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Scaling the Work: Neighborhoods and Parks

May 26, 2016
Clark Park, Northline Neighborhood

Clark Park, Northline Neighborhood

Because of the current propensity to do studies of our city only at the 30,000 foot scale—we decided to take on a more grounded and nuanced study of what the current park standards outlined in the Houston Parks and Recreation Department’s 2015 Master Plan mean specifically in our neighborhoods. For the purposes of this study we considered the recommended standards in terms of acres per resident for community, neighborhood and pocket parks combined (2.505 acres/1,000) and compared these standards to the existing conditions. In all cases we took golf courses out of the park area totals.

While we have not had the opportunity to do it for every super neighborhood in the city, below are the stats for 22 of our 88 super neighborhoods. What did we find? Take a look. Read more…

SILENCE. Who do you have to be to have a voice?

May 7, 2016

Planning for the Houston Botanic Garden continues to be opaque.

There is a saying in planning circles that at the first public meeting there is not enough information to provide an educated response and at the second public meeting the project is too far along to make any changes. This statement rings true in the case of the flawed public process for the Houston Botanic Garden. The City of Houston and our elected officials set the precedent in their near dismissal of a public process in the decision to lease Glenbrook Golf Course to the Houston Botanic Garden, now this failure to engage the public is being mirrored by the Garden organization. The question is whether the neighborhood’s concerns are being dismissed because they do not have enough power or wealth? Or whether people, and particularly public officials, really believe that this is the way things should be done?

hbg-blogpost2-imagesLet’s review. It has been over seven months since representatives of the Garden organization, or their designers, have made a public appearance in the neighborhoods of southeast Houston most impacted (Meadowbrook and Park Place). It has been nearly six months since any new updates have appeared on the Houston Botanic Garden website. Oddly though Jeff Ross (the Garden’s Executive Director) seems to believe that he is communicating with the public. The Houston Chronicle article by Claudia Feldman on February 3, 2016 makes this point twice, first stating “. . . organizers have continued to meet with community members, tweak the master plan to include some of their suggestions, ratchet up fund-raising goals and exercise their option to lease the 120-acre site from the city, plans for the garden are taking shape.” This is followed later in the article by a direct quote from Jeff Ross noting “The project is moving forward . . .We have a lease with the city of Houston, which requires us to do continuous outreach to make sure we are hearing what people are saying and somehow addressing their concerns.” Anyone who believes in the public process should at this point be shocked. As a resident of Meadowcreek Village, a neighborhood just a mile from the site, I know there has not been a single public meeting since the unveiling of the plan in a slideshow on September 30, 2015. Those who believe articles in the newspaper equate to a public meeting are misinformed. So, exactly what or whose concerns the Garden leadership is responding to, or what this response looks like, remains a mystery to members of the public and residents in the communities most impacted by the Garden. This should not be the case.

If we compare the Houston Botanic Garden process to that for the re-design of Memorial Park the glaring inequities become very clear. For example, the Memorial Park Conservancy notes that the design team “engaged 3,300 participants through eight large public meetings held across Houston, 20 focused workshops and a three month online survey.” The Houston Botanic Garden has held two public meetings: one on May 12, 2015 and one on September 30, 2015—perhaps a total of 400-500 people. There have been no public meetings since. In other words, there is reason for the Garden’s immediate neighbors to be concerned.

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On Dowling

April 13, 2016

Houstonians are well aware of the “urban revolution” happening in the city and its close-in neighborhoods. Articles and news pieces are shared daily about the changing face of the city. The press often lauds the positive impact that new development can have for once struggling neighborhoods. But there is another story that isn’t told, this is the story about how much has been lost to discriminatory practices and the bulldozer over the last five decades that have made this re-imaging possible.

Crn Dowling and Holman

Underscored by a push for new and expanded park space, transit options and increased housing supply, the march towards densification, beautification and world class status is racing onwards, perpetuating a history of exclusion and inequality on the politically and economically marginalized. Vast areas of the city fabric are being wiped clean and re-visioned in the all-familiar story of new investment sparking much-needed change to areas still lacking many essential services, while longtime residents are priced out of their homes, their communities, and their roots. The cost of this rapid pace of development is the loss of rich and complex urban and cultural traditions that are embedded in a place over time, where residents are under siege of displacement, and in fact the entire neighborhood’s identity is at risk of being erased.

Crn Hadley and Dowling

One example is the mile long Dowling corridor, between Pierce Street to the north and Alabama Street to the south, the once thriving and mixed-use commercial spine of the resurgent Third Ward. According to the historical Sanborn maps of 1950, the street had a tapestry of functions, the epitome of a bustling neighborhood, and the 1949 Houston City Directory tells the same story.

The catalogue included 114 stores; 59 homes; 29 restaurants; 9 auto repair shops; 6 gas stations; 6 apartment buildings; 3 dry cleaners; 3 churches; 3 rooming houses; 2 movie theaters; 2 drug stores; 2 hotels; and a furniture store, bathing house, lodge hall, office building, printing shop, electric repair, radio repair, vacuum repair, private school, barber college, night club and lumber yard.

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A Garden for Houston? Or a Community Bamboozled?

