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Posts posted by TheNiche

  1. I respect your opinion but I scream hogwash. That was a joke right?

    I make a habit of not joking online without a smiley. Text-based communication is too unforgiving for dry wit. But I do seem to be misunderstood by some.

    To my detractors, let me first clarify my idea--I don't propose that Wal-Mart build anything downtown. If Wal-Mart wants to, fine. A Neighborhood Market concept with limited operating hours might actually do pretty well if it could be situated on the first two floors of a larger building within a couple blocks of the Downtown Transit Center. Metro gets its highest ridership levels from relatively poor neighborhoods, and a lot of those routes converge on the Downtown Transit Center. It'd be the perfect demographic, although of course, the area is not without its economic limitations.

    I made comparisons between Main Street USA and Wal-Mart to get to the root of the argument from those people who advocate the creation of new urbanistic (or as I refered to them, 'neotraditional') streetscapes at the expense of efficiency. My point was simply that social interaction does in fact take place among a broader range of people than it would have in an environment with many small isolated shops fronting an outdoor space. If someone here refuses to believe that socialization occurs at a Wal-Mart, then perhaps they should go see for themselves. I can recall having walked into Wal-Marts in Kemah, Meyer Park, Galveston, and along FM 1960, and each time having been amazed at the number of people that were there shopping with their friends. That said, the demographics were generally of a lower class than at a regional mall or a lifestyle center, but less affluent people interacting and walking around are still people. By the way, RedScare, have you or anyone else here ever been bothered by Wal-Mart security for loitering? Did the elderly person that marks off your receipt at the door leave his post just to hassle you or what? If so, I'd like to hear the story--I'm sure it'd be amusing.

    As for the 'depressing' quality that describes the aesthetic of Wal-Mart, if you don't like it enough that you don't shop there, then you aren't their target market. Of their target market, they make a market-driven tradeoff between architectural merit and the extra costs that would ultimately be passed on to the consumer. This variable is related exclusively to the socioeconomic class of their customer base, and the same concept applies to Target or Uptown Park. If we were going to apply the comparison of Wal-Mart vs. Main Street USA to common areas in downtown Houston, we'd have to bear in mind who is using the areas and plan aesthetics accordingly.

    These things said, buildings from the nineteenth century were largely built as they were as a result of the availability of a limited variety of materials. Rather than make comparisons between 19th century and modern residential or office buildings, which are driven by different market forces, lets compare warehouses because they represent the lowest common denominator of a structure for which there can be aesthetic appreciation. They share certain necessary characteristics: 1) they're enclosed from the elements, 2) they are lit, either with windows/skylights or artificially, 3) they allow for utilities and technology available at the time of their construction, and 4) at the time of construction, they are not embellished with aesthetic charm and no effort is made to ensure that they will be appreciated in the long term. A 19th century warehouse is a product of the materials and technology that was available at the time. There was nothing special about it. A modern tilt-wall warehouse is a product of the materials and technology that are available today. There is nothing special about it. But a 19th century warehouse in a modern city has become an object of attraction. And a 19th century streetscape filled with brick commercial buildings is even more desirable. I can understand how a niche market of preservationists keeps such areas pricey. I share an appreciation for the architectural styles of the past--but I also postulate that one day, most of the Wal-Marts will have been knocked down and the few that remain will be treasured as a glimpse into the exotic sociology of the latter-20th century. Perhaps, just as many of us do today, many citizens of the future will want to simulate the stark emptiness of what those people consider to be a quaint era. And wouldn't it be odd if suddenly they started building fake big box stores with expansive parking lots...and renovating the long-since abandoned downtown tunnels, bricking and plastering up street-level storefronts? All this even though they've got technology that allows them to live in a more efficient way? It seems ludicrous doesn't it? So now you all know how I feel about such inane simulations of the past as the fake brick ruins that were recently built in Huntsville's town square. And perhaps you can see the architectural merit in maximizing market-based efficiency (taking into account aesthetics as part of the formula, of course) by implementing modern technology to its highest and best use. What will the citizens of the future think of us if all we do is emulate the past?

    Besides, by advocating efficient transport in and around our commercial districts, we prevent those districts from becoming choked in congestion. If these areas aren't efficient enough for businesses, those businesses will move to a more efficient location--in the suburbs. Thus, new downtown development would slow, as would demand for downtown residences. Without the demand for downtown residences and a reduced worker population, the few existing retail stores would go under. I'm not arguing that a streetscape is completely undesirable, just that there is such a thing as too high a price, even for what some individuals have called the "holy grail of architecture".

