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The scourge of selfie sticks

Presented (mostly) without comment.

The Blanton Museum, in Austin, as well as the Dallas Museum of Art and the Perot Museum of Natural Science, in Dallas, all have bans on tripods and monopods that extend to selfie sticks, leaving visitors to settle for mediocre, arm-length-only selfies. Bummer! Most museums have rules against bringing tripods into their exhibition halls anyway—taking a family portrait in front of your favorite Pollock piece is a tad disruptive to other visitors—and these three museums are following a recent pattern of outlawing selfie sticks in places where they might infringe upon another person’s experience.

There are plenty of people who argue that taking selfies in museums is great, and you should just do you when it comes to enjoying some of the world’s greatest works of art. Selfies are cultural artifacts too! There are entire Tumblr blogs dedicated to memorializing some of our time’s greatest moments of digital self-portraiture, think pieces have been written, and Kim Kardashian is releasing what could be the definitive piece of selfie literature. Take all the selfies you want—just check to make sure your new selfie stick is allowed before you head out for your next museum day.

I have taken a selfie or two, although they have so far all been group shots. To be honest, I’m of a sufficiently advanced age that I probably couldn’t see the screen clearly enough at greater than arm’s length to know if the picture I’m lining up is worth taking. I’d probably feel a little ridiculous carrying a selfie stick around with me anyway. If neither of those conditions apply to you, then go ahead and knock yourself out. Just don’t, you know, knock over any priceless works of art.

Mount Rush Hour Park

It’s actually called American Statesmanship Park, but either way it’s awesome.

Mount Rush Hour

Harris County on Tuesday accepted a donation of a small plot of land near the intersection of Interstates 10 and 45 where 18-foot concrete busts of Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington sit.

Each bust by Houston artist David Adickes, 83, was valued at $100,00, plus $87,000 for the land. Precinct 2 parks superintendent Gilbert Smith said there are plans to name the plot American Statesmanship Park, after words inscribed on the base of the sculptures.

In addition to oversized presidents and dignitaries, Adickes also is known for the 67-foot-tall Sam Houston statue in Huntsville and the 36-foot-tall cellist at downtown’s Lyric Centre. A plaque on the site will identify him as the busts’ creator and Quinita and Christopher LaPorte as the donors.

“We’re going to work on some kind of a nicer signage for the front, something low that will look nice, and mow it on a regular basis and the pay the light bill to light it at night,” Smith said, adding that he’s been told the occasional coat of white paint and some intermittent power washing also will be needed.

There’s an aerial photo at the Chron link, and here’s a Google map if you want to get a closer look. You can get there easily via the Heights Bike Trail – head east to Houston Avenue, turn right towards downtown, then turn left (east) on Edwards Street, and you’ll see the statues as the road veers around towards Bingham. David Adickes is a national treasure, and we are so lucky to have him in our town.

Ticket splitters

For better or worse, we live in a polarized world. Often, knowing a candidate’s political party tells you most of what you need to know in a general election. But definitely not always, and this year in particular there are plenty of examples of candidates who aren’t worthy of the support of their partisan brethren (and sistren, as Molly Ivins used to say) as well as a few who for a variety of reasons are able to transcend political barriers. I feel like this year I’ve seen more mixed-company yard signs than I have in years past. Here are a few examples:

My guess is that this homeowner is a Democrat who is also supporting incumbent District Civil Court Judge Tad Halbach, who has a reputation for being one of the better inhabitants of the judiciary.

My initial suspicion was that this was a Republican who prefers Vince Ryan and Adrian Garcia for Harris County. I drove by this location yesterday and there was another sign touting a GOP judicial candidate whose name I have forgotten, so that makes me a little more certain in that assumption.

This one’s a little hard to see – it was late afternoon, I was facing west, and any closer would have put me directly in the sunlight. Anyway, the red sign is for Vince Ryan, and the other one is for GOP judicial candidate Elizabeth Ray.

Greg sent me that one. Probably a Republican crossing over for Gene Wu if I had to guess, but Greg could say for sure.

Another one that could go either way, but as that house in the background is actually a law office, I suspect the sign-placer just likes incumbent judges.

I feel quite confident saying that the person who put out these signs is a Republican, crossing over to vote for Ann Johnson and the HISD bonds. (As well he or she should.) The Halloween decoration nearby is a nice touch.

So there you have it. I don’t have any broad point to make, I just noticed these signs around and thought it would be fun putting something together on them. I have a Flickr set for these pics, so if you find any more examples, send them to me via email or post them on the Off The Kuff Facebook page and I’ll add them in.

Bike racks at restaurants

I wholeheartedly approve of this.

On nice days, a 20-station bicycle rack stays mostly full outside Hay Merchant, a food-and-beer establishment located among a cramped string of restaurants on Westheimer near Montrose. When the rack is full, it means 20 people left vehicles at home and freed up parking outside the popular venue.

The Hay Merchant is becoming an example of how private businesses can play a role in managing Houston’s urban congestion, and co-owner Bobby Heugel wants other owners of restaurants and bars to encourage customers to use bicycles.

Heugel created an initiative to provide free bike racks to small food-and-drink establishments located inside Loop 610. Beginning in May, the racks will be provided by Organized Kollaboration on Restaurant Affairs, a nonprofit advocacy group co-founded by Heugel to represent bars and restaurants.

“Our goal is to demonstrate that the private sector can provide a structured and responsible response to urban density and to our city’s reliance on cars,” said Heugel, who also co-owns Anvil Bar & Refuge. “It is not something we have to wait for city infrastructure to provide.”

OKRA is accepting cash donations and selling T-shirts to raise funds to fabricate a modified version of the bike rack outside Hay Merchant. The square rack, made from a single bar of heavy steel, can accommodate two bicycles. Racks can be connected.

The organization plans to start donating one rack per month. OKRA made arrangements to buy the racks at cost from the Houston-based firm Collaborative Projects.

