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Your thoughts on Midtown's progress since 1994?


Michael Lewis

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I sort of wanted medical center and downtown to converge into one to create this massive skyline. Houston just lacks industry for downtown to expand at all. Seems like most of the different industries are going to either Dallas or Austin and were stuck with oil/gas and medical. Even oil/gas companies are leaving downtown and going to the outskirts of Houston. I really don't want midtown to turn into another mostrose or heights filled with townhomes. I would give it a 3 hopefully the ion lives up to its expectation and maybe attracts developments that are similar across midtown. 

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Still far too many parking lots throughout the district, but there are some nice residential pockets (the area that stretches a few blocks north and west of Elizabeth Baldwin Park is really lovely) and mixed-use pockets (Mid-Main and its more oil-bro cousin, Bagby), but there's just too much wasteland in between. 

That, combined with the highway-lite designs (and accompanying vehicular speeds) of Crawford, San Jacinto, Fannin, Travis, Milam, Louisiana, Smith, and Brazos, and the unpleasant stroadiness of McGowan, Elgin, and Alabama, makes Midtown's continued listlessness unsurprising to me. 

Throw in a high concentration of shelters and recovery centers and you've got a recipe for a place that's hard to dynamize. 

Housing is generally affordable, but I would personally prefer that as a consequence of oversupply, rather than suppressed demand. 

Edited by 004n063
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2 hours ago, Renaissance1999 said:

I sort of wanted medical center and downtown to converge into one to create this massive skyline. Houston just lacks industry for downtown to expand at all. Seems like most of the different industries are going to either Dallas or Austin and were stuck with oil/gas and medical. Even oil/gas companies are leaving downtown and going to the outskirts of Houston. I really don't want midtown to turn into another mostrose or heights filled with townhomes. I would give it a 3 hopefully the ion lives up to its expectation and maybe attracts developments that are similar across midtown. 

Best to move the big employment centers to the outskirts of town.  Closer to cheaper land/houses and would mitigate the in/out rush hours each day.  Make the loop a primarily residential/entertainment area.

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There’s much yet to be realized as Midtown grows to confront its potential.  For instance, the newly reconstructed segment of Caroline Street, while engineered well (enough) and being future-forward will, without more, simply be a multi-million dollar road to nowhere unless there are incentives and arrangements to bring retail and vibrancy to the stretch between Gray and Elgin.  Moving strategically and providing placemaking interventions that bridge Caroline to Main will assist in addressing the blighted strip along Fannin and San Jacinto. Using increment and assessment to invigorate retail and ensure clean and safe pathways for residents and visitors — set as a priority — will enable the cultural nodes that are now languishing to flourish.  Smart, surgical employment of enforcement and engagement resources, on foot,  and capable of enforcing City Ordinances (sorry Constables that means you’re best deployed elsewhere) will go some way toward enlivening Midtown.  We don’t need more parking but we would benefit from a precise parking guide that visitors could access to enable ease of access.  Midtown boasts some of the best parks inside the loop.  These should be activated/programmed regularly and consistently — with more than exercise classes.  Use Levy Park and Market Square Park as learning tools for activation. 

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4 hours ago, Diaspora said:

There’s much yet to be realized as Midtown grows to confront its potential.  For instance, the newly reconstructed segment of Caroline Street, while engineered well (enough) and being future-forward will, without more, simply be a multi-million dollar road to nowhere unless there are incentives and arrangements to bring retail and vibrancy to the stretch between Gray and Elgin.  Moving strategically and providing placemaking interventions that bridge Caroline to Main will assist in addressing the blighted strip along Fannin and San Jacinto. Using increment and assessment to invigorate retail and ensure clean and safe pathways for residents and visitors — set as a priority — will enable the cultural nodes that are now languishing to flourish.  Smart, surgical employment of enforcement and engagement resources, on foot,  and capable of enforcing City Ordinances (sorry Constables that means you’re best deployed elsewhere) will go some way toward enlivening Midtown.  We don’t need more parking but we would benefit from a precise parking guide that visitors could access to enable ease of access.  Midtown boasts some of the best parks inside the loop.  These should be activated/programmed regularly and consistently — with more than exercise classes.  Use Levy Park and Market Square Park as learning tools for activation. 