    For the record, I do not advocate building megaskywalks, at least not downtown. It just isn't feasible for any number of perfectly good reasons. I do favor expanding the existing tunnel system wherever possible, but would also like to see more easy access to street level and a more visible connection with mass transit stops. Also, smaller-scale versions of the mechanized pedestrian movement concept might be a good fit for Midtown one day, efficiently moving people from the neighborhood's east and west peripheries toward the commercial spine that is and will be Main Street.

  2. Then people would have no reason to go to the street at all! That would be a depressing sight.

    No, it'd simply relocate the street. Wal-mart has been chastized by architects and sociologists for having destroyed streetscapes in Main Street USA, which in their view is tantamount to having eliminated opportunities for social interaction. Perhaps if they themselves got out of the car (as they would like to encourage so many others to do) and walk (as they would like to encourage so many others to do) the half-mile through the parking lot at Wal-Mart, then perhaps they'd realize that streets and pedestrian plazas still exist, only they've been relocated inside of a Wal-Mart. What's more, the Wal-Mart is so completely and utterly efficient that it induces new pedestrian traffic just by its very existence. And because it carries practically every good necessary to sustaining life, every kind of person from every walk of life goes there. And I don't even want to hear the argument that people just go in and out like cattle, not bothering to interact with one another. I've seen socialization there with my own eyes, and it may not be as sophisticated as the Starbucks version of socialization, but it certainly exists, and happens en masse.

    Its not unlike the idea of creating an ultra-efficient pedestrian transport system. If its efficient, then most all existing pedestrians would use it and many more new pedestrians would be induced to use it. By packing many people into relatively confined common areas where socialization occurs with ease in an environment that is not affected by the elements, one would think that both architects and sociologists would be made happy. But alas, what they really seem to be after is some utopian Mayberryville, with a lot of ornate 19th century buildings and similar street aesthetics. After all, we all know how much better life was back then--unless you were poor, gay, lesbian, a woman, or in any way brown.

  3. I was thinking why don't they make a megawalk. It's be like a skywalk but longer and with moving sidewalks.

    It would start at Bayou Place going EWast. It would turn right to the South Down Louisiana or Smith. It would go DOwn to The Hyatt and Allen Center, past old Enron all the wya down to Continental Airlines. It would be long,wid and connect all the buildings on Smith/Louisiana. Since it's basically one corridor and there are so many intersections just make it easier to get up and down the bus part of Downtown. That and easier than connecting to the tunnels. Could even have vending machines and people selling things in carts.

    The master plan for the Texas Medical Center calls for a similar concept, which is already built out in some places within the M.D. Anderson campus, along the south side of Holcombe. Skywalks are elevated and are wide enough for vehicular transport. I don't remember if there were moving sidewalks, but I'd be surprised if there weren't at least plans for them.

    Upon completion of the skywalk system, there will be a grid consisting of about two or three major east/west and north/south skywalk corridors through the entire TMC, creating a grid that links pedestrians efficiently to light rail stops and the TMC Transit Center, which is about to become a world-class residential/retail/office hub in addition to fulfilling its mass transit role.

    The TMC has a master plan that calls for substantially less on-site parking, but to actually make that idea feasible, they've had to accept that street life must be forsaken. If people are inconvenienced in the least bit by having to walk at all, they won't. The solution may be 'futuristic', but its one that satisfies the greatest part of the TMC's user base and that will prevent the core of the TMC from becoming so congested as to stifle new development.

    I dont' think that a similar plan downtown is likely to fly due to cost/benefit infeasibility. There would be major right-of-way problems and the system would have to compete for users with the existing tunnel/skywalk system. In addition, there are too many architects that would whine far too loundly in favor of their romantic neotraditional ideals.

  4. Hearing that Kickerillo's new center across from HP (249 & Louetta) will include a Central Market along with Pottery Barn and other anchors (with whispers of a Nordstrom's or Neiman Marcus).

    Kickerillo isn't developing the retail center--the Interfin Companies are. They developed Uptown Park, Villa D'Este, Montebello, and are also building the Granducha. As I understand, Uptown Park recently sold to AmREIT for about $450 per square foot, the highest-value retail transaction ever in Houston. When Interfin is involved, you know they aren't going to skimp on quality. They might create a gaudy simulation of an alien culture completely out of context with the surrounding neighborhood, but they won't skimp.

    Along those lines, I'm not surprised by the rumor of a Central Market. In order to make their 750,000sf lifestyle center/grocery/theater concept fly, they were going to need a Central Market, Whole Foods, or equivalent.

