Category Results

Category: Environment

Launch of GrowOnUs: Courtesy: Balmori Associates.

A Garden Grows in Brooklyn: An Experimental Landscape Thrives in Notoriously Polluted Gowanus Canal

Diana Balmori of Balmori Associates will lecture in Houston on Wednesday, February 17, for the Rice School of Architecture/Rice Design Alliance Spring 2016 series, Projective Infrastructures. The lecture will be held at 6 p.m. at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

The Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn might be the most polluted body of water in the country. In 2007, students found traces of gonorrhea in an oily goo that was floating on its surface. Last year, the canal was confirmed to be carcinogenic. Last fall, Christopher Swain, an environmental activist, swam — more specifically, he did the breaststroke to keep his head up out of the water — its entire 1.8-mile length. (It was his second attempt; the first was cancelled because of rain, which pushes raw sewage into the canal.) Swain wore a full-body suit, heavy gloves and boots, a swim cap, and goggles, and his face was smeared with waterproof jelly. On his previous attempt, some of the water got into his mouth: “It tasted like blood, poop, ground-up grass, detergent, and gasoline,” he told New York.

A Superfund National Priority site since 2010, the Gowanus Canal will require more than $506 million and five more years, the EPA estimates, to be cleaned. The New York Times reports that there is a “black mayonnaise,” a thick deposit on the bottom of the canal, which “includes PCBs, asbestos chips, arsenic, copper, lead and mercury, as well as trash such as pieces of toilets and illegal guns.”

This is where Diana Balmori put a garden.

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Rendering for George R. Brown Convention Center updates. WHR Architects.

ICYMI: Plan Houston Passes and Other News

Several efforts underway for years have come to a head in Houston. City Council approved Plan Houston. As Planning Director Patrick Walsh explains in this Houston Matters interview, though the document is short on measurable goals, it contains the vision, policy directives, and performance indicators that will provide the foundation for more detailed plans that city staff and leaders can work together on more effectively. More news below:

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Photos: Tom Flaherty.

Hit Hard in Meyerland: A Photo Essay

One area particularly affected by the recent floods in Houston was Meyerland. Here, Tom Flaherty shares his observations and a series of photographs after a walk near South Braeswood and South Rice.

Though we were spared any damage from the flooding, we had friends who live in Meyerland who were hit hard. My wife and I helped them out by washing clothes and drying hundreds of family photos. The photos I worked on were from a friend of my wife whom I didn’t know. So it was a strange feeling “getting to know” all those family members I repeatedly saw in those photos. And it was sad to know that their household was turned inside out and upside down by the flooding. As a photographer, I decided to go walk the flooded neighborhood and document the street scene six days after the initial flood.

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Illustration by Sarah Welch.

Liquidation: In the Face of Water Extremes, Houston Cannot Go On with Business as Usual

The article below by Jim Blackburn was original published in 2014 as part of a special issue on environmental challenges to the Houston region.

The future of the City of Houston might be more affected by extreme weather events than by any other factor. The impacts of these extremes are well known but not well addressed. Our ability to compete and survive in the harsh natural environment and competitive economic climate of the 21st century will rest on how we address these challenges.

As we learned in 2011, drought is a serious worry. Though we should plan for and anticipate constricted water supply and availability, we are not as vulnerable as many other areas of Texas. Our Achilles heel is flooding.

Flooding in our part of the world comes from two major sources: major rainstorms associated with tropical storms or cold fronts, and the surge tide associated with hurricanes. These two sources of water—one coming from the sky and the other from the Gulf—are major threats to our well-being.

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Thomas and Daniel Garcia-Prats at Finca Tres Robles. Photos: Nick Panzarella

Finca Tres Robles: Urban Farming on the Rise in Houston

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.

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A Bottom-Up, Unofficial Guide to the Heights Sunday Streets HTX

After a successful pilot project last spring, Mayor Annise Parker has brought back Sunday Streets HTX. The three routes this fall are October 12 in the Heights along 19th Street; November 2 in the Greater Third Ward along Dowling, West Alabama, and Almeda; and December 7 in the East End and Fifth Ward along Navigation and York. These streets will be open to pedestrians and bicyclists from noon to 4 pm to encourage walking, running, dancing, or riding with friends and family.

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Brio and Dixie Oil Processing and Southbend subdivision. Photo: South Belt-Ellington Leader via South Belt Houston Digital History Archive.