I noted Heugel’s effort back in March. I’m glad to see it’s progressing. I would suggest that the Heights and the Washington corridor will be fertile ground for expansion, as they’re full of bars and restaurants, short on off-street parking, and within easy pedaling distance of a good portion of their customers. I’ve seen a few places in my neck of the woods with bike racks – I’ve used a couple of them myself – and have some photos of them here. More would be nicer, though honestly there’s no reason for these places to wait for Heugel. Adding a bike rack is a cheap investment in more capacity. It should be a no-brainer.

Public House on White Oak

Heugel said the city of Houston is seeking ways to deal with crowded off-street parking.

A current proposed change to a city ordinance could require new restaurants and bars to provide an increased number of parking spaces.

“It is very difficult for small, independent restaurants and bars to obtain additional parking, which requires them to spend more money on real estate to develop that type of infrastructure,” Heugel said.

OKRA’s members, he said, are trying to demonstrate that there are other solutions.

“For our part, this is just one effort out of many that OKRA plans to make that shows restaurants care about what happens outside of their walls,” Heugel said, and added that the issue at stake is bigger than parking.

“It is about how restaurants, bars and residents become better neighbors and how we deal with challenges that Houston is going to have to face going forward,” he said.

Dan Raine, a cyclist-pedestrian coordinator with the city’s Public Works & Engineering Department, said he personally thinks it “is a wonderful thing OKRA is doing, in particular in a high-density location where parking is at a premium.”

Here’s OKRA’s webpage if you want to learn more about them. The city should do its part to abet Heugel’s efforts by amending the proposed new parking ordinance to allow smaller bars and restaurants to substitute bike parking for vehicle parking. That’s what got Heugel on this crusade, and he’s right. The city has done a lot in recent years to make biking easier and more accessible. This is the logical next step. What exactly is the argument against?

By the way, a word about the bike parking that I spotted in my neighborhood. The pictures were all taken on a weekday afternoon, so don’t draw any conclusions about the number of bikes you see. I’ve seen the racks at Little Woodrow’s and Christian’s Tailgate during the weekend and weekday happy hour, and they do fill up. Several of these places I didn’t even realize had bike parking until I went looking for it. Some of that was just not noticing what I hadn’t thought about before, and some of it was because the racks were not readily visible from the street – I’m thinking of the Berryhill and Onion Creek bike racks in particular. Whatever publicity these places may have done to make their bike parking done, there’s room for more of it, that’s all I’m saying.

About that “solution” for bike trail obstruction

Me, last month:

Meanwhile, two weeks ago there was a story about TxDOT closing the White Oak Bayou Hike and Bike Trail between Ella and 34th streets while there is construction on the service road for 610 North at East TC Jester. The closure was scheduled for two years, without an alternate route that bicyclists thought was adequate. Fortunately, after meeting with bike activists, TxDOT made some changes to accommodate riders a little better. I’ve been meaning to get over there and take some pictures but just haven’t had the chance. Anyone here have experience with what’s going on at this location?

A reader named Andy wrote to me that he had had a close look at this area, and it’s not as you would expect based on that report. He sent me some of photos to illustrate, two of which I will show here. First, a view of the White Oak Trail from the north:

That looks pretty blocked to me

And a view from street level:

A view of the blocked trail from grade level

Andy writes:

I took photos of this mess on Monday (Jan 23) […] In short, the construction company working for TxDOT decided to bury the section of White Oak Trail which runs under 610 with the dirt they removed while leveling out other sections. They didn’t have to do this, but it was faster and cheaper than having to haul the dirt somewhere else. Other than the dirt, there is absolutely no construction going on there right now, and there were no construction vehicles there at all on Monday.

TxDOT and/or Karen Othon apparently has been claiming that the trail closure was for safety reasons, but this is simply nonsense. They could use a chainlink and plywood safety barricade over the trail just as other construction companies have used downtown to keep pedestrian access open, and limit total closure of this section of White Oak Trail to the same times that they close TC Jester (when doing overhead crane work, such as lifting and setting beams, the same as they did when rebuilding Ella’s 610 overpass). This however would be less convenient for the construction company, since it would be an additional cost and they would also need to find another place to pile the dirt they removed while leveling other areas.

While taking photos, I also witnessed no less than 20-25 people in about a 30 minute or so time span going around and over the dirt piled on the trail (I had to wait for many to get out of the frame so I could take photos). A number of hikers climbed right up and over the dirt (which is not safe at all for reasons which can be seen in the photos from the north end of the dirt pile), while other pedestrians and bicyclists used the sidewalk on the west side of TC Jester which runs parallel to White Oak Trail, and then crossed under 610, (which is just dirt and loose gravel). This route likely won’t remain an option once demolition and construction begins on the three existing bridges though. I also saw several people walk down the bayou embankment and follow the flat concrete basin to bypass the blocked trail and walk right under 610 (also not terribly safe, due to the steep incline).

Somehow TxDOT is going to have to come up with an option other than blocking White Oak Trail until late 2013 because people are clearly not going to stop traveling through the area.

And in a followup email, Andy writes:

When I was speaking with Tom Gall via email yesterday, he mentioned “My understanding is that the soil on the trail will serve as a platform for the piling cranes and isn’t just spare soil but we certainly need to keep an eye on them.” If that is what TxDOT has been claiming in the public meetings (they only claim they closed the trail for “safety reasons” on their website), then it would seem TxDOT’s contractor needs to use a crane with a longer boom and/or a different sort of jib. I can’t see the ~10ft width of the trail making all that much difference anyway when they bring in a large crane with a diesel-driven pile driver attachment (which is the type of pile driver they would most likely use if they are going to be installing prestressed concrete piles). I would actually be surprised if they located a crane that close to the bayou embankment because of the steep grade and danger of tipping the crane over too. There also appear to be stockpile markings on the soil that has been piled over the trail.

