Urban Movement members demonstrate parkour on the Navigation Esplanade. Photos: Allyn West.
Though last weekend’s Sunday Streets HTX was not quite as lively with participants or as busy with the pop-up shenanigans of previous ones, it was compelling, all the same. The 1.5-mile route along Navigation Boulevard, connecting the East End and Fifth Ward, showed parts of a city in transition and invited us to experience close-in neighborhoods still on this side of gentrification.
Land use, in these neighborhoods, has always been truly mixed. As Raj Mankad pointed out in his “unofficial guide,” heavy-duty industry and family-owned restaurants co-exist. Buffalo Bayou is bordered on the north by a noisy Prolerizing facility and on the south by a serene hike and bike trail. Empty buildings are decorated with murals; decommissioned railroad tracks sinking into the pavement lie just a few blocks from shiny new brass sidewalk inlays marking the stamp of a management district initiative. Which is it?, the question seems to be. Past or future? These neighborhoods answer that — at least for now — it’s both.
The next Sunday Streets HTX is December 7 from noon to 4 p.m. along Navigation and N. York in the East End and Fifth Ward. The city closes the street to motorized traffic and opens it to human-powered traffic like walking and bicycling. This 1.5-mile curve through historic Houston neighborhoods becomes a 2.5-mile loop if you include the hike and bike trail along Buffalo Bayou that intersects with the route at both ends.
This final of six Sunday Streets held in Houston this first year promises to bring together all the elements that distinguished the previous routes. The rapid succession of landscapes is unparalleled. You’ll move from urban to small-town feel to industrial ruins to active industry to alternative art to agriculture and back again. The layers of history in the built and natural environments, and the connection of the communities there to the history, are visible. As in the Third Ward last month, streets that were dividing lines in a segregated Houston will serve as public spaces where all are invited.
The next Sunday Streets HTX is November 2 from noon to four in the Greater Third Ward along Dowling, Alabama, and Almeda. This route will be the fifth one this year. With each sun and rain and sweat drenched Sunday Street, we have stretched our collective imagination, reworking the “structure of feeling” of Houston’s public realm. The events are ephemeral. Once the crowds are gone we are back to cracked sidewalks for pedestrians and big wide lanes for cars. And yet, Sunday Streets change our understanding of what is possible. Sunday Streets establish a sense of belonging. Fears are relinquished. Whole landscapes are seen afresh.
And of all the routes, I believe this one in the Greater Third Ward — this mile-and-a-half lightning bolt — has the greatest significance and potential. It is a chance to experience history and a chance to make history. I hope you will be there.
Read below for a bottom-up, unofficial, incomplete guide to what you can expect once you arrive. I’ll start from the north east side of the route at Dowling and Elgin.
Shaun Gladwell, Pataphysical Man, 2005.
Buildering: Misbehaving the City looks into our shared spaces. With very few exceptions, the works are set in cities — specifically, city streets. A wall text opening the show mentions “modernist architecture’s mechanical segregation of work and play” (ref. Alison and Peter Smithson). A touchpoint for me in the show is Bernard Rudofsky’s 1969 book, Streets For People. He critiques the American city for what it isn’t: human-scaled, inhabitable. Rudofsky sees an American society, going back to the 1700s, in which “our streets have become roads.” My medicine in childhood for the condition Rudofsky describes was Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Streets.” The song took off with an ecstatic roar and promised freedom. Very meaningful in 1964, when the American city street was the scene of riot and fear. The song offered a big reconciliation.
A thread throughout Buildering is play. The tools are disruption, rearrangement of attention, and surprise. Creative play emerges as a way of re-entering our shared space on our own terms. The international artists of Buildering find the human form, the space one takes up, the finger’s touch, in the vacant space around us. They repopulate our city world with relationships that we hunger for.
"Mixed Use Development," collage, 2014. Image: Carrie Schneider.
This essay appears 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.
On the way to a friend’s house in the suburbs, a friend and I skipped the tolls and drove past the second loop on a surface road, playing a guess-what’s-next car game: Best Buy, Marshalls, AT&T, Subway, ……… .
But in spurts, the retail syntax gave way to those euphorically Houston stretches where scrappy, audacious imagination cracks through the concrete and reads like a romp told by too many voices at once.
The friends we were going to see are recent transplants from Montrose, now occupying their colonial two-story with an independent press and compromising their lawn with art too unnerving to describe here. When we arrived, they apologized, “We’re so far!”
But I was thinking the reverse: the young professionals who move inside the Loop claim heightened cultural capital for living “the urban experience” but are more consumers than contributors to creative life.
Open House, Plan of the Future, Block. Courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro.
If this topic interests you, buy the new issue of Cite, “The Beautiful Periphery.” It includes a contribution by the interviewer in this article, the artist Carrie Schneider. 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.
