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Category: Houston

Photo: Houston Metropolitan Research Center

Flashpoints on the Road to Black and Brown Power: Sites of Struggle in Houston in the 1960s and 70s

This article originally appeared in Cite 82 (pdf) and is now accompanied by a digital map.

Houston has a long history of segregation and racial violence. From the lynchings of George White in 1859 and Robert Powell in 1928, to the hanging of black soldiers who rebelled at Camp Logan in 1919, to the rise of the local Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, racist actions have periodically threatened to tear the city apart.

The political struggles of the 1960s and ’70s changed the city. In the 1998 movie The Strange Demise of Jim Crow, historians explain how the end of segregation in Houston came relatively quickly and, due to a media blackout, without fanfare.

Highlighted in this piece are important milestones that dispel an oft-repeated myth that Houston’s quiet desegregation prevented riots, rebellions, or open conflict; moments of community indignation (anything but polite and restrained) that lead to concrete action on the road to political power for people of color in the city. Many events have been left off this list — the University of Houston riot in 1969, for example — but the sites selected can serve as initial entries into an often ignored history.

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Kennedy Boulevard (Old Apopka Road), in Eatonville, Orange County, Florida, prior to roadway improvements. Photo: Everett L. Fly.

“Managing change starts with memory”: Preserving Communities of Color Workshop

This article is part of a special series about preservation in Houston, edited by Helen Bechtel. The article was updated December 7, 2016.

In Dust Tracks on a Road, Zora Neale Hurston depicts her childhood in Eatonville, Florida — the first all-Black incorporated town in the United States — as both Edenic and rough. It is a story more about the will of a people to achieve self-determination than one of subjugation by a White majority. Communities like that of Eatonville were built across Texas, as well — streets, houses, shops, city halls, and parks built by former slaves and their descendants — in landscapes we routinely drive by without noticing.

“I didn’t know Independence Heights was the first African-American incorporated community in Texas until I was 40, even though I have family living in the community, and I grew up in the church in Independence Heights,” says Tanya Debose, a lead organizer of the Preserving Communities of Color Workshop, a national gathering and weeklong series that culminated November 19 in Houston. The four-day, multi-venued event attracted more than 150 participants including students from Prairie View University and MC Williams Middle School.

The workshop helped expand the tent of the historic preservation movement. Preservationists, in our imaginations, busy themselves saving classical buildings fronted by columns and Corinthian capitals. The reality has always been more complex, but there is truth to the perception of a movement dominated by White elites preserving a Eurocentric history. For example, less than one percent of the National Historic Landmarks are connected to Latino history. (See Sarah Zenaida Gould’s essay in Bending the Future.)

“I don’t think our ancestors were trying to make history,” says Debose. “They were trying to make a home and they went through a lot of stress. My drive comes from wanting to build on those legacies.”

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The author bikes through Montrose. Photo by Adam Socki.

The Future Now: Living Carless in Houston

The new issue of Cite explores “speculative ideas for the near future,” as guest editor Nicola Springer writes in her introduction to the issue. Here, urban planner Carson Lucarelli discusses his choice to sell his car — in one of the most car-friendly cities in the U.S. To see all the content from “The Future Now,” click here.

I live in Houston, and I got rid of my car. I’ve been living carless for a few months, in fact. It’s not that I hate cars; I grew up a “gear head.” Sundays meant helping my dad wash the family vehicles in the driveway. My mom used to say that they looked like they came off the showroom floor. In high school, my buddies and I used to tinker on cars. We were known as the Greasers. We even converted a Jeep to four-wheel drive — no easy task for a couple of 17-year-olds, but it still runs today.

But as I matured and transitioned through my education and training as an urban planner, I began to see automobiles for what they really are — tools of convenience that have facilitated one of the largest shifts in urban development that the world has even seen. Some would argue that that shift is much to the detriment of humanity, community health, and the environment. But this story is not about why auto-centric development has marred progress. Instead, it’s a retrospective, autobiographical approach at how going carless has impacted a sole Houstonian.