You can see in the photo of the north end of the trail just how dangerous they’ve made it with all that reinforcing mesh/wire sticking up out of the dirt. It was when I was taking photos from grade level (which was around 5:30pm) that I saw people heading north on the trail and climbing over and going through that mess. With all the people clearly unwilling to stop using the trail, if TxDOT and their contractor doesn’t come up with another solution, and soon, someone is very likely to end up hurt and then turn around and sue to city. With all the budget shortfalls, the last thing the city needs is another lawsuit.

Also, the retaining wall made of decorative concrete bricks is still in place. They just buried it under all that dirt. I would like to know what they’ve done with the metal safety railing they removed though. That railing was custom made and expensive

My thanks to Andy for sending this along. It doesn’t sound like a good situation to me. I don’t know who needs to take this up with TxDOT, but they do respond when enough of a fuss is made. Let’s make that fuss for them, shall we?

Saturday still photo break: May the Force be with you

We have some family in town, and today Audrey and I took them to the Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination exhibit at the Health Museum. It was a combination of models and costumes from the “Star Wars” movies, with behind-the-scenes videos on how some of the special effects were done, plus interactive exhibits on robotics and magnetism that aimed to help explain how this sort of technology works in the real world. And it gave me the chance to take these pictures:

That malfunctioning little twirp, this is all his fault.

I see your point, sir. I suggest a new strategy, R2: let the Wookiee win.

Those of you who are into that sort of thing – and you know who you are – should check it out. We’re now resting up before heading out for White Linen Night. Hope you’re having fun today, too.

You don’t look a day over 170, Houston

Lisa Gray has a question and a request.

How do you celebrate Houston’s 175th birthday?

It’s a surprisingly hard question. How do you salute the longevity and stability of a place that prides itself on change? How do you sum up a place that’s notoriously hard to define?

Houston 175, the official birthday organization, is doing its best. It’s rounding up high-profile backers (George and Barbara Bush have already signed on). There will be a birthday party on Aug. 30. And close to that date, there will be a film series, a history conference, and 10 exhibitions and booklets. There’s even a soundtrack: Leah White and the Magic Mirrors have recorded Our Roots Are Strong, a bluesy Houston album for kids.

But will all that celebrating salute everything that needs to be celebrated? Of course not.

So Houston 175 has a request: Would you please show the world your Houston — your own favorite piece of the city?

To play along, go to their website (, download a “My Houston Is Here” sign, print it, and photograph yourself holding it in your favorite spot. Then upload the photo to the site.

You can see some of the submitted photos here, and you can listen to the Our Roots Are Strong music here. I’m not the kind of person that picks favorites, but I have an idea for a picture for this. I’ll need to coordinate with some other folks to do it. And just for the record, the word for “175th anniversary” is Dodransbicentennial, which I can just about guarantee will win you a bar bet.

Saturday video break: It’s OK to be Takei

Ladies and gentlemen, George Takei:

I suppose now is as good a time as any to show you this:

George Takei and me, 1994

That was taken at the Houston premier of a slightly bizarre, very cheesy, and mostly fun sci-fi western called Oblivion, at a now long-gone theater on Post Oak near San Felipe. The movie’s director, writer (Peter David, for my fellow geeks), and most of the stars including Takei and Julie Newmar, were there for a post-screening Q&A and autograph-signing. I was with my buddy Matt and a couple other people, but in those ancient pre-cellphone days none of us had a camera. I was standing near Takei when some random dude in the crowd who did have a camera offered to take a picture of me with him. I gave the guy my address, and sure enough, a few days later there it was in the mail.

Anyway, we have a scanner now, so that was the first of what should be many embarrassing old photos that I hope to digitize in my copious spare time. Who’s the most famous person you’ve ever been photographed with? Feel free to include a link to the picture if you have one.

Studewood highrise update

Swamplot and Prime Property give us a look at what is to come for that six-story mixed-use building that’s currently under construction on Studewood just north of 11th. Well, what may come, as Swamplot’s choose-your-own-adventure photo spread indicates. I figured this was as good a time as any to check out the current progress of the construction, so I headed over the other day with my camera. Here’s a view from Studewood and 11 1/2, which is Key Street on the east side of Studewood:

The Studewood Highrise, which needs a snappier name

That bell tower you see in the background is actually a cleverly disguised cellphone tower. That’s how we roll here in the Heights. Here’s the south end of the property:

Someburger in your backyard

In addition to whatever they may have as ground-level retail or dining on this property, residents will have Someburger, Da Capo’s, the 11th Street Cafe, Andy’s, the forthcoming Liberty Kitchen and Oyster Bar, Berryhill’s, and Zelko Bistro all within a block. Not too shabby.

Finally, here’s a view from 11 1/2 Street:

The rear view

The lot is not that big, maybe three or four lots – you can see the Stop sign at Studewood on the left. There is a little bungalow right next door on 11 1/2, and houses across the street. I have no idea what they think about their new neighbor-to-be. Given that they’re still working on the first story, it’s got a ways to go before it’ll be done.

The Empty Lot Primary

This is an awesome idea.

A political consultant is launching a Web site aimed shaming political candidates into limiting the posting of signs to addresses where the residents actually endorse their candidacies.

Greg Wythe’s invites people to submit photos of campaign signs at empty lots, empty buildings or other locations where there is no owner or resident expressing support for the candidate.

This is not a campaign against yard signs. Wythe is just after the clutter brought about by signs in places where there’s no one with a vote.

I contributed a couple of the pics that you’ll see on the Empty Lot Primary site, and I plan to contribute more – Lord knows, there will be more of them to document, despite this little effort to call out these visual polluters. This isn’t hard, y’all. Put your signs on the lawns and walls of people who want them there. If you can’t find anyone who wants one of your signs on their private property, that’s a sign, too. The fact that this has already hit a nerve is good to see.

