Monk parakeet sitings in Harris County [Map generated by ebird.org]

Wild Parrots of Houston: Headlines June 9 to June 18

Houston appears to be churning along and growing in its seemingly unplanned, inevitable way. Besides the 99K house ribbon cutting, which we will get an OffCite post of its own, the story that stood out to me was Lisa Gray’s column on monk parakeet colonies in the Houston area. These birds have established wild colonies in cities all across America. What I love about the story is that the birds build their “condo” homes in transmission line towers. The ornithologist Gray interviews notes that the settlement patterns marks the northeast to southwest boundary between what used to be prarie and forest. The phenomenon seems paradoxical: both invasive and restorative, infrastructural and ecological, immigrant and in the native wild.

Thursday June 18

CYCLING NOTEBOOK A call for cleaner streets Road debris hurts city’s effort to be bike-friendly [Houston Chronicle]

Houston station scheduled to be completed next year: City replaces existing facility in Park 10 area [Houston Chronicle] “Houston City Council members approved a $5.74 million construction contract for the new station at 16525 Park Row, between Barker Cypress and Texas 6 near the Addicks Reservoir. Gilbane Building Co. broke ground on the project last April.”

A change in loan rules, intended to prevent inflated figures like those during housing boom, is killing some sales instead [Houston Chronicle] “Real estate experts said sales are collapsing because appraisers are being more conservative and valuing homes for less than what buyers have agreed to pay.”

TRANSPORTATION Kansas City Southern Railway cuts 67 miles off a vital journey [Houston Chronicle] “Kansas City Southern Railway runs about half a dozen freight trains a day between the Houston region and Mexico, so it made sense for the railway to look for ways to speed up that journey. The company said Wednesday that it shaved 67 miles from the route by reopening a previously abandoned track between Rosenberg and Victoria.”

Till now, city’s just been talking trash: It will finally practice same kind of recycling it’s asked of residents [Houston Chronicle] “The City Council changed that on Wednesday, approving a five-year, $1.6 million contract to collect recyclables from the city’s 300-plus buildings, an effort expected to save at least 30 percent of the millions of pounds of garbage that city employees send annually to landfills.”

Woodlands-area residents hear plans to expand Texas 242: Proposal calls for adding more westbound lanes [Houston Chronicle] “Many residents were concerned about the potential loss of vegetation in the middle of the road, a trademark of The Woodlands. The landscaping in the median was planted by The Woodlands Development Co. years ago as a way to beautify the area. With the loss of median and vegetation, some expressed concerned about potential drainage issues for residents and businesses.”

Katy Family YMCA opens expansion for summer New features include indoor pool, cardio room[Houston Chronicle] “The recent expansion, designed by Houston-based Hall Barnum Luchessi Architects, is the third phase of the original master plan for the Katy YMCA at 22807 Westheimer Parkway. The main building was finished in 2001 and the second phase – featuring a large-group exercise room – was completed in 2005.”

HUMBLE Council approves utility district for development [Houston Chronicle] “Under the terms of the agreement the utility district will be responsible for furnishing water, sanitary sewer service, drainage, recreational and road facilities and services to the area within its boundaries…At a previous meeting Wong showed Council development plans that call for light industrial sites, a hotel and retail sites.”

Wednesday June 17

Of the developers, for the developers? [Christof Spieler, Intermodality] “Days after the City of Houston’s draft corridor urban corridors ordinance was released, Houstonians For Responsible Growth – a developer group that generally opposes any new building regulations – endorsed the new ordinance. Why would developers be so enthusiastic about a new piece of regulation? Because they wrote it.”

City ranks well in U.S. recession report: Think tank says Houston is fourth strongest overall, No. 1 in housing [Houston Chronicle]

Houston has so far weathered the recession better than most of the country’s major metropolitan areas, according to a report released today by the Brookings Institution, which found that Houston’s housing prices were the most resilient in the country.

Despite a rising unemployment rate, Houston’s overall economy ranked fourth out of the country’s 100 biggest cities as of March, the report found, placing it just behind Austin and just before Dallas. Five of the six best-performing cities were in Texas, including San Antonio, which led the list based on factors including employment, wages, and housing prices.

RESETTLED AND STRUGGLING Unpromised land Iraqi refugees, including some of 19,000 in the Houston area, are living in poverty and in danger of becoming homeless [Houston Chronicle] Al Jaber has not found employment, though his wife has a minimum-wage job and one of his sons has worked on and off since coming to the U.S. Al Jaber said his family is relatively better off than some of the newly arrived Iraqi families in his apartment complex at South Gessner Road near Richmond Avenue.

