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As the Houston Bike Plan inches closer to approval by the city, now might be a good time to review all that it entails. For those who rarely venture outside the Loop, the map might contain a surprise. In the northeast corner of the city is a large green spot, an area so thick with lines it looks more like an inkblot than a network of high-comfort, off-street bike trails.
The Kingwood Greenbelt, as we know it, is composed of paved bike and pedestrian trails that weave throughout forested interstitial spaces behind rows of suburban homes with large lots. All destinations in Kingwood are easily accessible via the Greenbelt, with the crossing of a street at grade only necessary at rare intersections, since there are underpasses under most major thoroughfares. For the young, the trails provide easy access for visiting friends and getting to schools or convenience stores. Adults use them more for jogging, biking, or walking the dog. The Kingwood Park and Ride, located in Kingwood’s Town Center and providing bus service to Downtown Houston, is bisected by several sidewalks that feed into the Greenbelt.
Küchenmonument or Kitchen Monument. Courtesy Raumlabor.
On Saturday, March 14, Metro broke ground on a light rail overpass at Harrisburg that upset many Houstonians in the East End, believing it couldn’t be anything but an eyesore. Can we imagine the Houston underpass as shelter for life instead of an unwanted and dangerous dead space?
Berlin architect Markus Bader recently discussed his “Kitchen Monument” project at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, for the RSA/RDA “Plug-Ins” lecture series. The project began with the activation of an underpass with a giant bubble where dances and dinner parties were held. Watch an excerpt from the talk below or the full talk here.
Thomas and Daniel Garcia-Prats at Finca Tres Robles. Photos: Nick Panzarella
Down Navigation Boulevard, past the popular Mexican restaurants and beyond the majority of the new townhouses, an urban farm sits a block south across from the U.S. Zinc factory. Finca Tres Robles, Spanish for “Three Oaks Farm,” is the project of brothers Thomas and Daniel Garcia-Prats, two native Houstonians who founded the farm in June 2014.
Urban farming has been on the rise in the U.S. for the past few years, and Houston has not been overlooked. Planted: Houston and Sown and Grown are for-profits in the city limits, and Last Organic Outpost is a long-time nonprofit institution. Plant It Forward is expanding their work with refugees. The idea is to make use of unused space within the city to produce food, as opposed to consuming more wild lands outside of the city.
1920s Houston streetcar on Mandell Line headed toward Montrose.
City-wide gridlock. Long stretches of highway that look like parking lots, not at rush hour, but midday. Welcome back to traffic panic, Houston. In the past we have given ourselves brief reprieves by widening our highways, but there’s little appetite for swallowing up whole neighborhoods for right-of-way and no money to do such a thing. Can light rail save us?
Two new light rail lines set to start service early next year will drastically expand Houston’s rail network, but our city will remain dreadfully underserved by the system. Many neighborhoods seeing a greater density of midrise and townhouse developments will not be reached by rail. The bus system is undergoing a much needed reimagining but it will be difficult to coax those moving into luxury apartments to ride the bus. Furthermore, the current political climate will not yield federal funding for new light rail anytime soon. Now is a good time to consider further expansion of transit through a combined streetcar and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system that we can afford, and possibly even agree upon.
Trailwood Village greenbelt system, Kingwood, Charles Tapley and his associates. Photo: Courtesy of the architect.
In the latest edition of Cite, while discussing perceptions of suburbs, Susan Rogers writes, “Big changes have occurred in this landscape of strip centers, shopping malls, subdivisions, and apartment complexes—change big enough to completely eradicate labels, yet somehow they hold.” The enclaves that ring Houston have developed into multi-ethnic areas with their own industries and cultural attractions, both inside Beltway 8 and beyond. The Woodlands is dealing with the issues of a full-fledged city, as a recent article in the Houston Chronicle made clear. Yet Kingwood prevails as an exception, remaining true to its initial design as a secluded White middle-class sleeper community. The reasons are varied, but it would appear that Kingwood’s location, structure, and attachment to Houston keep it a master-planned microcosm.