In a bit of coincidentally fortuitous timing, this issue came up in Council last week:

Kudos to CM Sullivan for bringing it up, and to Mayor Parker for taking it a step further. There’s also a Twitter feed available for those of you who are into that sort of thing. Check it out, and contribute a photo when you can – Greg has more options as well.

If fixing the streets is easy, then tell us how to do it

Lisa Gray writes about a guy who thinks Houston’s streets could be much more user friendly if only we tried a little harder to make them be.

“Houston’s streets behave like alleys,” Nathan Norris shouted to the 20 or so people who followed him like ducklings, single file, on Jackson Hill Street’s skinny sidewalk.

Norris is a professional urban scold, a consultant for the town-planning firm Placemakers, who travels the country telling developers, neighborhood groups and cities what they can do to improve their street life.

He gestured, disgusted, at what he saw on Jackson Hill — a prosperous-looking residential street. It’s part of fast-growing Super Neighborhood 22, the area around Washington Avenue’s clubs and restaurants.

But Jackson Hill is not a street where you want to linger.


“I have traveled far and wide, and I have never run across a city that has as much unmet potential as Houston,” Norris wrote. “And the funny thing is that it would take such a minor change for Houston to reach its potential.

“Imagine New York, Chicago or L.A. trying to undo its business-unfriendly culture. That is not going to happen anytime soon. Dallas and Austin are not going to grow a port.

“But Houston could simply tweak some minor functional design regulations, and the developers would start building beautiful places that could provide Houston a vibrancy and hipness that would attract the next generation of leading professionals.”

I like what he’s saying, but I have two simple questions: What exactly are the simple tweaks that need to be done to make Houston’s streets better? And how do they affect existing streets where there’s unlikely to be much new housing construction?

Documenting the problem is easy enough, and Gray quotes Norris at length: Skinny sidewalks (where they exist at all), lack of trees, and utility pole obstruction. I figure a picture is worth a thousand words, so here are a few I snapped on Jackson Hill the other day.

Where ya gonna walk?

That’s a block south of Washington at the corner of Jackson Hill and Lilian Street; a parking lot for Patrenella’s is right behind where I’m standing. Talk about useless – anyone walking this way will have to take the street, which could be dangerous that close to a busy road like Washington. There were plenty of other examples, all on the same (east) side of the street, or utility poles getting in the way.


Center Street recycling center for sale?

Looks to be that way.

Seen at the Center Street recycling center

Back in 2009, the city contemplated selling the site to Admiral Linen next door, and opening a new recycling center on Spring Street in the First Ward. See here, here, and here for background. The move was opposed by First Ward residents on the grounds that the area was becoming too residential for such a facility, and Super Neighborhood 22 residents, who wanted the city to consider other options for the Center Street site such as a city-owned parking lot. I presume this has come up now because the city will need revenue to close a large budget shortfall for the next fiscal year. Arguably, with the success of the single stream recycling program, this center isn’t needed as much any more. I know I haven’t been there since we got our big wheely bin and could get glass and cardboard picked up along with everything else. I don’t know anything more about this beyond the fact that I spotted that sign on the site the other day, so I’m just throwing this out there. Anyone else know something about this?

Where hippie bohemian attorney dreams go to die

Via Swamplot, I see that the site of the never-was Sonoma development in the Rice Village has been sold to someone that plans to actually build something.

Hanover’s project, called Plaza View, is scheduled to include 385 “high-end” apartments, 14,000 sq. ft. of retail or restaurant space, and a multi-level parking garage, all in what its designers label a pedestrian-friendly design. What’s that plaza we’ll be viewing? An almost-17,000-sq.-ft. public space along Morningside, with a “water feature, grass lawn, large trees, and restaurant dining spaces.” According to Hanover executive veep John Garibaldi, 55,000 sq. ft. of retail space, 34,000 sq. ft. of office space, and an 8,000-sq.-ft. grocery store were cut from the earlier Sonoma plans. Much of the towering nouveau pomposity of the Sonoma design has been cut too. Along Kelvin St., Hanover’s buildings will reach 6 stories tall; 5 stories along Morningside and Dunstan.

Here’s the Chron story about this.

Houston-based Hanover Co. plans to build a five-story mixed-use property on the site where other developers had originally planned to build a much-anticipated retail and residential development called Sonoma.

The project will have less retail and apartments instead of condos, said John Nash, president of Hanover.

The finished brick property will boast 381 rental units, 13,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor, above-ground and underground parking, and a public plaza. The project, at Bolsover and Morningside, will generate less traffic than Sonoma because of the limited retail, Nash said.

While I’m delighted that one of the many longstanding vacant lots will finally see some action on it – I’m sure they’re doing cartwheels in Mayor Parker’s office over the imminent increase in property tax revenues – I must say that I’m heartbroken that this will now never become reality:

It was a crazy dream, but it was fun while it lasted. Rest in peace, Hippie Bohemian Attorney highrise.

A message from Metro

Spotted by me at the Smithlands light rail station:

Who knew that Muppets rode the light rail?

I believe this subject came up in my interview with Gilbert Garcia and Christoph Spieler but figured it deserved its own mention regardless. Expect the Board to explore further changes to the Q card program, including possibly bringing back day passes.

Sign of the times: Prop 3

Spotted this the other day on Old Spanish Trail just east of SH288:

A sign from the anti-Prop 3 campaign

Far as I can tell, the nearest red light camera to this sign is at Wayside and I-45. It’s all I’ve seen of the campaign against Prop 3 till now. You can contrast that with the pro-Prop 3 ad that’s now running on cable. You’re likely to see this ad if you haven’t already, as the Prop 3 supporters are well-funded. The opponents, not so much. Which means you’ll probably see more of these signs, too. And that’s why the experts think Prop 3 will likely pass.

Another Wal-Mart meeting

There was another meeting about the proposed Wal-Mart on Wednesday, this time for residents only.

