    Of course, these great civic projects in the city should benefit locals first, but if they are truly great they will benefit everyone including tourist. NY’s Central Park was not designed and built for tourists afterall, but look at it now.

  • Glad2bhome: Great post! (No 57)
    John: Per your apropos mention of Central Park, the River Walk is another example of a project that started with a conviction about civic improvement and turned into a major tourist attraction along the way.

  • “From NorhillJoe:
    Thanks to all that posted. I am enjoying the lively and informative dialog. Two comments/questions. eiioi,- I thought Nice, France was a big tourist town? John – ease up my man, no need to belittle someone just because they disagree with you. It is not personal, they just disagree.

    Then perhaps in my hypothetical, it should’ve been on the upper part of my list with Madrid or Paris (among places that are already well-visited)? Either way, clamoring to copy other cities because of an inferiority complex, a feeling of superiority, or whatever – and expecting the same results – is misguided.

  • Glad2bhome, it’s great to hear another Houstonian proud of their city. If you were to change “character” to “presentability”, I would agree. I think Houston, mostly because they don’t try too hard to follow the pack has a pretty unique character. Houston’s eclectic character is charming to me. Houston’s haphazardness (except if infrastructure or law enforcement is involved) is even attractive in a way.
    I, like you, think we can have a better looking pedestrian bridge than the one between T.C. Jester and Durham for the bayou, but I think most of the effort should go into safety (plus the appearance of safety), usability and connections to other trails and streets. That will help bring together neighborhoods and create outdoor spaces where people will congregate near where people live. THAT is what will benefit Houston the most.

  • I personally love Houston’s haphazard layout. It’s what gives the city character and makes it unique. But there has to be a middle ground somewhere. If one end of the spectrum is completely unplanned market oriented city and the other end is rigidly planned new urbanism, I wish we could meet somewhere in the middle.

    I think we need to realize that we are not laid out like NY, San Francisco, Chicago, etc. We don’t have an urban layout and that makes it hard for most outsiders and many Houstonians to truly “get” their city without some help.

    The city can help to preserve the character of our “semi-urban” city, by 1.improving infrastructure 2. Beautifying public spaces and 3. not passing ordinaces that encourage suburban style development. And yeah, maybe John is right. If you’re going a public project, take some pride in it.

  • eiioi,

    I’d like to think that we all understand that most all of us who post on this site are proud Houstonians; it’s why we are engaged in this site in the first place.
    I hope we don’t get into pissing matches about who is prouder. It’s silly, like conservatives claiming to be better patriots than liberals. Let’s avoid that please.
    What does seem to distinguish us is whether we think that Houston needs no improvement, can’t be better than it already is, and that criticism is somehow an indication of an inferiority complex to other cities VS. those who want Houston to be the best that it can be, who believe improvement is a never-ending process, and that criticism can help avoid the status quo and settling for the least, instead of expecting the best.
    When you write, “I think most of the effort should go into safety (plus the appearance of safety), usability and connections to other trails and streets.”, I see that we are miles apart on our approach to these issues.
    I think that being safe, usable, and connected are not even topics worthy of conversation because those issues should be a given, assumed, the least common denominator of any bridge project. I’m interested in what will make that bridge unique, special, and worthy of the millions of dollars that will be poured into it. This bridge will likely become the busiest pedestrian/bridge in the city. It will be a great spot for taking pictures of the skyline, watching fireworks, and will likely be used in some of the city’s many races and walks, as well as used by thousands of runners and bikers every week.
    Why shouldn’t it be special, very special? Why is it being safe, usable, and connected all that we should settle for in a city as great as Houston?

  • “I’d like to think that we all understand that most all of us who post on this site are proud Houstonians; it’s why we are engaged in this site in the first place.
    I hope we don’t get into pissing matches about who is prouder. It’s silly, like conservatives claiming to be better patriots than liberals. Let’s avoid that please.”
    Please don’t think that I was addressing you. When I do, I will say your name or quote what you said.

  • John said:
    “When you write, “I think most of the effort should go into safety (plus the appearance of safety), usability and connections to other trails and streets.”, I see that we are miles apart on our approach to these issues.”
    Are we really that far apart? I would hope not. They seem like good priorities to me.

    John said:
    I think that being safe, usable, and connected are not even topics worthy of conversation because those issues should be a given, assumed, the least common denominator of any bridge project. ”
    But in that statement, there seems to be an assumption that we’re just dealing with one single project at a time, and that if we need more funds, we just need to will them into existence.

    If you’re given $1 billion dollars to spend on transportation (all modes) projects in the Houston area, wouldn’t you first try to maximize safety and maximize the number of people moved to the place they want to travel? I think we would both agree that the answer is “Yes!” Let’s say that this $1 billion dollars bought you 10 transportation projects (assume they’re all the same size), and this includes a bit of tree planting, flowers, and some nice stone facades or whatever, totaling 5% of each project’s cost.

    If you now wanted to spend 30% of the project on artistic features with everything else remaining the same, you would now only have enough money for 8 projects. So somebody misses out on these 2 projects.

    If you were to lobby for a Calatrava, I’m sure it would not be just a 25% increase in cost either. The dollars spent on such a bridge in Houston, whether public or private, could not go to some other use like a road, a bike path, landscaping, a single-block park in Downtown, etc. We’d get a brand name bridge though. A certified Calatrava!

  • eiioi,

    Assuming that all 10 projects are the same, are of the same significance, of equal priority is not reality. The differences in priority, value, and significance are why some neighborhoods in Houston get brand new $7M libraries like the Looscan Branch and why others get $1M HPL Express branches like Gulfton.
    It’s NEVER about equality, but usually about demonstrated need, lots if politics, public support or outcry, and timing.
    To directly answer your question; I’d choose 8 outstanding projects over 10 mediocre ones every single time. These projects will be with us for generations, additional outstanding ones can always be built, but once they go up, good or bad, they are here for decades. (Unless it’s Market Square which is getting its third make-over in my memory)

  • This is an awesome thread! I’ve enjoyed every commenter.
    Let all things be beautiful & work perfectly.

  • The first planned bridge was, well, bizarre and the second planned bridge is, well, bland. And too close to the Montrose/Studemont Bridge. It really should have been closer in by the actual park areas and perhaps employed some better architectural features although nothing is better than the original something which was, again, bizarre.

    Personally I’m waiting for some class to finally arrive via the Islamic Centre. Hopefully the Aga Khan will go a little “ethnic” and we can have something truly magnificent and reflective of “Baghdad on the Bayou.” Maybe a little Moorish instead of a little borish which so far is what we seem to inevitably end up with along with the occasional bizarre.

  • Mies said: “They call it the “Guggenheim effect”: the power of a well known brand and spectacular architecture to give a moribund city such as Bilbao a new lease of life.”

    You think Houston is moribund? Really?

  • KHH – Re-read my post #48 a little more carefully. That was a quote from the Yale article.
    Matt – I agree that the original bridge design was horrible, and the new one is at best, functional. One aspect of the bridge’s location that hasn’t been discussed yet is that it provides a link to Spotts Park, on the north side of the bayou. Drove by it this weekend and can see where a path is being slotted in between the apartments/townhouses and Memorial Drive.