The title of this post certainly lends itself to being an ego piece. Here I am, closing a series of posts about how the last 10 years have been a definitive decade for the city of Houston with an eponymous entry. If it comes off that way, I promise that is not my intention.
When I started Urban Houstonian, I set out prove Houston could be just as urban as any other city in the country. Well, maybe not as urban, but definitely possessing of a greater urban flavor than anyone would give Houston credit for. I was taking the bus regularly to work, religiously poring over bus schedules trying to discover new ways to operate in Houston on foot rather than in a car. What I quickly learned was it was possible to use the bus as an option, but Houston was still very much a car town.
Of course, the folks at METRO have been hard at work trying to change that over the past 10 years with the introduction of the Light Rail. I’ve blogged about, and continue to be amazed by, the ignorance of Houston when it comes to issues surrounding METRO. Before I continue, I must state that I do not believe METRO is perfect, not in the least. However, when I hear most people complain about something about METRO, it is generally an opinion based in total ignorance. Cries for commuter rail are the first to be heard. What I find so ignorant about these people is where do they intend to go once they hop on their commuter train in Sugar Land, Katy of the Woodlands? There can be no commuter rail until there is a viable network inside the Loop.
There was an interview with outgoing METRO Chairman David Wolffabout the challenges he faced during his tenure. This was the money quote I took from the interview:
“I think the expectations are high and people don’t realize that what you’re doing is taking an automobile city and trying to retrofit it for transit. This is a lot more difficult than in an older — say, for example, Eastern — city that had developed along transit corridors. Metro is inheriting a city that grew up along a network of freeways, and trying to build a transit system to adjust to the multiple activity centers we have.”
This is an important point that I just don’t think gets through to a lot of people. Then, on top of the logistical challenges, you have the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) crowd that bitches about lack of transit, then fights when it gets to close to their homes. It’s just a fine mess, and everyone is quick to jump on the bash METRO bus. Of course, METRO allows themselves to be the target of this criticism by acting the role of bureaucratic gorilla. Still, I think it is very important to recognize the new kind of urbanism that is slowly but surely taking hold. In 10-15 years, the Red Line will be a very small part of the mass transit system in Houston, but it’s long term impact will always be remembered.
But this post isn’t only about METRO. No, there was another urban jewel that came onto the scene in 2008 that changed the way Houston intereacted with Downtown. I am talking about Discovery Green. I was fortunate enough to attend a few of the meetings for Discovery Green during its planning stages. From the moment I read about it in the Houston Chronicle, I couldn’t wait to what they would come up with.
It should come as no surprise to you that I had very high expectations for Discovery Green. What surprised me, however, was that the finished product surpassed all of my lofty hopes for the new park. I knew what to expect as far as enjoying events at the Anheuser- Busch Stage sprawled out on the lawn with friends and a bottle of wine underneath the Downtown skyline. What I didn’t expect was how amazing it felt! It was an altogether unique experience that Houstonians hadn’t had the opportunity to enjoy.
The picture above is a perfect way to close this look back at the first decade of the 21st Century in Houston. You’ll notice on the far right side, the JP Morgan Chase Tower. It’s windows still boarded up after Ike’s destructive visit. But in the face of this destruction, Houstonians are happily enjoying themselves in at Discovery Green. Since this picture was taken, One Park Place (the taller building on the left) and Discovery Tower (the crane) now dominate this view. Downtown Houston will enter the new decade with a big challenge to fill it and the soon-to-be finished Main Place. Plus, Exxon Mobil looks to move to a newly built campus from their longtime Downtown home at 800 Bell.
But if the first decade of the 21st Century taught us anything, Houston can take it, and Houston will be okay.