Category Archives: Houston

The Astrodome Park Proposal

Since the initial news, Lisa Gray of the Houston Chronicle has updates on the Astrodome saga.  The full plan from the Texans and the Houston Livestock show and Rodeo have finally been revealed, and the county, is now considering it…

Yesterday Harris County said that it’s open to a plan to raze the Astrodome and create in its place a park that salutes the Astrodome’s history. Just for a moment, let’s pretend that’s not crazy.

In the site plan, the proposed park is described as “reminiscent of Discovery Green” — which is to say, like one of Houston’s favorite parks, an intensely used, much-loved urban space. But the description of the Astrodome park and the its site plan — see the slideshow — seem very different. There’d be a ring that imitates the old Astrodome’s “ribs,” each decked out with a historic plaque. There’d be multiple “event stages.” And at the center, in something that looks like a mini-Dome, is what the site plan seems to call a Hall of Fame.

It’s unfortunate that more Houston- area business leaders don’t see the potential of a repurposed Astrodome. The park proposal is certainly not a bad idea, but short-sighted compared to what could be done. Still, this plan is a marked improvement over the worst-case scenario of a surface parking lot, and the choice to honor the original structure is appreciated and absolutely necessary.   If done right and well-maintained, even the park proposal could be utilized to grow the city’s tourism business.

But the secret to creating a tourist draw that Houston hasn’t seemed to figure out yet… it doesn’t happen overnight.  Like any business venture, you have to make an upfront investment, promote it and then trust that you’ve done everything  you can to make it a good visitor experience.

In recent years, the Bayou City has made some good choices that provide good tourism potential. With all of the city’s major sports facilities located in close proximity, it’s easy to envision a scenario where people come to the city for a sporting event, but then add a visit to the Dome sight to learn about sports history. Having a museum on the site (perhaps this is what the Rodeo/ Texans plan is referencing with their Mini-dome “hall of fame”) should be essential. The Astrodome’s mark is forever written into the 20th century, and Houston would be foolish to not observe and honor it as such.

Regarding this and any other possible proposals, we’ll see what happens soon enough. See Brains and Eggs, Off the Kuff and Texpatriate for more thoughts.

Montrose Residents Mobilize For Better Sidewalks

More than a century old, Montrose is one of the most well-known neighborhoods in Houston.  In that time, it’s been home to American Presidents, world-famous celebrities and various counter-cultural movements. It’s also quite possible that many Montrose residents and visitors are walking on 100-year old, original sidewalks.  One can only imagine the poor condition when many sidewalks haven’t been repaired since the Wilson administration.  As KPRC Local 2 reports, many in the neighborhood are fed up.

Families in Montrose are circulating a petition demanding the city to fix a dangerous problem in their neighborhood. We’re talking about sidewalks, or the lack of them, in some areas of Montrose.

The group has sent out a letter to residents asking them to sign a petition to ask the city for help in getting some repairs to the sidewalks. The sidewalks are chipped, broken or missing altogether, but the city says the repairs are not necessarily its responsibility.

Montrose is one of the trendiest neighborhoods inside the Loop, filed with little shops, restaurants and quaint homes. But now, more than ever, residents say the neighborhood’s aging sidewalks and streets are in desperate need of repair.

“They are always uneven, they are always littered, they’re impassable, so I end up walking in the street,” said resident Anna La Perna. “You can’t use the sidewalk.” The Montrose Sidewalks Coalition, a group made up of residents, sent a letter to neighbors asking them to sign a petition to encourage Mayor Annise Parker and the city to help with the issue.

“I think she is doing nothing and not enough. She is worried about a select few and not all of us,” said La Perna. The group also says people are tripping and getting hurt because of the mess.

Full disclosure… I am both a resident of Montrose and a frequent pedestrian and user of public transportation.  Just like the above, I end up walking on the street rather than risk tripping on large, broken pieces of sidewalk.  That said, I fully share the frustration of my neighbors and want these sidewalks fixed.  But under current municipal law, the City of Houston is not responsible for fixing sidewalks, and instead passes that burden on to property owners.

As the Montrose Sidewalks Coalition points out in their petition, the current ordinance may also present some bigger problems…

Our community’s children do not have safe routes to school and are forced into the street with oncoming traffic due to missing and broken sidewalks. We have many schools within easy walking distance, however the state of our school routes is appalling.

