10/26/18 5:15pm


Note: This story has been updated to indicate that City Council’s October 23 vote approved funding for previous work that was already completed on the plaza, not for future renovations.

This week Houston City Council voted to cut a check to workers that finished the first round of renovations on the plaza. The results of their work  — including new fencing, gates, and a terrace — clear the way for the second chapter of redos to begin. The video at top winds it way through round 2 of changes, showing off the new children’s reading area, stage, and outdoor seating bound for the 0.75-acre space between the Jesse H. Jones Building (AKA Central Library) and the Julia Ideson building directly east of it.

While 25-year naming rights are already locked down on the Phillips 66 Jumbo Video Screen (on the right in the rendering abvoe) and Janice and Robert C. McNair Performance Stage (left), the puppet theater depicted below is still in need of a namesake:


Downtown Redo
03/25/15 3:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE MIDTOWN SUPERBLOCK’S NOT SO SUPER FUTURE Diagram of Plans for Midtown Superblock, Anita, McGowen, Travis, and Main Streets, Houston“The site plan for this block, where the apartment complex stands like J.J. Watt blocking the retail from the park for which it should have been the activity generator, stands as a symbol of a city at a pivot point in its urbanization, where all the lessons it has learned the past ten years still can’t make up for the decades it snoozed in urban neglect and public space amnesia. Imagine if you took the George R. Brown and dropped it halfway across Discovery Green, splitting the park’s integral components and killing its interaction with surrounding elements — that is the Superblock in a nutshell. Midtown will still benefit from a central greenspace, and the little pocket park at the north end might turn out to be something nice. But however modestly successful this becomes will only be a painful reminder of what could have been.” [Mike, commenting on Can’t Get Enough Midtown Superblock? New Video Captures Every Puddle, Blade of Grass, Mud Patch] Site diagram: Lulu

07/17/14 4:00pm

THE WHOLE POINT OF THAT 45-MINUTE CROISSANT LINE AT COMMON BOND — AND OTHER STAND-INS FOR PUBLIC SPACE IN HOUSTON Line at Common Bond, 1706 Westheimer Rd. at Dunlavy, Montrose, HoustonStar baker and former b-baller Roy Shvartzapel explains the larger social purpose behind the fact that customers are having to wait in line for 45 minutes to buy croissants at his recently owned Common Bond bakery at Dunlavy and Westheimer: “I think there’s a value in that. Not for me, but particularly in a city like Houston that’s the ultra in non-pedestrian. We, on a scale from one to 10 in pedestrian life, are at a zero. We’re not even at a one. It’s the infrastructure. We cannot have, for example, a subway system. We’re just not designed that way. What we can have are places that allow people — whether it be in a line or in a tight space in a restaurant — where you’re not sitting far away in your little bubble. We’re already in our little bubbles whether it’s in a car or in a cube. When you’re in a line with a group of strangers, you never know who you might meet or break into conversation with.” [Eating Our Words; previously on Swamplot] Photo of line at Common Bond, 1706 Westheimer Rd.: Amber Z.

07/11/14 2:45pm

Parklet, 321 W. 19th St., Houston Heights

Parklet, 321 W. 19th St., Houston HeightsInspired by the outpourings of support issuing forth from Swamplot’s comments section for the city’s new smallest park ever, the folks behind the parklet on 19th St. have sent in a bunch of photos of the completed project outside a Heights mattress store — including the aerial drone’s-eye view above, which was taken shortly before Thursday’s inauguration ceremony attended by the mayor, a few city councilmembers, and a couple of boy-scout-uniformed salesmen from an adjacent shop who roasted s’mores for the occasion.

By Popular Demand
07/08/14 12:15pm

Parklet at 321 W. 19th St., Houston Heights

No, it’s a bit more than a sidewalk planter. That thing you’re looking at that’s sitting across from the New Living Bedroom store in the Heights is the city of Houston’s first-ever permitted parklet — or at least it will be after Thursday, when an official ceremony with the mayor and a couple of councilmembers in attendance inaugurates it officially as a tiny park. (A parklet was set up on Travis St. Downtown for a weekend last year, but the parking disruption was just a temporary thing.)

The “semi-permanent” green installation in front of 321 W. 19th St. measures a whopping 125 sq. ft., taking up a single street parking spot. Designed and built by some of the workers in the “Made at New Living” program run out of New Living and its Kirby Dr. storefront, the 19th St. installation is meant to be the first piece in a pilot parklet program promoted by the city.

Photo: New Living

Bedroom Community
11/11/13 3:15pm

A regular Swamplot reader has a question about the sidewalk on the south side of Cinco Ranch Blvd. as the street passes between retention ponds for the North Lake Village and South Lake Village neighborhoods, just west of Cinco Lakes Dr. (map here). “The sidewalk exists on the south side of the street block from Peek Rd. to Mason Rd. When it reaches the pond, the sidewalk moves to the inside of the fence and becomes private. The fence is between the street and the sidewalk.” What’s a pedestrian supposed to do when the only sidewalk moves into a gated area, and is marked as off limits? Asks the reader: “Can a pedestrian be cited as a trespasser? Note the North side of the street is a golf course with no sidewalk.”