All I want is CDMX-style carts in all of the parks. Not sure if it's a demand problem or a regulation problem, but dammit I want a torta with salsa from a bucket.

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30 minutes ago, 004n063 said:

All I want is CDMX-style carts in all of the parks. Not sure if it's a demand problem or a regulation problem, but dammit I want a torta with salsa from a bucket.

It’s a challenge for all but Midtown park,  but I like the cut of your jib. Activation and programming give us buckets of salsa. 

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2 hours ago, 004n063 said:

All I want is CDMX-style carts in all of the parks. Not sure if it's a demand problem or a regulation problem, but dammit I want a torta with salsa from a bucket.

If only street vending was legal here like in Los Angeles.

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On 3/31/2024 at 7:07 PM, august948 said:

Best to move the big employment centers to the outskirts of town.  Closer to cheaper land/houses and would mitigate the in/out rush hours each day.  Make the loop a primarily residential/entertainment area.

I know of way to many folks that commute from Clear Lake to the Woodlands or Katy; or from Kingwood to Sugarland etc. The suburban work center concept has been a complete flop IMO and created miles of infrastructure maintenance headaches. The issue is cities growing and sprawling beyond all comprehension. Houston, with a metro population of 2 million back in the 70s was so much more enjoyable and easier to get around than today. I have family here I seldom see because it's such a draining chore to get to them. Things felt closer knit back then. I'm a native boomer, and my glasses are very much rose tinted.

Edited by Buy-U-City
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2 hours ago, Buy-U-City said:

I know of way to many folks that commute from Clear Lake to the Woodlands or Katy; or from Kingwood to Sugarland etc. The suburban work center concept has been a complete flop IMO and created miles of infrastructure maintenance headaches. The issue is cities growing and sprawling beyond all comprehension. Houston, with a metro population of 2 million back in the 70s was so much more enjoyable and easier to get around than today. I have family here I seldom see because it's such a draining chore to get to them. Things felt closer knit back then. I'm a native boomer, and my glasses are very much rose tinted.

It was far worse trying to get around in the 70's and 80's. Traffic was heavier and the drivers were worse. During the late 80's it was easier to get around for a while, because the city was dead after the oil busts.

The people driving from Clear Lake to The Woodlands could move if they wanted to, but they don't. They like where they live, they like their jobs, and the commutes are just something they tolerate.

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I think that there has been a little bit of a recent spark, but there is a looooong way to go.

It will never flourish unless the crazy streets are rebuilt into something that fosters community. They are set up for speed and throughput for long-distance commuters. 

I have no idea if NHHIP will end up hurting or helping Midtown.

I think the easiest next step is to close all of Main to cars and try to do something a la Las Ramblas in Barcelona. 

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@wilcal, I'm not disagreeing with you, but what do you see as a recent spark? My feeling is that Midtown is in a very tough spot right now, with the closure of the Whole Foods and High Fashion Homes, as well as the lack of further planned high-rise development

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13 hours ago, bookey23 said:

@wilcal, I'm not disagreeing with you, but what do you see as a recent spark? My feeling is that Midtown is in a very tough spot right now, with the closure of the Whole Foods and High Fashion Homes, as well as the lack of further planned high-rise development

I don't see the closure of those things having a negative effect at all. Those businesses are for home owner level wealth, not apartment dwellers. 90% of future residential growth in Midtown has and will be middle tier apartments.

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On 4/4/2024 at 6:36 AM, Texasota said:

Yes, good point. Apartment dwellers rarely buy groceries. 