Many visually and mobility impaired citizens live in or visit Montrose for specialized services available in Montrose. The infrastructure is not ADA compliant and a significant barrier to access. Accessible design for the visually impaired is almost non existent. As older residents age in place, this will increasingly become a safety issue of large proportions.

Several sections of Montrose, suffering from a triumvirate of poor sidewalks, jagged curbs and pothole-ridden streets do not meet basic compliance standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Could the lack of maintenance on Houston’s sidewalks leave the city liable in an injury or death case?  Would it leave property owners liable if someone hurts themselves on a poor sidewalk?

Poor sidewalks are a problem in every corner of Houston… not just Montrose.  A constant complaint shared by Houstonians, it is starting to capture major attention in the city’s  political debate.   Jenifer Rene Pool, a long-time public advocate and candidate for Houston City Council, made sidewalks a central issue of her 2013 campaign, and even recorded a YouTube video to state why these repairs are so important. As Pool points out below, sidewalks should be a cornerstone of the city’s general mobility plan.  For seniors or someone with a disability, it’s just not safe to get around by foot or in a wheelchair.  If other neighborhoods follow the lead of the Montrose petitioners, you can be sure sidewalks will be a hot topic in the 2015 elections.

This is not to say that nothing has been done.  Mayor Parker has made some good faith efforts to address the problem, most notably a complete streets executive order that ensures any future construction done by the city will take into account all forms of mobility, including safe, usable sidewalks.  Even if city government can’t immediately correct mistakes of the past, at least someone has a better plan for the future.  But until this executive order becomes an ordinance, there’s no guarantee that a future Mayoral administration would follow these practices.

Houston is changing rapidly, and perhaps no area has experienced those changes faster than Montrose. But every resident of the Bayou City deserves top quality infrastructure.  After so many decades of neglect and a massive amount of ground to cover, it’s going to be a massive challenge to accomplish and pay for such repairs.  But waiting any longer is also not an option.  If Houston is to be a true national leader in the 21st century, we can’t do it on infrastructure from the early 20th century.  True leadership has to start from the ground up.

 

 

Why A HERO Referendum Could Be Good for Houston And Texas

After years of planning, a slew of phone calls, repeated trips to City Hall, organizer trainings, exhaustive blog posts and countless closed-door meetings with Council Members, citizens finally found a voice when the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance was passed on May 28th.  The new law instituted an historic new level of protections for all Houstonians, and for many was a cause for celebration.

But today, after being dealt what in their view was an affront to their values, the opposition to HERO struck back, turning in 50,000 petition signatures to City Hall (pending verification by City Secretary Anna Russell).  If at least 17,000 of them are verified as residents of the city, then the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance will be placed on the November ballot, and could even be voted down.  Supporters of HERO will have to work even harder to thwart the litany of lies, and convince voters to keep this critical law on the books.

The referendum is going to be hard work, but it could actually end up being very good, not only for Houston Progressives, but for Progressive causes across Texas.  Here are the reasons why.

For starters, Houston is ready for the referendum.  Long before a non-discrimination bill came before Council, supporting organizations have been preparing for the possibility of a city-wide vote.  The campaign to defend the ordinance is well under way, and has already engaged a broad coalition of organizations and elected officials.  You can learn more about the Equal Rights Committee at the Equal Rights Houston website.

Secondly, as a city-specific referendum, the math is on HERO’s side.  The opposition is asking voters to repeal a law that their elected representatives passed.  In general, that’s tough to do.  But that vote also occurs only in the city of Houston… the same electorate that sent Mayor Parker to office three times in a row.  In every past election, similar argument’s about Parker’s “evil LGBT agenda” have been waged against her, and they have never won.  After seeing Houstonians through a recession, and 4 years of record job growth and prosperity that other cities in the nation only dream of, are Houston voters really going to get enraged enough to vote this down?

As Houstonians like the talented Christopher Busby prove, Equal Rights should NOT be a Democratic or a Republican issue.  Sad though it is, the fight for HERO has become politicized, with most of the opposition’s coalition being Republican (again, not all but most).  Because of this, a referendum will likely serve as a motivator for Democrats to vote in Houston and Harris County.  It could even stand to boost turnout for Democratic candidates.  Again as mentioned in the above, this is specifically the city of Houston, whose electorate has already proven that they vote on the Progressive side.  This assumption could be wrong, but barring some smoking gun to move the issue, it’s not likely.  Giving Houston’s Democrats another big reason to get out the vote is sure to have statewide implications.