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Entrance to proposed Houston Arboretum Visitor Center with a vista of restored Gulf Coast prairie. Houston Arboretum.

ICYMI: Big Outdoors, Micro-Living, and More

Houston’s past of “big houses, not housing” and a “sensational lack of convivial public space” is being turned on its head. Molly Glentzer reports for the Houston Chronicle on the Houston Arboretum’s plans, which bring yet more firms of national repute to transform our parks, while RE/MAX markets micro-living in EaDo.

Putting the Wilderness Back in Houston Arboretum
Molly Glentzer, Houston Chronicle
Steven Spears of Design Workshop, Reed-Hilderbrand landscape architects, Lake|Flato architects, Texas ecologists from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, transportation planners from Walter P. Moore, cultural planners from SWCA environmental consultants, Texas A&M University forester W. Todd Watson, and park operations experts from ETM Associates reimagine the Houston Arboretum.

Micro-Living Project Coming to EaDo
Laura Cook, RE/MAX
A 24-story development of units less than 500 square feet will sit on a full 1.4 acre block at the Southwest corner of Leeland and Live Oak in East Downtown.

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Cite 2015 Survey of Mayoral and At-Large City Council Candidates

In the upcoming elections, with early voting beginning October 19 and the big day itself November 3, Houstonians will be electing a new mayor and city council and deciding on several propositions. Cite asked mayoral and at-large council candidates who had announced their campaigns by July 17, 2015, to respond to this form questionnaire, which focuses on Houston’s built and natural environments. The questions were developed in consultation with experts by a steering committee: Raj Mankad, Editor, Cite; Rachel Powers, Executive Director, Citizens’ Environmental Coalition; Jen Powis, Environmental Attorney, The Powis Firm, PLLC; and Teresa Demchak, Attorney and Retired Managing Partner, Goldstein, Demchak, Borgen & Dardarian.

Two mayoral candidates, Sylvester Turner and Adrian Garcia, and 10 at-large city council candidates (Lane Lewis, Tom McCasland and Chris Oliver, Position 1; David Robinson and Andew Burkes, Position 2; Doug Peterson, Position 3; Larry Blackmon, Amanda Edwards, and Laurie Robinson, Position 4; and Phillippe Nassif, Position 5) responded to the questionnaire. These candidates’ full answers are available here and in this compilation organized by question. Below is a summary and highlights of the responses. In the coming weeks leading up to Election Day and the subsequent likely runoff races, OffCite will follow up with more analyses of the responses on key topics. You can click to jump directly to read about mobility and streets; parks, libraries, and community centers; affordability, preservation, and urban development; environment; and community engagement.

The differences among many candidates are not easy to encapsulate. An exception is the race for At-Large City Council Position 1 between incumbent David Robinson and challenger Andrew Burkes. In 2013, Robinson, an architect, defeated then-incumbent Burkes, a businessman, who is running to retake the seat. Robinson is a strong proponent of Plan Houston and general planning. By contrast, Burkes consistently argues for district-level planning.

Below, the background information that accompanied the questions is followed by a summary of the candidates’ responses. Because of space limitations, this summary is not complete and the reader is encouraged to review the candidates’ complete responses to the entire questionnaire.

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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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Still from “You Turn Yourself Around.” Courtesy Harry Perales.

You Turn Yourself Around: A Short Interview with Harry Perales

A new 15-minute film, “You Turn Yourself Around,” caught OffCite’s attention for the sense of place and the presence of Houston and Austin architecture. Lone Star College Professor Greg Oaks calls it a reminder “that life is really about the small moments, often when you’re alone.” The video is embedded below with an interview of the filmmaker, Harry Perales, by creative writer and critic Aaron Reynolds.

Aaron Reynolds: Can you describe the initial genesis of this project, how it started, and how it’s changed over time?