It's just a fact that the average home owner in that area has a much higher disposable income than the average apartment dweller. People with more money to spend are more likely to shop at whole foods. I know plenty of people living in apartments in Midtown. They all shop at Kroger or HEB. If they want something close they go to Randalls. Nobody ever went to Whole Foods except the one richer family I knew that owned a house there. I don't see how this is controversial at all.

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On 4/1/2024 at 7:02 PM, 004n063 said:

All I want is CDMX-style carts in all of the parks. Not sure if it's a demand problem or a regulation problem, but dammit I want a torta with salsa from a bucket.

Drive up Ranchester north of Bellaire Blvd.  Lately I've been seeing carts and impromptu grills set up to serve street food there.

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17 hours ago, staresatmaps said:

It's just a fact that the average home owner in that area has a much higher disposable income than the average apartment dweller. People with more money to spend are more likely to shop at whole foods. I know plenty of people living in apartments in Midtown. They all shop at Kroger or HEB. If they want something close they go to Randalls. Nobody ever went to Whole Foods except the one richer family I knew that owned a house there. I don't see how this is controversial at all.

My rich friends refuse to go to Whole Foods on principle because they think it's too expensive. Meanwhile, my too-broke-for-an-apartment ass never had an issue. I choose my grocery store based on

1) what they have vs. what I'm looking for,

2) distance

3) safe bike routes and bike parking.

Do about 80% of my grocery shopping at Phoenicia now, maybe 10% at La Michoacana and 10% at the Montrose HEB. I'd go to the MacGregor HEB more often (I'm pretty much at the midpoint between there and Phoenicia) if they'd do something about the crossing from the Brays trail. It's just annoying enough to choose Montrose.

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I worked at a (different) Whole Foods for two years, and I can promise you that the idea that only rich people shop there is nonsense.

Its reputation for being expensive has also always been overblown- it has expensive items but it's (mostly) not overpriced and their house brand stuff is really good.

That said, it's gone downhill quite a bit since the Amazon buyout.

But if you want a store that really is overpriced, I'd argue for Randall's personally. 

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5 hours ago, 004n063 said:

My rich friends refuse to go to Whole Foods on principle because they think it's too expensive. Meanwhile, my too-broke-for-an-apartment ass never had an issue. I choose my grocery store based on

1) what they have vs. what I'm looking for,

2) distance

3) safe bike routes and bike parking.

Do about 80% of my grocery shopping at Phoenicia now, maybe 10% at La Michoacana and 10% at the Montrose HEB. I'd go to the MacGregor HEB more often (I'm pretty much at the midpoint between there and Phoenicia) if they'd do something about the crossing from the Brays trail. It's just annoying enough to choose Montrose.

I go to Phoenicia about once a week.  Happily, it always seems to be packed, even on weekends.  

I avoid the Midtown Randalls at all costs.  I think I've been there three times in the last three years.  Each time, it's been out of milk.  How does a supermarket run out of milk?  If you don't have milk, are you even a supermarket?

I was among the first shoppers when that place opened, and I loved it until I moved away from Houston.  It has not been maintained well, and I don't think that basement parking garage has been swept out even once in the last 25 years.

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On 3/31/2024 at 4:57 PM, Renaissance1999 said:

I sort of wanted medical center and downtown to converge into one to create this massive skyline. Houston just lacks industry for downtown to expand at all. Seems like most of the different industries are going to either Dallas or Austin and were stuck with oil/gas and medical. Even oil/gas companies are leaving downtown and going to the outskirts of Houston. I really don't want midtown to turn into another mostrose or heights filled with townhomes. I would give it a 3 hopefully the ion lives up to its expectation and maybe attracts developments that are similar across midtown. 

And there's nothing stopping that (policy-wise, at least).

Even in terms of ancillary mandates pertaining to parking requirements, setbacks, etc portions of Midtown (north of McGowens) were always CBD standard (hence, free from mandates), and the 2019 expansion ensures that (much of) the rest of the neighborhood is now free.

