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Broadway: On The Waterfront

October 12, 2010

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Fifty miles inland, the Port of Houston is the second largest port in the U.S. and the eighth largest in the world.  Yet its activities go largely unnoticed and uncelebrated.  It is the dark under belly of the city—the refineries, the plants, the scrap yards, the wharves and docks—the throbbing heart of the industrial east side, the wrong side, that feeds the building of skyscrapers and mansions on the west side of the city.

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In the midst of this under belly lies the Broadway Corridor.  Just the name—Broadway—evokes certain memories in the American cultural consciousness conjuring up images of centrality, intensity and vibrancy. While Houston’s Broadway Corridor once held such a position, it is currently far quieter and far emptier than the name implies. Over the decades the Corridor has quietly eroded, losing much of its built fabric, its residents, its businesses, and its liveliness. The primary question for the Corridor was not how to recreate it, a process that would be fundamentally nostalgic, but how to re-invent it by building on the investments that are already occurring, the opportunities emerging from the slow drift of industry further south and east, and ultimately reconnecting the site to the waterfront.

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Broadway was the “Main Street” of the Town of Harrisburg, established in 1825, a decade prior to the founding of Houston. The town was prominent and the area was well-regarded enough to briefly become the capital of Texas in 1836, and was home to the Houston Yacht Club from 1910 to 1926.
As the scale of urban development transformed with the automobile, Houston slowly spread out from the historic neighborhoods of the core. Areas like Broadway were all but abandoned in favor of new developments on the predominantly western periphery. The impact of this dispersion was significant; in the 1920s the Broadway Corridor was home to almost 14,000 people, accounting for more than 10% of Houston’s growing population, today the Corridor is home to less than a third as many people—4,000—and currently accounts for only 0.2% of Houston’s population. The Corridor’s decline has been steady, and this decline has been compounded by the lack of new development.

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Map of Vacant Land Illustrating the increase in vacant lots
over time as buildings were demolished


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The Broadway Corridor, at the junction of two of Houston’s main waterways, Buffalo and Brays Bayou, and is one of the only locations in the city where expansive views of the Port and its activities are possible—from the massive ships arriving from all over the world, to the wharves and docks, and barge activity— the site provides a unique vantage point.  The Corridor is also benefitting from major public works projects. These projects are transforming the banks of both Buffalo and Brays Bayous, adding civic amenities such as new parks and trails. With these improvements, the bayous and the flanking trail infrastructure will link the site to the rest of the city.  Capitalizing on these opportunities and re-thinking the connection to the waterfront is the foundation for the vision.

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So what did we propose?
The proposals and strategies for the Broadway Corridor focus on catalyzing change by building on the existing opportunities of the site, and organizing new programs—including housing, economic development, and public spaces around the views, existing and proposed parks, open spaces, and trails. These interventions have the potential to create a destination in Houston, unlike any other, built around the truly rare conditions of the site, and opening up Houston’s industrial waterfront for public use.

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