  5. car washes and mini-storages are two different things. water, soap, insurance (slippery when wet), plumming, etc can become a huge expense. in regards to taxation, the improvements are minimal, so the city doesnt see that much of an increase.

    Unlike any strip malls or apartment complexes, the city receives about $60,000 per carwash before it is built as part of the permitting process. That's a fairly large chunk of change, as property taxes go, and they get it up front, rather than over the course of many years of taxation, so that's an added benefit to the city.

    And with both car washes and self-storage, it is not uncommon for individuals or small locally-based and locally-owned companies to operate them. Although the city does not tax business or personal income, the locally-based owners have to spend their income somewhere, and eventually, some fraction of that money will be spent on housing, which is taxed. Its sort of a trickle-down effect.

  6. I wonder if you'd still feel this way if it was you sitting in the chemo room. I'm sure you'd take one for the team, wouldn't you?

    What I like about the media is that it informs people about potential opportunities and threats that may affect their life, giving the masses a chance to make the decision to live/work or not live/work in a dangerous area, or in an area that is otherwise smelly. I, myself, am well off enough to afford alternate areas and would prefer not to inhale the scent of flared Armourall. Even though it may not constitute a major threat to my health, I just don't like the smell...so I'm unlikely to have cancer as a result of airborne toxins, but that's a result of the CHOICES that I make throughout life. On the other hand, I am likely to have to undergo a quadruple bypass one day...that doesn't mean that I'm going to sue Burger King for bringing it upon me or demand that Sheila Jackson Lee tax Burger King out of existence. I just happen to like Whoppers, and the reward of the burger outweighs the known risk of future heart attacks.

    What I don't like about the media is when it goes 'yellow' and reports dangers that are way out of proportion with reality. I personally think that the Chronicle would be better serving the public by doing a more thorough analysis, comparing the risk of death in the Ship Channel area by exposure to toxins with the risk of death in River Oaks by exposure to stairs. A seperate article, of much greater importance, could review the latest phone-based study of households that report unpleasant aromas. They could even utilize GIS applications to create something similar to a daily weather map of smells. That would be far more important to most people, if they were objectively informed, even though it'd violate the 'if it bleeds, it leads' policy of news media.

  7. Jan. 11, 2006, 7:21AM


    State finds toxics imperil Ship Channel neighbors

    Monitors show air pollution at 11 hot spots in the Houston area can sicken residents


    Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

    When Victor Sarmiento reports to work aboard the Lynchburg Ferry each day, he worries about what he will breathe.

    For 12 years, as he has steered the commuter ferry across the Houston Ship Channel, Sarmiento occasionally has been overtaken by fumes

  8. I like DIY car washes.

    Soapy Sam's on Almeda was my regular Saturday morning haunt for a while.

    Sometimes I am too lazy to whip the hose out.

    Soapy Sam's is my favorite as well, especially on a nice bright day when lots of other folks are out there. I wouldn't want to be out there after dusk, though.

  9. DIY car washes are just real estate investments.

    A very rich man once told me that buying an empty property and expecting to sell it in a few years for a profit is called real estate speculation.

    But buying property, expecting to sell it in a few years, AND reaping a monthly income from it - that's called real estate investing. And that's what most car washes, surface lots, and even some mini-storages are. So hopefully one day all of these properties will become mid-rise condos with street-level retail... :D

    In some cases, that is true. But the city charges, I think, a $60,000 fee to start up a carwash. They say that its to offset environmental damage of some sort. That means that the investment is harder to recoup and fewer car washes will be built in a given neighborhood. Those that are built see significantly less competition, but reap enough revenue into perpetuity to justify their existence for a long time. Mini-storage is also very profitable, especially in hot neighborhoods with a significant number of multifamily dwellings, like Midtown. The last time I checked, the mini-storage place there was nearly full. I seriously doubt that they're going to sell the land any time soon.

  10. On top of that, the size of homes has increased to an average near 2500 square feet. I would suggest we own entirely too much JUNK as a society. I bet if you looked through 99% of these storage units, most all of the stored junk has been replaced by some newer model of that junk in the person's home, rendering this junk obsolete, in addition to being junk.