If the area was not desired, then there wouldn't be all this talk about how "expensive" the neighborhood is. Any hurdles regarding land-use regulations, taxation structures, etc need to be cleared.

And it doesn't even need to be additional industry either. Even excluding any potentials regarding ION, there's nothing that says Midtown (and Museum Park) can't function is neighborhoods housing those that work in, say, Downtown or Medical Center. As another comment alluded to, company buildings are precisely what create pedestrian dead-zones/lack of vibrancy once of work hours are over (especially if said buildings are single-use). Mix-use structures w/ ground floor retail + residential higher floors are much better: Midtown (and Museum Park) can "right the wrongs" of Uptown/Galleria, so to speak.

As far as industries going to Austin or Dallas, none of it matters UNLESS it is towards their respective central core areas (and not just developments in suburbia like Round Rock or Plano, respectively).

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On 4/2/2024 at 10:18 PM, wilcal said:

It will never flourish unless the crazy streets are rebuilt into something that fosters community. They are set up for speed and throughput for long-distance commuters. 

I feel like street-design is a big culprit. Not sure why many areas of Midtown are "one-way traffic", that effectively makes them multi-lane stroads: granted, having a single point of traffic to worry about is not as difficult for a pedestrian compared to a Westheimer-type outside Beltway 8 situation ... but still.

And Midtown is actually an extension of the original core grid: the car-design must have been a retro-fit.

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2 hours ago, __nevii said:

I feel like street-design is a big culprit. Not sure why many areas of Midtown are "one-way traffic", that effectively makes them multi-lane stroads: granted, having a single point of traffic to worry about is not as difficult for a pedestrian compared to a Westheimer-type outside Beltway 8 situation ... but still.

And Midtown is actually an extension of the original core grid: the car-design must have been a retro-fit.

As far as I can tell, Houston was laid out with wide right of ways for streets before cars became ubiquitous. I've seen sources that say that started with the Allen Brothers, who wanted wide streets to make commerce easier.

I think the downtown/Midtown streets became one way in the 1950's, but haven't been able to confirm that yet.

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The good part is that with these nice wide one-way streets, curb lanes can be easily turned into pocket parks, outdoor dining, cycleways, or any of the other things that innovative cities are doing with their streets now that we live in an age of hybrid and full time work-from-home.  
 

Lots of cities are realizing that those lanes are no longer needed, and are giving that public space back to the public. 
 

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On 3/31/2024 at 4:57 PM, Renaissance1999 said:

 I really don't want midtown to turn into another mostrose or heights filled with townhomes.

Forgot to mention that even the Houston townhome structures are not detrimental for walkable urbanity: a form of mixed-use can easily take off in converting those front-loading garages into shop space. I've seen similar examples presented regarding Tokyo.

Will have to kill mandates like parking minimums, though (especially needed for the rest of the city outside Downtown, EaDo, and much of Midtown).

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42 minutes ago, __nevii said:

Forgot to mention that even the Houston townhome structures are not detrimental for walkable urbanity: a form of mixed-use can easily take off in converting those front-loading garages into shop space. I've seen similar examples presented regarding Tokyo.

Will have to kill mandates like parking minimums, though (especially needed for the rest of the city outside Downtown, EaDo, and much of Midtown).

Unless the townhomes in question are fairly old, there are likely deed restrictions on commercial use.

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1 hour ago, __nevii said:

Forgot to mention that even the Houston townhome structures are not detrimental for walkable urbanity: a form of mixed-use can easily take off in converting those front-loading garages into shop space. I've seen similar examples presented regarding Tokyo.

Will have to kill mandates like parking minimums, though (especially needed for the rest of the city outside Downtown, EaDo, and much of Midtown).

The existing townhomes in Midtown generally have the parking in the back, not facing the street.

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