Finally, the opposition is built on lies and misconceptions about the law.  The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance isn’t a mystery anymore. It’s a real law, and is available on the city’s website for any and all to read.   Even for the people that are confused, they can go to the link above and actually read the ordinance.  The Mayor said it best in today’s press conference…

“It is illegal today, it will be illegal tomorrow, it will be legal after HERO for a man to go into a woman’s bathroom.”

Like the childhood legend of monsters under the bed, fear dissipates when mom or dad flips the light on.  HERO has been brought to light, and there’s NOTHING scary about it.

There’s still a possibility that the petitions could be invalidated, but for now, it’s time to plan as though the referendum is going on.  HERO needs some heroes again, and I strongly suspect that they are on the way.

 

 

Urban Housing Demand Increases in Houston

Though the Houston area may be infamous for it’s sprawling neighborhoods of suburban-style detached housing, that character, especially for the inner city, is changing rapidly.  Here’s more from Nancy Sarnoff of the Houston Chronicle

Sales of townhouse and condominium properties in the Houston area grew faster than the single-family market during the first five months of the year as more buyers sought out an urban, low-maintenance lifestyle in close-in neighborhoods, a new report shows.

Buyers closed on 2,678 townhouse and condominium units from January to May, a 6 percent increase over the same period in 2013, according to the 2014 Texas Condominium Mid-Year Sales Report released Tuesday by the Texas Association of Realtors. The single-family market was flat during that time.

[…]

Demand for high-density living grew across the state, according to the report. San Antonio saw the biggest increase in sales at 18 percent, followed by Austin at 14 percent. In Dallas, sales were up 4 percent.

“There is little available land for housing development in Texas’ major metro areas, particularly in its urban centers where housing demand is strongest,” Gaines said in the report. “Developers are now looking upward for opportunities to build and invest in multifamily developments both in these centers and even in some suburban areas. Condo sales will likely be a strong driver in the Texas housing market for the rest of the year.”

Developer Randall Davis said rising single-family housing prices are driving expansion in the condominium market. Builders can put multiple units on one site, he said, and “deliver a product that’s almost equivalent but at a lesser price.”

Indeed in Houston and all over the country, this long-held 20th century notion of how people are supposed to live in a single family home with their own yard space, etc. is being re-written.  Today, more and more people want to trade the long drive, crippling traffic and volatile gas prices in for increased family time, an array of transportation options, and less stress overall.

One careful distinction:  this article refers to the rate of urban-style housing increasing more than the rate of suburban development.  When you measure the whole region (both city and suburbs), detached homes are still being built and sold far ahead of any multi-family projects.  But if trends hold, urban options are destined to gain a significant share of the area’s market.  Either way, its exciting to see such a rapid transformation in the Bayou City.

Houston’s New Area Code: 346

With such prosperous growth as has been seen in contemporary Houston, it makes sense that eventually we would have to start running out of stuff as well. Being a flat (and endangered) prairie the region still has plenty of land to use and misuse.  With the subtropical climate and proximity to the Gulf, the region is once again blessed with rainfall after a scorching drought.  So with so many people moving to town, what has Houston run out of?

The answer is surprisingly simple… telephone numbers.  The region’s three existing area codes have almost been totally exhausted, and it’s time to expand.  Here’s more from Fox 26 news

Beginning in July, 346 will join the existing club of southeast Texas area codes 713, 281, and 832.The fourth area code for Houston and nearby surrounding cities and counties will overlay existing area codes 713, 281 and 832 in Harris, Fort Bend, Waller, Austin, Montgomery, San Jacinto, Liberty, Chambers, Galveston, and Brazoria counties.

Based upon projections that there will be no more numbers available to assign to the 713, 281, and 832 area codes by Sept. 30, the North American Number Planning Administrator assigned the 346 area code.

The 346 area code will not require any reprogramming changes to existing equipment because an area code overlay with 10-digit dialing for local calls already exists in the affected area, according to a statement released by the Public Utility Commission of Texas.

To actually run out of an area code takes a lot number combinations… roughly 8 million of them.  That means Houston and its environs to have now spun through nearly 24 million numbers.
So don’t get alarmed when you start seeing 346 pop up on the phone or around the office, it’s just the new kid on the block.  One has to wonder though… how long before the new code gets its first rap shout-out?