    Perhaps there is a seed of truth in your assertion, but if you ask "what is the target market for mini-storage units," what do you think is the answer? Is it the person that has recently moved up, into a 2500sf home built this year from the 2000sf home they moved into in 1995? Or is it the person who has been laid off, divorced, foreclosed upon, or evicted? Is it the upwardly mobile youth who jumps from job to higher-paying job and from home to higher-costing home or is it the student that went abroad for a year and didn't want to lose their worldly posessions? Is it the stable middle-aged yuppie that would be made better off by giving their stuff to Goodwill and taking a tax deduction or is it the executor of an estate that got an excellent offer on the deceased person's home before an auction could be arranged for the rest of the stuff?

    I've made the mistake of ridiculing advertisements on TV before, only to be reminded by a friend that "if you don't understand them, then you aren't the target." And that is how I can justify the existence of these ugly things--people need them. Not me, but someone does...just like somebody needed Deer Park. It's not pretty, and it isn't particularly useful to me, but it has a place in the world for someone.

    Next on the list is those do-it-yourself car washes. ENOUGH ALREADY!!!!!!

    Would you prefer living in a world with only full-service car washes? Do you just despise poor people or something? Don't they have a right to a clean car too?

  11. I've had that idea myself. However, a mile along a river or stream is not the same as a mile on a freeway or major arterial. You have to account for the many bends in Buffalo Bayou, especially upstream of Memorial Park, where it hasn't been straightened. Taking that into account, you can easily double the effective distance from place to place. Also, boats don't typically travel very fast on inland waterways, especially those as shallow as the Buffalo Bayou in its upstream segments. And if one were to travel quickly, you'd have two problems: 1) Water would be kicked up and splashed, possibly all over the very same commuters that just showered for work, and 2) the large wakes generated by motorboats would erode the banks, especially upstream of Memorial Park. Environmentalists would have a fit.

    In the distant future, if enough residential population density can be built up along the bayou from about Riverway near the West Loop (but in particular around the Shepherd bridge) all the way down into the east end, possibly near Wayside, water taxis start to look promising. However, they're still unlikely to be an attractive option to someone who isn't in it for the aesthetic appeal.

    All that said, the water taxi at The Woodlands Waterway received federal subsidy from the FTA on the grounds that it could relieve congestion. If that's possible, then it may very well be that an operator of a small craft could pull this kind of business off.

  12. "Follow artists and bohemians into new markets. For years, real estate investors have seen this demographic as a barometer for the next hip urban area to pop."

    ew! someone needs to point out that "artists and bohemians" probably don't want "urban hipster" yups from the "ipod generation" taking over! ^_^

    That's right. But if you're a particularly devious developer, you'll buy up a lot of land and warehouses in an overlooked area, market heavily to artists and their bohemian friends, create a colony of sorts, and then wait for the yuppies to come to you. Then you surround the colony with thoughtlessly-designed midrise apartments and condominiums, flip all of the properties at once, and let the new ownership raise the rents on the artists, which are bound to be steaming at this point. Tell the artists that you bailed out of the area on principle because it was too yuppified, and that like Moses in the desert, you'll lead them to the next promised land, one of milk and honey.

    I'm kidding, of course.

    The writer of that article falls prey to the misconception that artists induce demand for housing. While there is in fact a correlation between new residential development and the presence of artists, there is very little evidence to suggest a causal effect. More likely, the artists were already in a given area because rents were low and there were a lot of obsolete warehouses that make for great studios. Those places happen to be convenient to the city's business districts. When the yuppies started moving into the inner city, it was more a result of convenience and clever marketing than as a result of the presence of artists and bohemian culture. Also, the artists seemed to largely avoid areas that were perceived to be excessively ethnic...wealthy suburban transplants typically agree. For instance, you don't see too many artists (though there are a few, many ethnic themselves) in 5th Ward, the East End, or 3rd Ward.

  13. Has anyone actually looked at the Houston-Galveston Area Council's 2025 transportation plan and identified how many new freeways are planned? I spent a couple of hours using their GIS application, trying to identify as many freeways as possible--I found nine seperate freeways all over the Houston area that would be built from scratch or upgraded from ground-level roads, eleven large reconstruction and widening jobs, and ten planned toll roads. Everything I'm about to list is supposed to be completed or at least let for construction and well under way by 2015--that's only ten years from now. They are as follows:

    New Freeways (9)

    - State Highway 146 from Shoreacres to Texas City

    - State Highway 35 from SH 288 in Angleton to FM 528 in Alvin (probably as alternate evacuation route)

    - State Highway 35 from Beltway 8 in Pearland to Spur 5 at the University of Houston

    - US Highway 90-A from the Southwest Frwy. to Hiram Clarke Drive

    - US Highway 90 from the East Belt to the junction of IH-610 East and IH-10 East

    - Beltway 8 from the Eastex Frwy. to US Highway 90 in northeast Harris County

    - State Highway 249 from Spring Cypress Rd. to FM 149 in Magnolia

    - US Highway 290 from Spring Cypress Rd. to ??? (To Austin, I wish...)