10/15/13 10:00am

ORDINANCE OPENING CHECKBOOKS, NOT SPACES How much new parkland has the city acquired since 2007, when it passed the so-called open space ordinance meant to encourage residential developers to donate part of their properties to the public? “Not one acre,” reports the Houston Chronicle. Almost all the developers, reports Jayme Fraser, have “written checks” instead. But the city hasn’t spent the $11 million it has garnered in fees to buy land; much of it, rather, has gone to maintain and add amenities to the parks it already has: “Mark Ross, deputy director of parks development, said neighborhoods often want upgrades that can be easier to fund, such as . . . [a] playground and water fountains . . . . ‘Most of these might be considered minor improvements, but it’s what people appreciate the most,’ Ross said, pointing to 28 projects completed.” [Houston Chronicle ($)] Photo of Mason Park: Jose Luna

10/07/13 10:00am

Construction should begin by the end of October to transform a chopped-up industrial street in East Downtown into something like the pedestrian promenade rendered here. Anton Sinkewich, the director of the East Downtown Management District, explains that 5 blocks of Bastrop St., between Bell and McKinney, running near the Houston Food Truck Park and leading toward BBVA Compass Stadium on Walker, will be regraded. A pedestrian-only crushed granite path will be installed and dozens of trees planted. This first part of the project is modest, says Sinkewich, though there are plans in place to include more amenities if and when the ’hood continues to grow.


05/14/13 11:30am

This is what Hermann Park says it would like to look like when it turns 100 next year: This drawing of Centennial Gardens from Chicago landscape architecture firm Hoerr Schaudt shows the blossoming of the current 15-acre Garden Center that’s between the museums and golf course along Hermann Dr. Looking forward to its centennial in 2014, the park conservancy has also recruited Peter Bohlin, the architect behind the Highland Village Apple Store, to design a new entrance:


05/01/13 4:30pm

Here are just a few of the designs created by a UH undergraduate architecture class that spent much of this semester going on field trips to the Almeda Mall. Under the direction of Susan Rogers of the UH Community Design Resource Center (or CDRC), the 4th- and 5th-year will-be architects, who also spent time on nearby Kingspoint Rd. taking in that street art study center known as the Mullet, were charged with developing strategies to reanimate the dead retail zone in South Houston.


05/01/13 10:00am

ASTRODOME STRIPPED BARE BY THE ARCHITECTS, EVEN With the June 10th deadline to submit the Astrodome proposals that the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation kind of forgot to ask for approaching, architect Ben Koush pens some poetic support for UH grad student Ryan Slattery’s idea to open the Dome up for public use and reduce it to a shell of itself: “Architects, myself included, often tend to like ‘structure’ and buildings that are under construction better than those that are finished. Even crappy suburban spec houses have a noble purity when they are just a concrete slab and 2x4s, before the pipes, wires, and air-conditioning ducts go in and clutter everything up.” Noble purity notwithstanding, Koush does recognize at least one problem: “Since the Astrodome is essentially in the center of a giant parking lot with gates as well as a long, un-shaded walk discouraging the public from visiting, one wonders who would actually use [it].” [Arts + Culture Houston; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Save the Astrodome

03/26/13 4:00pm

MAYOR PARKER ASKS CITY COUNCIL TO DECRIMINALIZE DIVING IN PUBLIC DUMPSTERS A Houston man’s arrest for Dumpster diving outside City Hall was news to Mayor Parker: “And I had to say, really?” says the mayor in teevee reporter Doug Miller’s story. “There’s an ordinance for that? Give me a break.” And Mayor Parker has since requested that city council revise the 1942 ordinance that criminalizes rummaging: Lawyers who want to see it repealed, reports the Houston Chronicle’s Mike Morris, say that the ordinance “adversely impacts homeless persons and absorbs law enforcement time that could otherwise be spent preventing more significant criminal activity.” But, reports Morris, potential changes won’t mean Houstonians will be free to help themselves to whatever and wherever they’d like: “[S]pokeswoman Janice Evans said the proposed repeal will be amended . . . to ensure that it only addresses the situation which saw [the man] cited for picking through a public trash can. Rummaging through trash cans or recycling bins at homes and businesses still will not be allowed . . . .” [KHOU; Houston Chronicle] Photo of Dumpster: Flickr user nicksaltman

02/20/13 1:00pm

Design plans for the $18 million Emancipation Park overhaul are done, reports KUHF’s Pat Hernandez, and the work — including renovations (as this rendering suggests) to the gym, baseball field, pool, and community center — is expected to begin at the 10-acre Third Ward park this summer.


02/05/13 11:30am

COMMENT OF THE DAY: TATTERS TALE “. . . I rather like greater Houston’s add-it-as-you-need it layout. I mean, I definitely see the distinct advantages that other cities have in their planning, so I’m not knocking them, but I think Houston has advantages, too. I couldn’t ever put my finger on why until reading this article, but I like that Houston doesn’t seem like some piece of created artifice, regulated in such a way as to preserve it in a frame. A “mediation between private homes and the impersonal corporate world” feels like some sort of sop. Like, if the city looks like something I see on TV, then everything must be fine here. No place is perfect, and no one should be lulled into thinking it is. Some more beauty would be nice (I can remember when this town had a lot more trees, for example), but our citizens are so disparate that I’m not even sure we can all agree on what ‘beauty’ is. We’re not homogenous, which gives us some great advantages, but it makes our public spaces kind of bland, even while the private ones are eye-popping. The city (including its many suburbs) wears its elbow pads on the outside of its jacket, showing off the tatters. It keeps the valuables on the inside, in hidden pockets. That won’t change for a long, long time.” [Sihaya, commenting on ‘The Galleria Is My Idea of Hell’ and Other Houston Stories]

01/31/13 4:15pm

All winter this Hermann Park high point has been fenced off while crews have worked on Miller Outdoor Theatre’s heavily used seating (and rolling-down) area to update drainage and irrigation systems, among other hill-improvement-type activities. The project, funded by the city, has a budget of almost $261,000. This photo shows a little patch of progress; though performances start back up in April, the theater warns you not to get your hopes up: the hill could remain closed through May.

Photo: Miller Outdoor Theatre