[I]n the second public meeting in eight days addressing concerns over the Walmart-Ainbinder Company development, the city’s proposed 380 Agreement with the developers took center stage.

The 380 Agreement is a statewide compensation program, which would reimburse the developer building the Walmart (Ainbinder) up to $6 million through city tax money for infrastructure such as widening roads and increasing drainage.

“I’m not going to defend it,” Parker said to a troubled crowd. “I don’t shop at Walmart.”

During the Q&A portion of the meeting residents kept harping on traffic. One Heights resident asked why City Council would even consider talking about the project before all of the research on traffic is done.

Jeff Weatherford, deputy director of public works at the City of Houston, said, “If we’re wrong, we’re wrong. We’ll go back and make some adjustments.”

Hair Balls adds an interesting angle.

[Deputy Director of Public Works Andy] Icken stressed that the agreement is with developer Ainbinder and has nothing to do with Walmart. The money that is reimbursed comes from property taxes generated after the development, whether or not Walmart is a tenant, is up and running for one year.

The reimbursement money would be paid out during a ten-year period.

The idea of using 380 agreements is fairly new and rarely implemented in Houston, and this Ainbinder project would be only the fifth to use one. The future HEB development at West Alabama and Dunlavy, for example, will not be built with a 380.

Icken said, however, that he would like to strike a separate deal specially for Walmart that would regulate things like which roads delivery trucks can use to enter and exit the property. Those details, of course, will have to be finalized in future contracts.

“I think it’s appropriate to have that agreement with Walmart,” Icken said. “Citizens here have made some good points.”

I like the sound of that. If you believe, as some do, that this is going to happen no matter what, then getting the best deal possible has to be the goal. I know some people don’t like to hear that, and I don’t blame them, but it surely can’t hurt to have an endgame strategy in mind. Be that as it may, the Chron has the counter argument to that:

They stand with Mayor Parker

Dropping the 380 agreement will not make Wal-Mart go away, she said; it would result in the Wal-Mart being built without community input and with fewer amenities around the site.

The negotiations, Parker said, have been used to secure improvements in the area in anticipation of new exit ramps off Interstate 10 onto Yale Street, as well as to address lighting in the Wal-Mart parking lot and traffic on Koehler Street, among other items.

“Those are the kinds of discussions that would be extremely helpful,” she said. “That’s why we’re here. You’re telling me, ‘We want Wal-Mart to go away.’ Tell me what to ask for.”

That argument didn’t persuade some residents, among them Nick Urbano of Responsible Urban Development for Houston, a nonprofit formed by residents opposed to the project.

“They’re bluffing,” Urbano said, referring to Ainbinder. “(The designs) they’ve thrown out there they’re going to build anyway, so why are we giving them money for it?”

Parker disagreed with that assessment.

“They’re not going to redo the bridge over White Oak Bayou. They’re not going to do the enhancements on Heights Boulevard,” she said. “Those are not part of the development. They have no requirement to do that. Why would they?”

I respect the “hell no” forces. I don’t think they’re going to prevail, however. I wonder what will happen when some of them start to conclude that.

Hair Balls also noted and made some fun of this study, done by Austin-based Civic Economics and commissioned by Responsible Urban Development for Houston, which disputes all of the justifications for giving incentives such as a 380 agreement for this development. I thought it was fascinating. One bit that stood out to me:

While a more complete market study would be necessary to making absolute statements in this regard, we cannot conclude that the Supercenter proposal would increase retail sales and sales tax revenues in Houston by any significant amount.

Wal-Mart projects $870,000 in sales taxes to be collected at the store, but it makes no attempt to quantify how much, if any, of that revenue would be new to the city rather than diverted from the abundance of competitors in the area. The same can be said of the 300 jobs projected. If sales are simply diverted from other stores in the market, a comparable number of jobs will be lost elsewhere. In fact, if those losses are incurred by locally-owned merchants, the net change in jobs in the city will likely be negative.

We therefore believe any development incentives provided would represent lost revenues, money the city would otherwise receive with or without this project.

This sounds an awful lot like what Andrew Zimbalist says about public financing for sports stadia – that they don’t really generate new economic activity, they just relocate it. I presume there are some conditions under which there is a net gain – the study suggests one such scenario, which is for a Wal-Mart to be located in “underserved and relatively poorer sections of the city”, such as “sites to the south and southeast of downtown”. Their maps make it clear that there’s a large area that is essentially free of large retailers and grocery stores. I don’t know that a 380 agreement, which isn’t often used in Houston, is the right tool for that, and just saying it doesn’t change the fact that Ainbinder has this land and intends to do something with it. The point they’re making is that we should be wary of claims about sales tax revenues, especially if we just consider revenues generated by Wal-Mart in a vacuum.

Of course, Ainbinder could be reimbursed by increased property values in the area, if sales taxes aren’t an appropriate measure. Some folks who currently live near the site are betting against that. Honestly, that’s what I’ll be watching for. The study didn’t discuss this at all, unfortunately.

Finally, there’s this:

Does this store address underserved markets?

It does not. Indeed, Maps 3 through 5 illustrate that west central Houston is well served by a wide variety of retailers.

As described above, the area already enjoys short drive times to discount stores, with two additional Wal-Mart proposals just outside Loop 610 to the north and west promising even greater convenience and competition in that sector. South central and southeast Houston may well be described as underserved by large-format discount stores, but this proposal does nothing to alleviate that condition.

