Houston Ship Channel. Photo: Geneva Vest

Tour the Houston Ship Channel and Behold Its Awesome Power

This article by Geneva Vest is part of a special series called #H2Ouston.

If you’re looking for a day trip to kick off this spring weather, look no further than the Sam Houston Boat Tour. The Houston Port Authority offers a free 90-minute tour of the Houston Ship Channel for the aquatically curious. When I went, I was joined by a boatload of Yes Prep environmental science students, retirees, and Chinese tourists. The trip, though, is relevant to all Houstonians. Our city formed around the original port at Allen’s Landing. Over one million jobs are related to the Houston Ship Channel.

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Brakenridge Park. Courtesy City of San Antonio.

Beyond the Riverwalk: San Antonio Working to Honor Many Histories in its Parks

This article by Raj Mankad was originally published by The Dirt on March 21, 2017. Follow Rice Design Alliance‘s publications and events about living in floodplains at #H2Ouston and #SyntheticNature.

San Antonio’s historic downtown is the main draw for a tourism industry with a $13 billion impact. The history is about as thick as it gets for a U.S. city, but its commodification has taken a toll. For example, just up the steps from the Rainforest Café on the Riverwalk, the Alamo faces off with Ripley’s Believe It or Not and Madame Toussaud’s Waxworks. Follow the San Antonio river downstream for eight miles, though, and you encounter modest, centuries-old missions in serene, almost rural settings. And if you follow the river three miles upstream, you find Brackenridge Park, a hard-working 343-acre city park packed with locals.

The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) held its third Leading with Landscape conference in San Antonio, and, unlike the first two iterations of the series in Toronto and Houston, the event focused on a single site — Brackenridge Park. Landscape architects and local leaders, including Mayor Ivy Taylor, focused on the park itself or presented examples relevant to the discussion of its past and future. More than 400 attendees were drawn to the Pearl Stable, a brick barn built in 1894 and converted to a theater.

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Looking towards downtown in Pease Park, along the banks of Shoal Creek. Photo: Leonid Furmansky.

Watershed Urbanism: Shoal Creek’s Infrastructural Future

This article by Jack Murphy is the second of a two-part series on flood management. Read the previous article here. Follow our publications and events about living in the floodplain at #H2Ouston and #SyntheticNature.

These days, Shoal Creek starts artificially: Its headwaters, a mix of runoff and piped spring water, gather in manmade holding ponds above US Highway 183 before arriving into a ditch south of the frontage road. The creek flows, undetected, behind shops on Anderson Lane, through backyards and parks in Allandale, and next to Seton Medical Center before running alongside Lamar Boulevard. Downtown, its shores are lined with condominiums and the construction sites for future condominiums. Its waters pass Austin’s new central public library designed by Lake Flato and Shepley Bulfinch — almost open — prior to joining the Colorado River.

Shoal Creek, 14.3 miles in length including tributaries, constitutes a core sectional cut of central Austin. Like at Waller Creek, citizens are working to spur progress that will improve flood control, public trails, public parks, and historic awareness. But Shoal Creek advocates hope to use very different tools to accomplish their goals.

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House on Beall Street, where Shady Acres meets Timbergrove. Photo: Adam Clay.

Looking for the Town in Townhouses

In December of 2014, my partner and I (and our large cat) were huddled around a space heater in our tiny mother-in-law suite apartment behind a 1940s Montrose bungalow. It was then that we realized suffering through the winter with no wall insulation and old, single-pane windows was our fate in the ever-increasing Montrose rental market. The options were minimal: inhabit a small “luxury” one bedroom for an average price of $1,500 per month, suffer a deteriorating apartment, or move outside of the Inner Loop. We grew weary of living in a space designed without function in mind and, frankly, of a shower lined in Pepto pink tiles and the size of a coffin. So when my partner’s brother and sister-in-law (and their own large cat) approached us about living together it felt like a saving grace.

They were living in Clear Lake, enjoying the nature but cursing the congestion. They longed for museums and restaurants that stayed open past 9 pm, but they faced a similar budget constraint. As two separate couples, each with decidedly middle-income jobs in the nonprofit sector and the arts, we could not respectively afford to live in our desired neighborhoods comfortably. But together, we could rent a home with the amenities we desired and the close-in location. When they approached us about combining financial forces, the dreams of upgraded appliances and walkable nightlife felt real.

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Rendering of Palm Park. Courtesy Waller Creek Conservancy.

Artificially Natural: On the Transformation of Austin’s Waller Creek

This article by Jack Murphy is part of a series on flood management in advance of RDA’s H20uston architecture tour, March 25 and 26. Follow our publications and events about living in the floodplain at #H2Ouston and #SyntheticNature.

Austin is setting a new standard for flood management as urban design, and Houston would do well to study what’s happening there. Waller Creek Park, developed by the Waller Creek Conservancy (WCC) and designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA), will revitalize 1.5 miles of the creek between 15th Street and Lady Bird Lake at an estimated cost of $220 million. While Houston faces heavier rainfalls in a flatter and more flood-prone landscape, and while Buffalo Bayou and the entire Bayou Greenways system have rightly garnered national attention for Houston, the way the Waller Creek project reshapes Austin’s rapidly densifying center offers important lessons about taking a comprehensive approach to parks, flooding, streets, and buildings.