Charles Renfro graduated from the Rice School of Architecture in 1989 and is among its most celebrated graduates. Rice recently announced that he will design a new opera theater for the school. In this interview, he speaks with Carrie Schneider about Open House, a one-day event in Levittown, a community outside New York City widely considered to be the archetype for post-war suburbs. Their conversation expanded from there to include the High Line, the Museum of Image and Sound, and the very idea of what constitutes a suburb.
Carrie Schneider: I recently found online images from April 2011 of Open House, the Diller Scofidio + Renfro project in Levittown that you were the project lead for, in collaboration with Droog. Can you tell me about it?
Photos: David Miller.
OffCite invites short essays, reviews, and observations on specific moments and places for our CiteSeeing series. Interested in contributing your own? Let us know.
Kaboom Books is a generous storefront in an old commercial row in the Woodland Heights. It is my favorite used bookstore. Its storefront announces in large letters: K A B O O M. Inside, the high-ceilinged space is a treasury of carefully chosen books of encyclopedic range. The store is a paper sculpture, as well, shelved and stacked in tall faces and distinct intervals. At the desk, there are spiraling stacked forms and an old hand press ornamented with classical dolphins. The sound of the store, besides a slight creak and sigh, is the p-k, p-k of the owner patiently re-ordering one or another section. “I haven’t re-ordered that section,” he says, as if that task is a waiting meditation. I imagine him entering the store’s recesses and revolving through the world’s printed legacy each month or so. The books seem to know his close-up attentions. The stock is paperback and hardback editions, and a few rare ones are in their own room separated by a wire grate that may have been part of the old storefront.
Kaboom is co-owned by John Dillman. John’s conversation is patient, roaming, thematic, worldly, and wry. He can have come only from a street-wise, storytelling culture: New Orleans. We talked recently about a dying friend, his youthful encounter with a Doppelgänger, the mishap of sharing a name with a NoLa rogue. Conversation with him is shaped by a respect for silence.
Entrance from Edwards Street. Photos: Allyn West.
The first thing you have to do at Writespace, the first coworking space in Houston meant specifically for writers, is sign a contract. “I agree to maintain the writers’ silence,” one of the two provisions states. That means: no phone calls. No YouTube. No potato chips. It means there won’t be any appliances grinding coffee beans or steaming milk. Some writers like that busyness; some of us need enough ambient background noise to drown out the continuously muttering anxiety in the foreground.
Silence, though, isn’t hard to get at Writespace. Founded by Elizabeth White, it opened just last week at 2000 Edwards Street. It’s secreted away inside a maze-like 86,000-square-foot industrial building in the First Ward. As with the nearby Winter and Spring Street Studios, the building isn’t so much post-industrial, however, as intra-industrial. To get there, you have to drive past scrap yards and townhouses. You pull through the gate past Platinum Motorcars, a luxury and exotic car rental service. Then you pass a stone engraving — “LET THE FACTS BE SUBMITTED TO A CANDID WORLD” — that, I believe, was salvaged from the faćade of the old Houston Post building at 2410 Polk Street. Then you make a left and park along the oleanders against a chain-link fence. You can see those iconic SUCCESS RICE silos from a large wood patio built off the new suites. The patio is raised above a set of retired railroad tracks that must have brought cars right up to the cargo bays where these writers — and photographers, graphic designers, jewelers, architects — now work.
Photo by David A. Brown of dabphoto. All others by Raj Mankad.
The City of Houston estimates that 20,000 people came out on Westheimer for Sunday Streets HTX on May 4.
Mayor Annise Parker participated by walking her dog along Westheimer. In an interview with News 92 FM, she says, “The hard part now is finding out where we to do the next few. We have the next one on Washington Avenue. Neighborhoods are clamoring for it . . . . There’s some logistics involved. We have to pick a street. We want to get the business owners engaged. And then it is just a matter of Houstonians showing up and having a good time. We can do this year round . . . . We are seeing the start of a tradition.”
Enjoy the photographs below and mark your calendars for the next Sunday Streets HTX, which will be June 1, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., along Washington Avenue from Studemont to Market Square.
"Tactical" plaque at former Le Barcito in Los Angeles. Photo: Pocho Research Society.
Signage, as Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Scott Izenour argue in Learning from Las Vegas, is architecture. The heraldries of corporate logos and fonts of local businesses dominate our built environment as much as gables or spandrels do. Sandra de la Loza, a Los Angeles-based artist and activist, sees that dominance as an opportunity for political action.
Two weeks ago, she was in Houston for CounterCurrent, the five-day Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts festival. At the Antena @ Blaffer space at the University of Houston, de la Loza gave a lecture and led a workshop about what she terms “tactical signage.” Her use of “tactical” is, here, tactical: The actions she encourages are “everyday, if ephemeral, [ones] that people can do to transform landscapes,” whether they’re using Sharpies to add wings to the black silhouettes of deer forever leaping on road signs or sticking stickers on utility poles.