I agree that while points south and east are truly underserved, though again that isn’t Ainbinder’s concern, these maps don’t really contradict the thesis that the area right around Yale and Washington has few options. Look at Map 5, for grocery stores. The nearest ones are the Kroger at 11th and Shepherd and the Fiesta at 14th and Studewood to the north, and the Randall’s at Westheimer and Shepherd and the Disco Kroger at Montrose and Hawthorne to the south. (For now, anyway. The eventual arrival of the Whole Foods on Waugh at West Dallas will change that, at least at the high end. You’re still out of luck if what you seek is toiletries and paper goods and low-to-moderate prices.) As someone who drives through this area every day, I sure wouldn’t claim any of them are five minutes from that site, certainly not in weekday traffic. It’s no mystery why many of the people who are opposing the Wal-Mart were especially disappointed to hear that HEB had lost out in the bidding. I’m one of those who’d have preferred an HEB to a Wal-Mart, and I think the point about relocating economic activity from other parts of the city rather than increasing economic activity overall is a strong one, but I suspect a lot of people will find it convenient to buy their groceries there.

Market Square reopening next week

Market Square Park downtown, which began a renovation in February, will reopen next weekend.

The Market Square Park downtown will officially reopen on Aug. 28, with performances by the John Evans Band and singer-songwriter Andrew Karnavas.

The renovated park — framed by Preston, Congress, Milam and Travis Streets — will now include a sizable dog run, along with a lawn and patio area. Ground was broken on the project late last year.

A fall concert series begins Sept. 8 with performances by Soular Grooves and Beetle. Other performers include Two Star Symphony and Roky Moon and Bolt (Sept. 22), Tody Castillo and Black Queen Speaks (Oct. 27) and Sarah Sharp and Grandfather Child (Nov. 10).

I happened to be downtown this past Monday, and walked past Market Square while I was there. It’s still being worked on, at least as of then. Here’s a somewhat crappy cellphone picture I took of the activity:

Market Square

You can’t tell from this shot, but the structure right behind that little covered area is the Niko Niko’s.

The summer of Wal-Mart continues

As long as I’m mentioning new signs, here’s another that’s popped up recently:

Live Better?

Pardon the flash; I was in a bit of a rush and didn’t have a chance to go back and take another shot. The Stop Heights Wal-Mart folks definitely have some traction in the area. They now claim over 5,000 supporters in their Facebook group, which is a mighty impressive total for such a local issue. I hadn’t noticed the tricycle at the top of the sign before I stopped to take the picture; it’s also the favicon for their website. A bit cute for my taste, but nobody asked me. There’s at least one other variant of this sign out there, too:

Supre Neighborhoods, not Supercenters

These babies are all over the place now. I won’t be surprised if they eventually outnumber all of the preservation ordinance signs put together. Whether or not that has an effect, we’ll have to see.

If yard signs aren’t enough for you, there’s also pro-Wal-Mart mail pieces, which are apparently being sent to people who are most likely opposing that project. We received ours on Thursday. Hey, if they want to waste their money, I won’t try to stop them. This is a tactic they’ve used before, by the way, though apparently with different stock photos. I think I’ll take the Stop Heights Wal-Mart folks’ advice for what to do with my response card. Hair Balls has more.

In related Wal-Mart news, Swamplot cites a KPRC story in which a Wal-Mart flak raises some lame questions about who it is that is opposing them, to which They Are Building A Wal-Mart On My Street pushes back. It’s going to get a lot more fun from here on, isn’t it? And finally, meet Responsible Urban Development for Houston, also known as RUDH.

Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs

I mentioned there were pro-preservation ordinance signs out there, so I thought I’d show what they look like:

'Yes to protecting our historic districts'

The link is to, the Houston Historic Districts Coalition. It’s a busy little website, especially in contrast to the Responsible Historic Preservation folks. As I said before, I’ve seen a lot more of the RHP signs than I’ve seen of these, and most of these I’ve seen east of Studewood, in the Woodland Heights. West of Studewood, in the Houston Heights, it’s almost all anti-ordinance signs.

Ready or not, here comes Wal-Mart

It’s a done deal.

Wal-Mart has placed 16 acres of land in the Washington Avenue corridor under contract, company spokeswoman Kellie Duhr confirmed Thursday. The deal comes two days after concerned Heights-area residents voiced their opposition to the project to the Houston City Council.

Though some council members complimented the residents on their proactive efforts and passion for their neighborhood, most stressed the city can do little to stop Wal-Mart from building a reportedly 152,000-square-foot store near Yale and Koehler. Property owner The Ainbinder Co. holds 24 acres in the area and plans a retail development anchored by the Supercenter.

Mayor Annise Parker said she and Councilman Ed Gonzalez, whose District H includes the Heights area, plan to form a committee of nearby residents and businesses through which the community can articulate its concerns. Gonzalez was not present at Tuesday’s meeting.

Parker said the aim of the group would be “not to stop the project, but to make sure that whatever goes in there, that at least we attempt to negotiate mitigations to potential neighborhood impacts.”

I’m not sure how much actual leverage the city has here, though I’m sure the 4000+ members of Stop the Heights Wal-Mart will be scouring the city’s codes to see what they can make happen. Let’s just say this is going to be interesting to watch.

By the way, a little searching showed that Excited About the Heights Wal-Mart has four (count ’em) fans, and Bring On the Heights Wal-Mart has 21. I wouldn’t call any of this scientific, but that’s a pretty strong statement of public opinion.

Also by the way, there’s now a Stop Heights Wal-Mart website. They’re collecting money for yard signs to be distributed during White Linen Night. I’m sure I’ll publish a picture of said sign when I see one in the ‘hood.

Speaking of pictures, there’s some action going on at the site. I snapped these yesterday from Yale:

Some sort of construction on the Wal-Mart site

The entrance to the construction site

Not sure what exactly they’re doing, but there it is. See They Are Building A Wal-Mart On My Street for more.

Pushback on the historic preservation ordinance

I’m seeing a few of these signs in my neighborhood:

'Responsible Historic Preservation'

The first ones I spotted were in front of houses on Heights Blvd; this one and a couple of others were on Studewood on an empty commercial lot.