Back to Brio: A Review of Friendswood

The suburbs are supposed to be safe. It’s only inside the city, we hear, where you’ll find crime. Drugs. Addiction. Corruption. Pollution. Hypocrisy. Assault. Rape. Not, as least as they are bought and sold, in the subdivisions in the suburbs — that’s where you move to escape. That’s where you raise your family among families that share your values, among neighbors who look out for you.

Not so in René Steinke’s new novel, Friendswood (Riverhead Books, 2014, 350 pages). It’s based on the real Friendswood, of course, a suburb about 20 miles southeast of Houston. But the novel focuses even further in on a real place in Friendswood — the Brio Superfund site on Dixie Farm Road, where a succession of companies starting in 1956 processed and recycled chemical waste, until the last one, Brio Refining Inc., went bankrupt in 1982. These companies used the 58-acre site near Clear Creek to store in earthen pits both known and suspected carcinogenic byproducts, like styrene tars and vinyl chloride sludges, whose very names make you nauseated.

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Sea-level along Galveston Bay with a ten-foot rise. Source for map:

Will the Sea Swallow Houston?

Sea levels are rising. What will that mean for Houston? Will the Pierce Elevated become a diving platform and its ramps water slides?

One winning entry in an architecture competition to reimagine the Astrodome proposes a Houston Ark. The designers behind the entry, HiWorks with Erica Goranson, write an amusing story to go along with the images from a post-apocolyptic perspective 150 years in the future: “In 2046, when storm waters from the relatively weak Tropical Storm Rick breached the trillion-dollar [Ike Memorial Dike] and surged up the Ship Channel, Houston knew it had only a few years left to prepare . . . It was not a dramatic surge of a storm that moved the Houston Ark off its moorings. Instead it was the slow and incremental rise of the Gulf.” Eventually the ark floats across what was the state of Florida.

Is this the type of scenario we face? Cite asked one of the foremost experts on sea level rise, Dr. John Anderson, W. Maurice Ewing Professor of Oceonography at Rice University, whose article, “Sea Level Change,” appeared in the Winter 2014 issue (93).

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Mark Schatz and Anne Eamon at their house on Grace Lane, 2013. Photo: Jack Thompson.

Saving Grace: A Small Experiment by Two Architecture Students Led to a Big Struggle for Their Neighborhood

The post below was first published in the print issue of Cite 93 available for a limited time at bookstores.

The CES Environmental Systems site is easy to miss. The small building and gate at the front do not announce themselves as villainous. “Environmental Systems” sounds vaguely green and ecological, after all, like a windmill factory. But when, some five years back, I first turn on Grace Lane, which runs to the side of the deep CES lot, the fumes hit me. They don’t burn my throat exactly. They are not sulphuric. They are not like sewage or the wet, flatulent smell of paper mills. It’s more like I’m breathing inside an inflatable air mattress.

Grace Lane itself is a narrow street of single-family homes built in the 1930s and ’40s interspersed with small churches, an apartment complex, vacant lots, and newer homes. In the late 1960s, the area flipped from being exclusively working class and White to predominantly Black.

Near the end of Grace Lane is something unexpected: three contemporary structures set in a lush garden dotted with abstract sculptures. The concrete and steel buildings are home to Mark Schatz and Anne Eamon, and the offices for their firm, m+a architecture studio.

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Detail from agro-ecological infrastructure map by Steven Mikulencak.

Learn the Song of Our Land, Part 2: The Map

The post below is the second in a series that excerpts from “Learn the Song of Our Land” by John Jacob. Read Part 1. The full article is available in the print issue of Cite 93.

In conjunction with the Houston-Galveston Area Council, the Texas Coastal Watershed Program — a part of the Texas Sea Grant at Texas A&M and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service — recently undertook the mapping of the significant remaining habitat fragments in the eight counties constituting the greater Houston area. By “significant,” we mean habitat patches of 100 acres or greater that have some kind of ecological value. Within the ecological literature, 100 acres is considered a more or less minimum size where some semblance of ecological integrity can be maintained. Limiting our mapping to patches greater than 100 acres allowed us to complete the inventory with the resources we had at hand and in a reasonable time. The map is a major step forward in get- ting a handle on the remaining ecological resources in the region. Still, it should be recognized that no claims of 100 percent accuracy are made for this map, particularly for including every one of the smaller patches. Although it is unlikely that many 1,000-acre expanses were missed, some 100- and 200-acre patches here and there could easily have been left out, as well as the occasional patches of less than 100 acres with unusually intact flora that merit preservation as parks or educational sites.

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