In his 2017 State of the City Address delivered in late January, Austin Mayor Steve Adler opened with remarks about the enduring “weird” character of this place. Adler outlined his belief that we are “uncommonly good at changing in a way that renews our unique character” — that, through transformation, civic values are expressed and reaffirmed. In his address, Adler also noted “the future Waller Creek linear park may someday be the best-known manmade element of this entire city.” If the design is realized as proposed, he won’t be far off.

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Terry Hershey. Photo: Center for Public History at the University of Houston

“We Just Needed Some Curly Engineers”: Terry Hershey in Her Own Words

Terry Hershey, who President George H. W. Bush called “a force of nature for nature,” recently died at the age of 94. She led efforts to protect bayous and was a speaker at the first major event organized by the Rice Design Alliance (RDA), a 1973 civic forum on flood management and the future of the bayous. Forty-four years laters, while many of her visions have been realized, many challenges and opportunities remain. Learn more about living with bayous at RDA’s March 8 civic forum and H20uston architecture tour, March 25 and 26.

On January 22, 2008, Hershey spoke with Ann Hamilton, a longtime friend who served as executive director of the Park People and the Houston Parks Board. Below is an edited excerpt of the interview, conducted for the Houston Oral History Project at Hershey’s home.

Ann Hamilton: What started you in the environmental movement here?

Terry Hershey: What started me was the day [c. 1967] Ernie Faye was going to pick me up and pick his wife up. He said, “Well, they’ve started.” And I said, “Who started what?” He said, “They’ve started concreting Buffalo Bayou.” And I said, “What?”

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Paseo

X-Change: Bold Visions for EaDo Streets

Last June, Janette Sadik Khan, the former transportation commissioner for New York, tweeted: “A smart street can speak for itself anywhere. No translation needed.” Accompanying her tweet were before and after photos of a street in Addis Ababa. In the after image, low-cost interventions — traffic cones, paint, and chalk — extend the sidewalks. Pedestrians no longer look like an afterthought on streets, as they do in most big cities in the United States. They seem to be in perfect harmony, if not seen dominating the space, with ongoing traffic of cars and buses.

It was in this spirit of creating smart urban spaces, one street at a time, that 15 teams participated in the Rice Design Alliance charrette organized by rdAGENTS. The program titled “X-Change: EaDo Crossroads” was to challenge the participants — a mix of professional architects, landscape designers, urban planners, and students — to transform part of East Downtown into a multi-modal community.

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Postcard from the Prairie Festival

Salina, Kansas, is a town like so many others in America. Its downtown stands as a reminder of what once was — brown paper is taped to the inside of windows, lackluster rental signs hang askew beckoning no one. Its vital economic lifeblood has drained to the southern outskirts where a Walmart and a Lowe’s dominate the placeless landscape.

These monolithic stores’ lack of connection to place, environment, and land, and their undermining of community, connection, and relationships, stands in stark contrast to all that the Land Institute embodies. We had arrived in Salina on the hot, windy plains for the Prairie Festival, celebrating the Land Institute’s 40th anniversary and the retirement of Wes Jackson, its leader. More than 1,000 pilgrims went to pay homage to a man and place that have inspired so many.

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HUD Assisted Housing Properties (2015) and Poverty Level by Census Tract (2011-15), Harris County, Texas

Do No Harm: A Message to Dr. Carson about Housing and Health

The appointment of a physician, Dr. Ben Carson, to run the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) raised eyebrows. What does a brain surgeon know about affordable housing? But health and housing are intimately linked. Where we live not only dictates our access to opportunities such as education and employment. It shapes our thoughts about what opportunities exist and if they are attainable. It controls opportunities we are exposed to – job or gang. If Dr. Carson reduces segregation by enforcing the new federal fair housing rule, he can advance health equity — the opportunity for everyone to live their healthiest possible life.

During his recent Senate confirmation hearing, Dr. Carson reinforced his position that government should have a more limited role in the provision of housing and noted his own background as a medical doctor as shaping how he would lead the department. What could this mean for Houston?

A day before the Carson hearing, on January 11, the federal government issued a scathing letter outlining in detail a finding that Houston has made decisions about the location of low-income housing in a “racially-motivated” manner, singling out Mayor Turner’s recent decision not to back a housing development on Fountain View in the Galleria area.

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Photo: Houston Metropolitan Research Center

Flashpoints on the Road to Black and Brown Power: Sites of Struggle in Houston in the 1960s and 70s

This article originally appeared in Cite 82 (pdf) and is now accompanied by a digital map.

Houston has a long history of segregation and racial violence. From the lynchings of George White in 1859 and Robert Powell in 1928, to the hanging of black soldiers who rebelled at Camp Logan in 1919, to the rise of the local Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, racist actions have periodically threatened to tear the city apart.

The political struggles of the 1960s and ’70s changed the city. In the 1998 movie The Strange Demise of Jim Crow, historians explain how the end of segregation in Houston came relatively quickly and, due to a media blackout, without fanfare.

Highlighted in this piece are important milestones that dispel an oft-repeated myth that Houston’s quiet desegregation prevented riots, rebellions, or open conflict; moments of community indignation (anything but polite and restrained) that lead to concrete action on the road to political power for people of color in the city. Many events have been left off this list — the University of Houston riot in 1969, for example — but the sites selected can serve as initial entries into an often ignored history.

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