    - NASA Road 1 Bypass from IH-45 South around SH 3

    Reconstructed and Widened Freeways (11)

    - Interstate 45 South from Beltway 8 to Broadway Blvd. in Galveston

    - Interstate 45 North from IH-10 to IH-610

    - Interstate 45 North from Airline (?) to Beltway 8 North

    - Interstate 610 South from SH 288 to IH-45

    - Interstate 610 West from IH-10 to US 290

    - US Highway 59 from ??? (Probably the Rio Grande Valley) to State Highway 6 in Sugar Land

    - US Highway 59 from Montrose to IH-45

    - US Highway 59 from the West Fork of the San Jacinto River to the Cleveland Bypass

    - Interstate 10 West from the Fort Bend County Line to IH-610 West

    - Interstate 10 East from the San Jacinto River to State Highway 61 in Anahuac

    - US Highway 290 from IH-610 to Spring Cypress Rd

    Toll Roads (10)

    - GRAND PARKWAY: The whole thing!

    *Starting at SH 146 in Baytown, it loops through western Chambers and Liberty Counties

    *It will circle around Mount Belview, Crosby, Huffman, and connect with the Eastex Frwy. near Porter

    *It will circle around almost all of the Spring area, but will go south of Tomball, at one point overlapping on Beudreaux Rd.

    *If you drew a straight line from Beudreaux Rd. going west and a straight line from Peek Rd. going north, that seems to be the alignment of the Parkway, including the sharp turn where the lines meet.

    *Between the Katy and Southwest Freeways, the route already exists, some of it as a freeway, but most as a grade-level divided road.

    *South and east of Sugar Land, the alignment bulges outward to take in Smithers Lake and a whole lot of nothing. The route not only seems unjustifiable from a market perspective, but is also very inconvenient for those that might use it. I'm sure one day that will be different, but right now, its just confounding.

    *The Parkway intersects with SH 288 at its southernmost point, about two or three miles north of FM 1462

    *It then feeds into the southern part of the Alvin Bypass (SH 35), becoming temporarily free.

    *Where the Alvin Bypass ends, the Parkway takes a jog west toward Interstate 45 South, intersecting at FM 646.

    *It follows 646 to SH 146 in Bacliff, where an interchange with the future freeway will be built (other than this interchange, there don't seem to be many throughout the route).

    Other toll roads are all spokes to downtown. Going clockwise:

    - Hardy Toll Road extension along Hardy/Elysian Roads to the CBD

    - From TC Jester at IH-610 North, roughly along the Rock Island RR, up to FM 2920 in Tomball

    - Along US 290 or Hempstead Rd from IH-610 West to Beltway 8

    - Katy Freeway, right down the middle from the Fort Bend County Line to IH-610 West

    - Westpark Tollway (might be counted as complete if the Beltway 8 interchange has openned yet)

    - Fort Bend Parkway from IH-610 South to State Highway 6 (completed from Beltway 8 to SH 6)

    - State Highway 288's median from US Highway 59 (near Downtown) to Grand Parkway

    - From IH-610 South at Mykawa to the Alvin Bypass/Grand Parkway

    - Fairmont Parkway (I think it might also be aligned along Red Bluff) from SH 146 to Beltway 8 in Pasadena/Deer Park area

    Out of all of these, I'd expect that the US 90 route to the northeast combined with the northeast Grand Parkway would actually have the most impact. That area is relatively close to town, but nothing is there. It's like Pearland ten years ago.

    The most questionable, on the other hand, has to be the Alvin routes. Between the South Loop and the Beltway, there is both a toll road and free-access highway planned, seemingly just like the Katy is planned. Probably not as wide, but they will be roads within roads. Next most questionable is the Fairmont Parkway toll road. I'm betting that it's alignment will take a jog down Red Bluff when all is said and done. If both Fairmont and Alvin routes are completed, the Gulf Freeway will be cured of a lot of cars. People like the coast, too...so as long as FEMA hands out checks to hurricane victims, people will continue moving where the water is. Its kind of funny in a way--some of the roads to the Galveston Bay area will be funded by the state as evacuation routes, only to give rise to more people that will need to be evacuated, requiring more routes.

    Its amazing that the Chronicle hasn't picked up on this master plan. I've heard them talk about one segment or another, but they've never really covered it from the grander perspective.

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