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Downtown "Signature Streets"


H-Town Man

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This is slightly borrowing an idea from the Cotswold project, but it seems like a good strategy for the continuing development of downtown would be to identify a number of "Signature Streets" along which to encourage development to focus.

The idea is that because most buildings in downtown Houston are going to have parking garages, service entrances, etc., identifying certain streets as emerging Signature Streets will signal to the developers that this is where they should put the building's "good side," and that anything built there should, if possible, have ground floor retail. It also guides the city on where to put special landscaping, signage, lamp and signal light architecture, etc.

Thus you end up with a number of pleasant streetscapes that invite walking. Positioned carefully, this network of streets can take the pedestrian to all major downtown locations without having to walk through "dead blocks" of blank walls or parking garages. They would invite people to leave whatever destination they came for and explore somewhere else (and will have map signs showing where they are on the Signature Street network).

Probable streets:

Main St. - obviously THE signature street of downtown; public enhancements already in place

Texas Ave. - this one is a bit of a sleeper east of Main; being the widest street downtown it has great potential, perhaps more than Main does. May be the site of future light rail line. Public enhancements already in place.

McKinney St. - one of the most interesting streets downtown end-to-end. Needs some streetfront retail, perhaps more public enhancement.

Crawford St. - ties together major sports complexes with Discovery Green, future Buffalo Bayou park. Buffalo Bayou Master Plan calls for this to be an enhanced boulevard. Streetfront retail should be greatly encouraged, esp. between Discovery Green and Texas. Could use more public enhancement.

Avenida de las Americas - should be a grand thoroughfare between Hilton Americas and Minute Maid Park; goal should be to make a visit to Discovery Green a part of the pre-game/post-game activities for Astros fans. Monumental public artwork and architecture.

Smith St. - this one is more of a "mature" Signature Street as the main drag of the skyline district (potential rename as Skyline Blvd.?). Public signage could highlight its status as one of the great thoroughfares of modern architecture, showing construction photos of buildings, etc.

Commerce St. - future Signature Street with development of Buffalo Bayou park east of Main St.

*My 1,000th post.

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I would add Fannin Street, given that it's a direct connector to the Museum District and the Med Center. Also, Louisiana pretty much serves a similar function as Smith Street. The bigger issue for Louisiana Street is that it doesn't have the landscaping that Smith Street does. Both serve as main corridors for the Theater District, so there's that as well.

I like this thread. Good idea, H-Town Man.

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"Smith St. - this one is more of a "mature" Signature Street as the main drag of the skyline district (potential rename as Skyline Blvd.?). Public signage could highlight its status as one of the great thoroughfares of modern architecture, showing construction photos of buildings, etc."

H-Town Man - Would you rename the Bob Smith fountain on Smith "Skyline Fountain"?

I think they've already done a great deal of improvements since naming the districts. Texas Ave. has unique lamp poles with flags and interesting tid-bits posted on every pole. The poles are also marked like compasses, even though I don't think they're right since downtown is not on an east west axis. Still, you have some really good ideas.

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"Smith St. - this one is more of a "mature" Signature Street as the main drag of the skyline district (potential rename as Skyline Blvd.?). Public signage could highlight its status as one of the great thoroughfares of modern architecture, showing construction photos of buildings, etc."

H-Town Man - Would you rename the Bob Smith fountain on Smith "Skyline Fountain"?

No, I would probably leave it the Bob Smith fountain - "Skyline Fountain" sounds a bit odd. And I'm not even sure I'd rename the street - it was just an idea I was throwing out.

I think they've already done a great deal of improvements since naming the districts. Texas Ave. has unique lamp poles with flags and interesting tid-bits posted on every pole. The poles are also marked like compasses, even though I don't think they're right since downtown is not on an east west axis. Still, you have some really good ideas.

I noted in my first post that public improvements to Texas Ave. were already in place. They did a good job with it, and it provides a model for upgrades on certain other streets. Basically the idea is to tie together the different activity areas of downtown so someone doesn't feel they have to cross a no-man's land if they want to walk from, say, Discovery Green to the historic district.

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No, I would probably leave it the Bob Smith fountain - "Skyline Fountain" sounds a bit odd. And I'm not even sure I'd rename the street - it was just an idea I was throwing out.

I noted in my first post that public improvements to Texas Ave. were already in place. They did a good job with it, and it provides a model for upgrades on certain other streets. Basically the idea is to tie together the different activity areas of downtown so someone doesn't feel they have to cross a no-man's land if they want to walk from, say, Discovery Green to the historic district.

I'm in complete agreement. I don't know if there are currently any plans of this nature, but that'd be great if they did.

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Nice idea. This being Houston, enforcement's probably not on the table so I guess that just leaves incentives.

Then I guess all we can really do is just brand the living s--t out of these areas (but haven't we already?). Maybe the new "Signature Bus" can have stops along these streets.

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Sounds vaguely like form-based planning...(almost)

So it's just a series of incentives but not enforced?

I'm not even sure I'd go that far. I know that Central Houston has at times done various backroom talks to developers to try to get certain considerations met, like having ground floor retail on parking garages, etc. This could be a guideline for those kind of talks.

It could also be brought in whenever the city gives a tax break, like it did for Houston Pavilions. Sort of like, "If you don't follow these guidelines, no tax break for you." Whether every building on these streets that follows the guidelines would get a break is a different question

And it could definitely be a guideline for city projects, such as the proposed second convention center hotel, which in addition to the obvious main entrance on McKinney should have a significant welcoming presence (i.e. no blank walls or service entrances) on Avenida and Crawford.

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I'm not even sure I'd go that far. I know that Central Houston has at times done various backroom talks to developers to try to get certain considerations met, like having ground floor retail on parking garages, etc. This could be a guideline for those kind of talks.

I can see that working, as long as these guidelines were totally out in the open and were things everyone (citizens and business types alike) could get on board with. Also most importantly these guidelines should be absolutely immutable. It's utterly pointless if they're just going to let developers negotiate it down to the point where a bad development ruins it for the whole block. That's what I think, anyway.

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