Nothing like putting signs on an empty lot

I’ve since seen a few on Yale and 6th Street. The site says it is a “grassroots advocacy group primarily concerned with reasonable and sensible preservation of historic property in Houston”, according to their Who We Are page. I was a little suspicious of this, because I didn’t see the names of any people who were responsible for the group. Their Facebook page didn’t have any names, either. So, I sent them an email asking who their founder is and who their board members are, if they have any. I received the following response from Kathleen Powell:

I’m happy our signs are getting attention. Quite frankly, we are surprised at the number of responses we have received from the signs and from our website since Saturday morning. We are overwhelmed by the response to say the least.

I am one of three founders. The other two are Mary Wassef and Bill Baldwin. We have been keeping an eye on this issue since the spring of 2008 and knew the day was coming that we would have to take some action. All three of us are homeowners of old homes. Mary and I live in a current historic district, the Heights East and Norhill respectively, and Bill lives in a district which has applied for historic designation but he personally has already landmarked his home after doing a major renovation to a splendid old home that was in near tear down condition due to neglect. His home now is a show piece for the neighborhood. We all believe in and want historic preservation. We just want to go about it in a different, more sensible, reasonable, and responsible way.

We are an advocate group in the beginning stages and we have no board of directors. From the looks of things, we will think we will quickly need to become a more formal organization however currently, we are much more concerned with getting the word out about what the city is attempting to do and much too busy with that to worry about a board of directors. We are dancing as fast as we can!

That answered my questions, and I appreciate them getting back to me. (Kathleen also pointed me to this link on their page, which identifies her as its author; it’s linked from the main page on the lower right, but I did not see it when I first visited. She says the website is a work in progress and will have more content on it shortly.) The Baldwin house is in the 200 block of Bayland and it is a jewel – I’ve been in it a couple of times for events. I support efforts to update the existing ordinance, and I like what I’ve seen so far, but I’m certainly open to what they have to say. The goal is the best preservation ordinance we can get, so let’s have the discussion and see where it takes us.

A view of the “Heights” Wal-Mart site

I was thinking last week that I didn’t have a good feel for the geography of the site for the proposed “Heights” Wal-Mart. So I figured the thing to do was to drive over there and take a few pictures. I did that on Friday morning, and put them into this Flickr set for your perusal. There are comments on each picture, and here are a few additional thoughts.

– The south side of this property is bounded by the train tracks that come in from 290 and continue on into downtown. Unless a new road is built from Bonner to Yale on the north side of these tracks, the site will have no access on the south.

– Bonner is the west edge. It’s not a street so much as it is two cul-de-sacs, one on each side of Koehler, with the southern cul-de-sac terminating at the tracks, and the northern one dead-ending before I-10. You could, as I noted before, extend Bonner across the tracks, to meet its corresponding cul-de-sac on the north side, and the I-10 service road extension may connect to it as well, though I have no idea if TxDOT plans to do that or not. Without at least one of those additions, you could have an entrance to the site on Bonner, but you’d only be able to get to it via Koehler.

– While the property extends to Koehler to the north, the northwest corner of the site, at Koehler and Bonner, is the home of Berger Iron Works, which is very much a going operation, and quite a cool one from the look of it. It fronts on Bonner, with a small office and attached employee parking lot across the street, but the shop, which fronts on Koehler, has street access. I don’t know how much traffic this generates.

– Koehler runs from Yale to Shepherd/Durham and points west from there. It is also the entry and exit point for San Jacinto Stone, which was already receiving customers and sending out trucks at 7:30 AM, which is about the time I took these pictures. West of Bonner, it’s residential, with cars parked on both sides of the street. That will be an issue if Koehler becomes an entry point for this Wal-Mart, since with cars parked on even one side, Koehler is too narrow for bidirectional traffic. It also has “traffic-calming devices” on it, also known as speed bumps, which suggests to me that the residents in this area were complaining about cut-through traffic long ago. Koehler also has no sidewalks and open drainage ditches, so no one will be walking to Wal-Mart as it is currently configured.

– There’s another little cul-de-sac north of Koehler between Yale and Bonner, called Bass Court, which like Bonner dead-ends before I-10. According to this Chron story, it will be widened and will connect to the service road extension. As with Bonner, there are people living there. I have no idea what they think about having a Wal-Mart so close by.

– There are a couple of streets that extend west from Bonner between Koehler and the tracks: Schuler, which is closest to the tracks and which ends at Patterson; and Eli, which extends to Durham/Shepherd and thus could also serve as access to the Wal-Mart site. I did not explore either of these streets. There’s a large abandoned commercial site at Schuler and Bonner that is currently for sale. Eli appears to be residential.

– I’ve said that Bonner is a cul-de-sac on the north side of the train tracks as well, but that’s not really true. It meets up with Allen Street, which then proceeds west right next to the tracks. Connecting the two sides of Bonner would make Allen Street another access road for the site. As it happens, the morning I was taking these pictures, I met a young man on the north side of Bonner who was walking his dogs. He lives in the apartments that front on Center and back up to the train tracks. I asked him if he’d heard about the Wal-Mart, and he said he’d heard rumors about a grocery store being built there. I told him Wal-Mart had bought the property, and he immediately expressed concern about the traffic it would bring. Make of that what you will.

A Montrose/Studemont walkability update

Back in 2008, I put together a photo essay on density and walkability in Montrose, in particular on Montrose/Studemont between West Gray and Washington. It included this photo, taken in front of what was then the old Ed Sacks Waste Paper site:

Legacy at Memorial


Well, the Sacks site is gone, and in its place is a new high rise, Legacy at Memorial, which opened a couple of months ago. Here’s what that same location looks like today:

Now this is what a sidewalk should look like

Now this is what a sidewalk should look like

Now that’s more like it, isn’t it? Getting rid of the wall certainly helped, and a nice wide sidewalk is always good to have. There’s another cool feature about this sidewalk, for which I’ve put more photos beneath the fold. Click on to see them.


Vote for me for something

I’ve now seen four of these signs near where I live, one on I-10 westbound just before the Taylor exit, two on 20th Street between Studewood and Heights, and this one on Durham just south of Washington.

