The image above shows the heavy brass plate that was used to emboss the cover of the new issue of Cite (93), which was mailed and is available now at the Brazos Bookstore, CAMH, MFAH, River Oaks Bookstore, and other stores. The cover represents a map of cancer risk in the Houston region. Below is a letter from Tom Colbert, the guest editor of this issue.
Houston is booming again. Real estate prices are skyrocketing. Apartment buildings and subdivisions are popping up all over the city. Everywhere we look, there are construction cranes, out-of-state license plates, new restaurants, and smiling real estate developers. Industrial developers are happy as well. The Port of Houston is preparing for the arrival of Post-Panamax shipping, coal terminals, expanded refineries, chemical storage facilities, and cruise ships. More industrial expansion is planned for Baytown, Port Arthur, and Freeport as well. The long anticipated arrival of the Keystone Pipeline will only be a small detail in the rush of industrial expansion that is coming to Houston.
It’s great to be in Houston during such good times. But one has to wonder, what are the environmental implications of all this growth? What will our corner of the world be like if this kind of development continues? What are the implications for air quality? Will there be enough water to accommodate industrial growth, projected population increases, and shrimp and oysters as well? What about our increasing vulnerability to storms and sea-level rise as development moves into previously undeveloped low-lying areas? Will some segments of the population suffer the shock of industrialization and others be spared? Will land be available for agriculture? In a previous issue of Cite, Dr. John Lienhard wrote about birds and butterflies as a kind of infrastructure that we are ineffably dependent on, like pipelines and railroad bridges but without the financial backing. Will they have a place here? The list of environmental and public policy questions goes on and on.
This issue of Cite is focused on the environmental challenges that our region is facing. It contains essays by some of Texas’ leading experts in a wide range of disciplines. It is intended to convey something of the broad landscape of concerns that our community must address if we are to improve or even maintain the quality of life that exists in Houston. There are choices to be made. There will be losses and gains, and we need to anticipate what those will be.
We don’t have to look far to find examples of environmental decisions that were made without adequate forethought. The continuing disappearance of wetlands in South Louisiana is a result of investments that were made over the last hundred years. Engineering the region to prevent flooding and extract oil and gas was highly profitable, but has resulted in the loss of coastal lands at an astounding rate. Driving through the region, one sees tin-roofed farmhouses that formerly stood beside pastures and cane fields but now lie abandoned, rising up out of brackish water, the fields and farm roads leading to them all submerged. Barrier islands seem to disappear by the handful every day. Fortunately, our part of the Gulf Coast isn’t disappearing at the same rate. The ground under our feet is different from the ground under South Louisiana. What we do have in common with Louisiana, though, is the accelerating collision of urban growth, industrial development, and the natural environment.
This issue of Cite offers no answers to the environmental challenges that the Houston-Galveston region is facing. What it provides instead is a wide-ranging set of essays on the subject and a call for broad public engagement and informed debate about our future. This is a debate that the design community should be centrally involved in because we are trained to bring together the many different disciplines that are needed to understand choices and to envision alternative futures. Working with poets and shrimpers, scientists, public policy experts, and the business community, we should be able to help imagine and then build a more sustainable and better future for our region—a future that will see Houston’s reputation continue to grow not only as a place of economic opportunity but also as a good place to live.
Table of Contents
Imagine an Undefiled Land: Reflections of a poet on the Gulf Coast
By Martha Serpas
By Martha Serpas
Sea Level Change: Global Climate Change Impact on the Upper Texas Coast
By John B. Anderson
The Mountains of Houston: Environmental Justice and the Politics of Garbage
By Robert D. Bullard
Learn the Song of Our Land: If you believe the Houston region is a flat featureless landscape of limited natural beauty, think again. Now is the time to preserve the remarkably complex ecosystems that ring our city.
By John Jacob
The Ecologic Map
By Steven Mikulencak
Liquidation: If Houston is to be a resilient city in the face of water extremes, we cannot go on with business as usual.
By Jim Blackburn