Harry Perales: My friend Patrick Stockwell asked me if I wanted to participate in his show The Short Fiction Soundtrack after he decided he wanted to add a Benshi video component. He was going to use a story that he’d been working on for several years and I happened to be in the writing workshop in which he’d first written it, so I was very familiar with it. However, I didn’t want to do an adaptation of the story. Instead the initial idea was to present a visual companion piece to work off of the narrative instead of commenting on it, but inspired by the emotional state of the lead character in the story. I had originally wanted to do a very simple visual narrative and I had thought up shots and where it was going to go, but Patrick thought it would be too confusing for the audience to have to focus on both. I had gathered the people I wanted to use and really just began filming them and really only directed them to do whatever it was they wanted. Unfortunately, the Short Fiction Soundtrack show for “You Turn Yourself Around” itself was cancelled and it never got screened. My writing mentor Greg Oaks had always been a fan of the footage I showed him, and he suggested that I re-edit it without the audio of the short story and suggested music by the jazz pianist Gonzales.

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Justin Smith and Mary Beth Woiccak at PARK(ing) Day. Photo: Allyn West.

Interrupting the Ordinary: PARK(ing) Day in Houston

“What is this? What’s your message?” asked the woman walking back to her apartment in the Hanover Rice Village development. I’d seen her about an hour earlier crossing the street to the 24 Hour Fitness at the corner of Kelvin and Dunstan.

Justin Smith of Walter P Moore, Mary Beth Woiccak (a colleague of mine at the Rice Design Alliance, which publishes this blog), and I had been relaxing and talking for the better part of the morning. It was the third Friday in September, or PARK(ing) Day, and we had paid $16 to occupy a parking spot from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Earlier that morning — as the rain soaked us — we’d rolled out a 240-square-foot hunk of artificial turf that we’d found at the City of Houston Building Materials ReUse Warehouse and laid down a few stone pavers, set up plants and furniture we had brought from home or had had donated. And — voilà — a park!

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Sick City: Can Houston Walk Itself Into Health?

Forty-four percent of children between 5 and 17 in Harris County are overweight or obese, according to the 2010 Health of Houston Survey. That comes out to about 400,000 children.

“Just to put that into perspective, that’s roughly the size of the city of Miami,” said Dr. Bakeyah Nelson at the Rice Design Alliance’s recent Walk Houston civic forum. Dr. Nelson, Assistant Professor, Exercise and Health Sciences, University of Houston, Clear Lake, was careful to note that more local data are needed, and that our local childhood overweight/obesity estimates range from 1-in-3 to 1-in-2 children in Harris County. A study of Houston-area fourth-graders published in 2010 reported that 46 percent were overweight or obese. (A video of Dr. Nelson’s talk is below.)

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ATNMBL, a concept for a driverless car by Mike and Maaike.

Google Car + Uber = Walkable Houston?

After 16 months of deliberation, Houston City Council recently approved new rules that legalize the operation of taxi-like car-sharing services, like Lyft and Uber. Last night, in his talk for the Rice Design Alliance’s Walk Houston civic forum, Kinder Baumgardner, President of SWA Group, discussed the impact these services could have on the future of Houston. An edited excerpt of the talk is presented below.

I like to think of Houston as a multiverse of little walkable places. In between is all this dark matter, which [could be called] the suburbs. So we go from bubble to bubble, multiverse to multiverse. On a typical day, you might start off in the suburbs and go Downtown, then walk around, and get some breakfast. Then you go to the Medical Center, get some tests done, and walk around there. You could take some transit. Maybe you go to [the future] Regent Square and buy some stuff or meet some friends. Then you go to Uptown and go back home. That’s how Houston operates. Where are the [other] places people go [to walk]? Well, they go to The Woodlands Town Center. People walk there. They don’t walk to there but they walk around when they get there. CityCentre — I love the name, especially given where it is — people love to walk there. It is extremely appealing. [What are walkable places with] other demographics? Airline Drive — people drive there and then they walk — is a pretty amazing place if you haven’t been.

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