A ray of sunshine Houston home prices edge upward: Sales still dropping, but so is percentage of foreclosures homes [Houston Chronicle]

Monday June 15

MOVE IT! Metro riders cotton to new bunny line [Houston Chronicle] “Metro officials said ridership on the Quickline during its debut week June 1-5 exceeded their expectations, averaging about 530 daily boardings. As you may remember, the Quickline is a new type of service offered by Metro. It operates only during the work week and only during rush hours. By eliminating many stops between Ranchester and the Texas Medical Center, the express bus aims to shorten the ride considerably.”

Critics slam brakes on rosy Metro audit: Bus ridership up, agency says, but the long-term story is different METRO: Many factors affect usage [Houston Chronicle] “Members of the Citizens’ Transportation Coalition also counsel patience during construction. ‘A dollar you spend on new facilities is a dollar you don’t spend on operations, and vice versa,’ said CTC board member Christof Spieler. Another difficulty is maximizing ridership while also using tax dollars wisely, he added.”

Sunday June 14

Lisa Gray: South American parrots at home in Houston. Birds are doing just fine [Houston Chronicle] “When artist June Woest moved into her Bellaire studio, she was surprised to find a colony of green parrots had set up housekeeping in the gigantic transmission towers behind it…

“Technically, they’re an invasive species,” says David Sarkozi, of the Houston Ornithological Society. “Just like the tallow trees and Japanese honeysuckle I spend my weekends trying to kill at the Anahuac Wildlife Refuge.” He and Dan Brooks, the curator of vertebrate zoology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, have included monk parakeets in a study of nonnative birds living in Texas.

But Sarkozi doesn’t argue that the parrots should be eradicated like tallow trees. “They’re charismatic birds,” he says, and notes that people love to spot them.

He maintains a Web database of bird sightings, and on it, he showed me a map of Harris County’s monk parakeet sightings. (You can re-create it for yourself on ebird.org.) The pattern runs diagonally through the county, northeast to southwest – along the line, Sarkozi notes, where a hundred years ago the prairie met the forest. That’s the kind of place a parrot likes to live: one where it can build its condo nest high in a dead tree, but forage for food on the ground. Or, in our degraded world, build atop stadium lights, but find breakfast on a soccer field.

Here is a YouTube video of a parrot in Houston.

Saturday June 13

Up to 800 Galveston homes up for buyout: Federal grants to aid Ike victims who can’t rebuild BUYOUTS: Program lowers future disaster costs [Houston Chronicle] “The buyouts would assist owners like Walter Burger, 54, of Sugar Land, who is paying a mortgage on a beach house that has only a single pillar left after it was swept away by Hurricane Ike. Burger can’t rebuild his house in Bermuda Beach on Galveston Island because the storm ate away the shoreline, placing it on the public beach.”

FEMA to pay for Isle’s tree removal: Funds to cut trees killed by Ike will go to both private, public land [Houston Chronicle] “Texas Forest Service officials estimate 60 percent to 70 percent of the city’s trees are dead or dying and will have to come down. Removing them is expected to cost about $5 million.”

Thursday June 11

HURRICANE IKE RECOVERY State expected to receive an extra $1.7 billion: Move comes as repair projects get set to begin [Houston Chronicle] “City officials have identified many additional projects that could be eligible for renovation with money from the second round of federal funding, said Richard Celli, Houston’s housing and community development director. Since housing in older neighborhoods in the city’s core is more likely to have been damaged, Celli said, the disaster funding will have long-term benefits in those neighborhoods. “We look at this as a chance to revitalize the inner city,’ Celli said.”

FACES IN THE CROWD Katy-area man bikes for fitness: Keith Mouton advocates cycling as a way of life [Houston Chronicle] “Mouton began cycling and running, and after moving to Katy from Sugar Land in 2000, he was so impressed with the pedestrian-friendly ways of Katy, he wanted to share it. In 2001, Mouton launched Bicycling in Kind Environments, in which he advocates increased health and decreased emissions.”

Group wants to plant trees: Goal is 100 trees by the end of the year [Houston Chronicle] “From ground laid bare by Hurricane Ike springs Keep Heights Green, a new nonprofit that aims to plant 100 trees in the area by year’s end and grow more green projects in the years to come.”

HUMBLE MAIN STREET Farmer’s market could be coming [Houston Chronicle]

BELLAIRE City fire station design, funding is OK’d: Councilman critical of design, spending for site [Houston Chronicle] “With six bays and nearly 17,000 square feet, the new fire station is designed to fit Bellaire’s existing apparatus and could accommodate a ladder truck in the future, PGAL architect Jeff Gerber said.”

Wednesday June 10

Parishioners block razing of Bolivar church Galveston-Houston Archdiocese is obeying temporary restraining order [Houston Chronicle]

Tuesday June 9

Home sales may get boost if rents climb Apartment financing woes could spill over [Houston Chronicle]

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