June 14, 2015
Glenbrook Golf Course

Glenbrook Golf Course

Exposing a Failed Public Process

The more I learn, the more frustrated and infuriated I become. My frustration is not related to whether we should have a Botanic Garden, though I remain ambivalent on this topic, it is more because of the absolute absence of a public process. Frankly, even calling it a public process is misleading, as there was nothing public about it. Increasingly decisions at the city level, and in fact at all levels of government, are made for many of the wrong reasons and without a public vetting process. In our city government agencies cater to tourists and visitors instead of supporting Houstonians; and instead of building our neighborhoods, the City gives away millions to Wal-mart and budgets a $75 million slush fund for private developers to build luxury living downtown. How did we get here? And what does it have to do with the proposed Houston Botanic Garden?

 

From what I can dig up, the first discussions regarding a Houston Botanic Garden occurred about five years ago, but did not get serious until 2014. A story in the Houston Chronicle in March 2014, quoted Mayor Parker: “I am committed to having a botanic garden here in the city of Houston. I love gardens. It would be not just a great amenity for Houston, I think it would be a tourism attraction for Houston, and I’m wanting to make it happen.” I guess what the Mayor wants, the Mayor gets.

 

The first real proposal developed for the Houston Botanic Garden was for the site that is now the historic Gus Wortham Golf Course, originally the Houston Country Club. When this proposal met opposition and a counter proposal was delivered to restore the course from the Houston Golf Association, the City was quick to respond by offering up Glenbrook Golf Course as an alternative. But there is a huge contrast between the public process that followed the proposal for a garden at Gus Wortham and what happened in the Glenbrook case. Not the least of which is the time frame of the Glenbrook decision, which occurred between November 5, 2014 (the date Council voted to restore Wortham) and January 21, 2015 (the date Council voted to lease Glenbrook to HBG)—a mere 11 weeks. The East End stakeholders were engaged by the Garden’s leadership and elected officials for nearly a year, including presentations at civic club meetings, a town hall, and a conceptual plan was produced to give people an opportunity to understand and comment on the proposal.

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$75 + Vision

March 27, 2013

install-studio

What can you do with $75?  Maybe take someone out for a nice dinner, buy some cool jeans (on sale), or if you are visionary transform a space.  13 UH architecture design students were given $75 to do just this, testing their ideas and craft at full scale.   Yesterday, at the site of the Southern Artists’ Foundation (aka The Mullet), the five completed full-scale installation projects were unveiled.   What did we get?

install-studio2

A super-sized infographic by Rachel Lee, Jose Munoz, and Mirna Santillan, about the rising risk of Autism (the cause behind the Southern Artists’ Foundation).  The project spanning approximately 150’ traces the history of autism and the challenges, concluding with a call to action, to “do something.”

install-studio4

A set of 20 boxes that could be seating, tables, ladders, or combined to become any number of other things.  The boxes made by Jose Pedroza and Norma Santos are constructed entirely from recycled materials and enhanced by the graffiti artists who are out transforming the space everyday.

install-studio7

An interactive installation about the cost of housing in Houston designed by Cameron Goldsmith, Adan Razo, and Isaac Villanueva.  The installation mimicking typical “for sale” signs are packed with facts about housing, including the hourly wage required to rent an apartment at fair market rent, and on the reverse side ask people to share their “American Dream.”

install-studio8

A rope construction by Fidel Castro, Kongci Chan, and Scott Dailey, intended to create a “space,” in the alley.  The installation hangs between two buildings and is made from hundreds of feet of rope creating a complex shadow pattern on the sides of the buildings.

install-studio6

And finally, a giant chess board and set of chess pieces designed and constructed by Aldo Leyva and Michael Roeder.  The chess board, inside the building, supports the vision of the adjacent youth center—that chess is a game of patience and skill—and when practiced can build character.

install-studio11

Thank you to all who participated. Susan Rogers

 

Watersheds of Potential

March 4, 2013

A flat plain, heavy rainfall (though not in the last several years)—the result a city networked with 2,692 miles of drainage ditches, channels, and bayous.  1,402 miles of this system are manmade (pink).  The remaining 1,290 miles are part of the natural drainage system (blue).  If we re-conceived this system as a watershed of potential, as the Bayou Greenway Initiative is doing, we could have a completely new type of networked city.

Ditch-ManvsNaturalandBayous

THICK Infrastructure

October 25, 2012
Southeast Transit Center

THICK INFRASTRUCTURE is a design research project investigating the intervention, expansion, and re-design of public infrastructure to include elements that enhance civic and public spaces, transforming single-purpose infrastructure landscapes into multi-functional systems.  The project advances the vision of infrastructure as integrated into the fabric of the city, replacing the reality of single-purpose, engineered, and disconnected infrastructural landscapes.

The project tested design ideas and strategies by looking at a selected number of the 28 park and ride lots, 19 transit centers, and linear segments of both the 2500 miles of waterways and ditches and the 200 miles of utility easements in the city.  The ideas and designs provide a window into the potential future of our infrastructure systems and landscapes, and illustrate new ways to merge these systems into our communities and make them more useful and valuable, serving multiple purposes.

Read more…