For a larger, high-resolution version of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) map of Houston, visit this link.
Why are we so compelled to define neighborhoods as “good” or “bad”? Is there one definition of a “good” neighborhood — is it universal? Can a low-income neighborhood be a “good” neighborhood? I often wonder, and frequently challenge, whether these labels accurately depict a place and its people or whether they are self-fulfilling prophecy that makes it easy to invest or divest. The question comes more clearly into focus by understanding the history of neighborhood classification, of “good” and “bad” labels, and why they are too often directly associated with income and ethnicity.
Heat map showing density of multifamily housing in Houston. Graphic by Rose Lee.
This essay appears in a slightly different form in the new issue of Cite, “The Beautiful Periphery.” The issue is available for purchase at Brazos Bookstore and River Oaks Bookstore, as well as the bookstores at the Menil Collection; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Contemporary Arts Museum; and the Blaffer Art Museum. Read more from Cite 94.
There is a stubborn and widening gap like the one between the rich and the poor, in how we imagine our cities and the reality on the ground. The time-honored suburban stereotypes of homogeneity, conformity, and middle-class banality are as unmoving and obstinate as a giant rock, regardless of the actualities. It is as if we are blind, or perhaps just don’t want to see. But 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. Some designers are paying attention, but their vision is too often to retrofit the suburban landscape into a semblance of the nineteenth-century city — a feat that is far too nostalgic and flawed. So while designers look to the past for inspiration, ground-up action transforms the present in hopes of a brighter future. What I define as the “New Projects,” distressed and disinvested multifamily housing, is one story of transformation, among so many that could be told.
In May 2010, OffCite published A Slice of Houston, an analysis of the census tracts lining Bellaire Boulevard. Susan Rogers, the Director of University of Houston’s Community Design Resource Center, presented data showing an astonishing level of international diversity along Bellaire between Loop 610 and Beltway 8 that drops off to near total native-born homogeneity inside the Loop 610. In this post, Rogers updates her analysis:
Early this year, I graphed median household income and place of birth for all of the census tracts along Bellaire/Holcombe from Main Street in the Medical Center, west to Highway 6. Recently, updated 2009 small area data has become available from the American Community Survey. The graph below shows Median Household Income along the Bellaire corridor in both 2000 and 2009.
A 2,500 square-foot map of Houston flood zones in the University of Houston Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture atrium
A 2,500-square-foot map illustrating Houston’s flood zones was installed in the atrium of the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture at the University of Houston on September 20th. In true Texas style, the map measures roughly 50 feet in both directions. Everyone who comes through the building is encouraged to stop for a moment and mark their house with a pin. The interactive result is a commentary on what connects us, water, and what divides us, the supremacy of our individual homes. The map will be exhibited until October 14th and is open to the public.
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, all images by Susan Rogers
While Houston often parallels national trends, it also bucks them. Looking at one slice of the city, — the Bellaire/Holcombe Corridor from the Medical Center to Highway 6 — provides insight into the major shifts that have occurred in the landscape and demographics of our cities over the last 20 years.
First a little history. Immigration to the U.S. spiked in two periods: the first period roughly around 1900 and the second at the turn of the 21st century. Yet the two periods are strikingly dissimilar, in one era assimilation was rewarded and quite seamless as most new residents arrived from Europe, in the second era a transnational approach is more common, where global connections to home countries, cultural traditions, and languages are maintained.
What if we re-imagined that public infrastructure was for people instead of automobiles and re-prioritized our spending in favor of alternative transportation? What if we re-purposed the networked infrastructure of the HOV lane into a bike-way — with non-stop, easy access service to points throughout the city?