Category Results

Category: Infrastructure

OffCite Goes to China: Megablock

In this series, Christof Spieler gives a daily report on his trip to China for a special issue of Cite. Read more about RDA’s China initiative here, which includes a knockout lecture series in the Fall.

At times, Chinese urban planning circa 2000 seems like American urban planning circa 1970. This is Jianwai SOHO, completed 2005, with 7.5 million square feet of retail and residential on 42 acres in Beijing’s CBD area. One level is reserved for pedestrians and retail; access roads, parking, loading docks are placed below, and 2,110 residential units occupy a series of matching towers above. It’s like Embarcadero Center in San Francisco or Peachtree Center in Atlanta, only bigger. (That analogy seems all the more relevant since John Portman & Associates, who designed both of those complexes, have done multiple major projects in China, including a 3-tower complex next door to Jianwai Soho.)

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Protesters outside TxDOT called for an end to plans for expanding the Grand Parkway.

Grand Parkway Protest

On Wednesday May 25, approximately 50 people rallied outside the Houston district office of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). Organized by the Citizens’ Transportation Coalition (CTC), the protest called for a better use of $350 million of government funds currently slated for expanding SH99, commonly referred to as the Grand Parkway. That funding would complete only Segment E, between I-10 and 290. The total funding for the 180-mile ring road—Houston’s fourth—is estimated to cost $4.8 billion to build.

Signs like “Spend It Where the People Are!” and “What about 290?” called attention to Segment E’s remote proposed location in the Katy Prairie far outside population centers and the fact that highways through densely populated area need funding for improvements.

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George Greanias and Lillian Warren

Art and Traffic

We all are familiar with Houston’s no-zoning tradition and have been cautioned not to romanticize or over-estimate its beneficent influence on our chockablock city. Perhaps, though, we can successfully practice no-zoning for conversations and confrontations that otherwise languish in isolated “discourse communities.” That model seemed to be the impetus behind a series of three conversations hosted at Rudolph Blume Fine Art/ArtScan Gallery which had as their background an exhibit of paintings by Lillian Warren called “Urban Landscapes” (April 30 through June 4, 2011; 1836 Richmond Avenue).

Last Thursday, May 12, about a dozen people gathered to participate in the second of these discussions, called “At the Intersection of Art & Traffic.” Houston METRO President and CEO George Greanias and Warren led the dialogue.

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Don Lessem, aka "Dino Don," explains the park's development. All images courtesy of Patricia Hernandez.

Big “Green” Theme Park Idea Raises Hopes and Questions

During an information session at Kirksey Architects on Wednesday, September 8, a team including former Disney “imagineer” Chris Brown, developer Don Lessem (aka Dino Don), and scientist Dr. Matt Gardner presented plans for EarthQuest.

The 1,600-acre resort and learning institute is set to break ground at an undisclosed date in New Caney, Texas. The facility would teach “green living” and “re-engage the public with what’s real,” according to Brown, who is president of Contour Entertainment. Houston was a strategic choice. As the fourth largest metropolitan area in the country, Brown said that an estimated 18 million people live within a few hours drive of the potential park. This, along with Houston’s position as an energy capital, and the city’s lack of a theme park since the demise of Astroworld, make its location prime real estate.

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BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, all images by Susan Rogers

A Slice of Houston

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.

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Mayor Annise Parker and Christof Spieler from April 8, 2010 Houston Chronicle.

Setting Up Commuter Rail to Fail?

Wednesday, Mayor Annise Parker gave Christof Spieler, Chair of the Cite editorial committee, a big hug after swearing him in as a Metro board member. A picture of their embrace landed on page B3 of Thursday’s Houston Chronicle. It was a landmark moment for the Rice Design Alliance and Cite. Spieler joined the Cite team 11 years ago while still a graduate student at Rice, wrote numerous articles on Houston’s transit, and guest edited several issues. In the current issue of Cite (81), he contributed “Are We Setting Up Commuter Rail to Fail?” Written months before Spieler knew he would be appointed a Metro board member, it went to press before the announcement of his nomination by Mayor Parker but is now reaching mailboxes after his confirmation. This rare bird of an article is one last critical and independent analysis by Spieler, who because of his new position inside the system cannot speak without representing the city government and Metro.

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Rosemont bridge will cross Memorial drive and join the two sides of Buffalo Bayou Park east of Studemont [Images from City of Houston]

The Bridge Formerly Known as Tolerance

The Houston Parks and Recreation Department broke ground on Saturday, March 13, 2010, for the construction of a bridge across Memorial Drive and the two sides of Buffalo Bayou just east of Studemont. The project was originally called “Tolerance Bridge” and featured a sculptural piece on the top designed by Elmgreen + Dragset that gave the illusion of impassibility.

After negative reactions from City Council about the name, the Houston Arts Alliance held a contest to find a new one. But not enough money was raised through private donations to pay for an art piece to accompany the name game. The city, instead, went ahead with a design by SWA Group defined by topography, an existing old railroad bridge, and cost.

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KCS Red on Green, Oil on Masonite [David Cobb]

Honor the Railcar

If you are intrigued by David Cobb’s art and reflections on rail, industry, and culture, check out the Cite Infrastructure Issue.

I began painting the railcars or “rolling stock” back in my college years at the University of Houston as a project for my undergraduate studies. I was helping my father, Tom Cobb, digitize his extensive collection of slides he’d taken of the Southern Pacific railroad, mainly from the 1970’s and 80’s. As we scanned and doctored images I became enthralled with the photos of boxcars. Simple, utilitarian, industrial, vital, yet so commonplace they seem to go unnoticed. I was hooked. It was time to honor the boxcar. The idea of using the rolling stock as my reference for the modern day railway instead of the typical grandiose depiction of a steam engine or diesel locomotive muscling its way through an open landscape seemed to been more honest.

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Proposed route of Grand Parkway Segment E [From Houston Tomorrow]

Stupendous News: Headlines September 12 to October 9

The proposed use of stimulus funds to build Segment E of the Grand Parkway through farmland and prairie is doomed according to a Chronicle report. Other major headlines from the last month include new momentum to establish high-speed and commuter rail lines (1, 2, 3). The old Savoy Hotel in Downtown Houston was demolished but the Flagship Hotel on the Galveston Seawall remains. Montrose is named a top ten neighborhood nationally by the American Planning Association. And listen to the NPR series on Houston by Steve Inskeep if you haven’t already.

Friday October 9

Grand Parkway stretch in W. Harris Co. not so shovel-ready after all “Harris County officials will ask the state to shift $181 million in federal stimulus funding from a controversial toll road portion of the Grand Parkway to other local projects, citing delays obtaining federal permits that ‘might never be issued’….’This is stupendous news’ said David Crossley, president of the non-profit Houston Tomorrow.”

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2008 Tour de Houston [City of Houston]

What if HOV Lanes were Bike Paths?

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?

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