In national transit circles, Houston has received glittering coverage for its reimagined bus system. Most recently TransitCenter heralded Rice School of Architecture senior lecturer and former Cite editorial chair Christof Spieler for his pivotal role on the Houston METRO board. All this national attention came in advance of the new plan going into effect. Last Sunday, the bus system launched, and we already have some firsthand assessments. I will survey what I’ve read and finish with my near-spiritual experience.
Kyle Shelton of Rice’s Kinder Institute published a piece titled “To See If METRO’s Bus Overhaul Works, I Rode It With a 1-Year-Old.” He travels on a Sunday with his family down Montrose Boulevard to Buffalo Bayou Park on one of the system’s new 22 high-frequency, seven-days-a-week lines. He writes, “My son laughed as we watched dogs leap into the dog park ponds. Our family stopped by the Wortham Fountain and watched the mists carry off across the pathways.” In the accompanying photo, the child gives a chubby-fingered thumbs-up to a METRO bus. Shelton’s experience points to a whole new demographic and type of user for METRO — the Sunday-picnic rider. What of the construction workers and phlebotomists on their daily commutes?
Last year, 38 million refugees fled conflict and natural disasters. Many live in camps where tent-like shelters provide little to no barrier to the dirt below, exposing them to parasitic infections, flooding, waterborne diseases, and freezing temperatures.
“A floor under your feet is just as important as a roof over your head,” says Scott Key, who along with Sam Brisendine, developed Emergency Floor while students at the Rice School of Architecture. The project was selected as a finalist for a $150,000 grant from USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures. In order to quality for the grant, they must raise $50,000. Their crowdsourcing campaign ends July 15 and is $20,000 from reaching the goal.
I reached the sea without getting in a car. Over the course of my journey, which began at Rice University and ended at Stewart Beach, I took one light rail train, four buses, and walked about three miles. Every three or four minutes, I took a photograph with my phone and I compiled a video embedded below.
If the various local and federal pots of money that paid for the two major legs of the trip had been used in a coordinated manner, as part of a regional system, the $7.50 trip would have taken about an hours and a half instead of four.
The 2015 Neighborhoods USA conference will be held May 20-23 in Houston and Angela Blanchard, CEO and President of Neighborhood Centers Inc. (NCI), will be the keynote speaker. NCI is the largest nonprofit in Texas with 70 sites that reach over half a million people in the Houston region every year. Below is an interview of Blanchard by Cite editor Raj Mankad.
On Tuesday, May 5, at the Leonel J. Castillo Community Center, artist and urban planner James Rojas will lead a public workshop. Rojas uses hundreds of repurposed, colorful objects to enable participants to visualize their ideas, memories, and hopes for their community. The event is free and open to all ages. Light refreshments will be served. The event is sponsored by the Rice School of Architecture, Rice Design Alliance, the Kinder Institute, and the Office of Mayor Pro-Tem Ed Gonzalez. In the interview below, Rojas talks about his background and methods with Raj Mankad, the editor of Cite: The Architecture + Design Review of Houston, which is based at Rice.
Raj Mankad: You have a degree in urban planning from MIT. How did you end up setting up play instead of working in a traditional urban planning office?
James Rojas: When I went to MIT, I was sitting in class. The professor was talking about what makes a city good or bad. I wanted to figure out where East L.A. fit in. I wanted to examine why I like that place even though other people might think it is a bad place.
At the March 29 Cigna Sunday Streets HTX along Westheimer, OffCite teamed up with photographer Rashed Haq and his family to continue the Love Is Everyday project. As I noted previously on OffCite, public displays of affection (PDA) are a barometer for a healthy public realm. PDA shows that people feel safe and open to sharing beauty and joy. Houstonian’s penchant for private life undermines the flowering of our fullest potential, and this project is a playful intervention.
We invited passersby at the Westheimer Sunday Streets to display affection for the camera. All the participants, including notable figures like Mayor Annise Parker and writer Lacy Johnson, signed an agreement that their photographs could be shared. The photographs were taken in front of the once-muraled Mary’s wall (now Blacksmith coffee shop) and Chances (now Hay Merchant), gay and lesbian bars that were at the center of Houston’s queer community. The participants show a continuation of Montrose counterculture, we hope, by paying homage to those sites with locked lips, side hugs, and other affections. Enjoy this selection. You can see more of the photographs Saturday, April 18, 5 pm – 9 pm at the Spring Street Studios Spring Biannual Art Opening (1824 Spring Street, Studio #213).
Also mark your calendars for Sunday Streets at 19th Street in the Heights on April 26 and Navigation Boulevard on May 17.
Long live print! The Archizines exhibit at the Architecture Center Houston documents an explosion of experiments with paper — 80 recent magazines, fanzines, and journals from over 20 countries. I did not leave the exhibit with a fully-formed manifesto about the future of architectural publishing beaming out of my forehead onto the page, or screen. I did leave exhilarated, overwhelmed, optimistic, unsure. If there is a single message, it is this: for every purpose there is an energizing print format.
For example, Fake Cities / True Stories appears to be photocopied pages bound with staples and a plastic clip. I’m not sure what those clips are called. The workers at Kinko’s or Copy.com would know. According to the exhibit copy, this weekly was founded in 2012 “as a tool for communication and feedback between lectures and students” at Slovak Technical University. The content and format feels wonderfully raw and immediate. A print version of a Twitter hashtag? Not quite. The print object invests the content. There’s deliberate process, effort, and self-selection if not curation — a meaningful exercise in the digital era.