Vote who for what?

Vote who for what?

I have three questions:

1. Which Michael Williams are we talking about? The Railroad Commissioner? The HCCS Trustee, who had considered running for Council in 2007? The guy who ran for HISD Trustee last year? Some other Michael Williams? The name is not exactly a unique identifier.

2. What office is he running for? Given the odd-numbered year, a City Council seat seems most likely, and since I’m pretty sure the two locations where I’ve seen his signs are in different districts, I’d say we’re talking an At Large seat. But trustees for HISD and HCCS are on the ballot, too, and maybe there’s something else I’m not thinking of. HCCS Trustee Michael Williams appears to be up for re-election next year, but none of these signs are in his district. That strikes me as a bit of a flaw.

Maybe this isn’t about a political campaign. Maybe it’s more of a personal branding thing. Maybe we’ll see more signs with further information soon. Who knows?

3. Assuming it is in fact about a political campaign, why in the world would you be campaigning for a 2011 race when the 2010 election is still five months out? If the answer is “To generate some early buzz”, then I guess mission accomplished. If only I knew who was getting the buzz.

Don’t we have some kind of ordinance for this?

This is what it looks like when a billboard is born

This is what it looks like when a billboard is born

This is I-10 at Studemont on Wednesday morning. They started building this thing on Monday, and by Wednesday evening there were billboards on display. Once I realized what it was, I said to myself “Don’t we have some kind of billboard-restricting ordinance? How is it that a new billboard is being put up?” As it happens, an earlier version of that ordinance would have allowed some existing billboards to be relocated, but that wasn’t in the final deal. So I’m curious. Did that new ordinance restrict the construction of new billboards? If so, how is it this one got built?

UPDATE: Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who wondered about this.

Are they finally building something on the Robinson Warehouse site?

Remember the Robinson Warehouse? It’s been more than three years now since the old building at Montrose and Allen Parkway was demolished, and the site has been fallow ever since. But in the last week or so, some signs of life, or at least impending construction, have appeared.

What are they building here?

What are they building here?

I guess they're the ones to ask about it

I guess they're the ones to ask about it

You may recall that the land had been bought by the Aga Khan Foundation with the intent of building a Muslim Ismaeli center there. After all this time, I have no idea if that’s still the plan and it just took them longer than they might have thought to get it going, or if the property has changed hands and something else is about to be built. Anybody know what’s up? Swamplot to the white courtesy phone, please.

Saturday still picture break: Go Texan

This little piece of yard art is on Greenbriar, across the street from Roberts Elementary School:

There are many ways to Go Texan

There are many ways to Go Texan

It appeared a couple of weeks ago, just before the start of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. I can only presume that was not a coincidence.

It’s magic

I’ve always been a fan of magic acts – I still remember seeing Doug Henning’s “The Magic Show” on Broadway with my dad when I was a kid – so I’m really excited about Magic!, the new exhibit at HMNS.

Running through Sept. 6, the exhibit illuminates the craft of the world’s greatest magicians, from 19th-century titan Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin through 20th-century wonders Slydini, Cardini and Houdini to today’s Las Vegas headliners, Penn and Teller.

Realizing some exhibits can be staid, museum brass wanted Magic! to “leap off the shelf,” said curator Scott Cervine. To that end, they enlisted a cadre of the city’s top illusionists to flaunt their skills on a specially built mini-stage. Visitors beware: Magicians mixing with the crowd may occasionally extract handkerchiefs from the ears of the unwary.

Creating wonder is magic’s goal, said Cervine, a Los Angeles prestidigitator and filmmaker, and museum visitors shouldn’t expect to learn how the great tricks are performed. What they will learn is the science at their core.

“You couldn’t have miracles without science — they’re two sides of a coin,” he said.

Olivia helps magician Richard Hatch with a trick

Olivia helps magician Richard Hatch with a trick

Tiffany and I attended the preview party last Thursday. The exhibits – art, video demonstrations, and all kinds of props and paraphernalia from the history of magic, including a milk bucket and wooden box that were part of Houdini’s escape acts – are cool enough, but there are also a number of actual magicians present, doing stage shows and close-up magic as well, and that really puts it over the top for me. Olivia and I visited on Saturday. Photography isn’t allowed in the exhibit, but we were there on a special tour the museum provided for a few local bloggers and their kids, and we had permission to take pictures.

Seeing magic tricks performed right before her eyes really captivated Olivia, and she wasn’t the only kid in attendance to be mesmerized by the sleight of hand.

Magician Richard Hatch prepares to bedazzle the kids

Magician Richard Hatch prepares to bedazzle the kids

She watched all of the videos all the way through, and put herself right up front for each subsequent magic act we saw. There are regular performances through the day, and a couple of magicians I wanted to see but didn’t get the chance to. I’m thinking a return visit, this time with Audrey as well, is in order. If you like magic, and especially if you have kids, check it out. More info on the exhibit, including some videos, is here and on the HMNS blog. My thanks to Erin Flis for the invitations.

Goodbye, old friend



This morning, Tiffany and I took our dog, Harry, to the vet. He did not come home with us. We’d known this day was coming for awhile. Harry was 15 years old, and his health had declined in recent months. We’ve been preparing the girls for it, telling them how Harry was going to be with God. We made the appointment for today last week, after a checkup confirmed that his time was short. We told family and friends what was going on. We did what we could to make his last few days as happy as they could be, which mostly meant extra hugs and treats, including some filet mignon (!) that my sister-in-law brought for him yesterday. We knew it was coming. We told ourselves it was the right thing to do, and it was. It was still one of the hardest things we’ve ever done.

I did not grow up with pets. Other than a month of cat-sitting for an absent roommate one summer during college, I’d never had to care for an animal before January of 1997, when Harry came into my life. My buddy Matt, who had been my housemate for six years in Houston, had just moved to New York for a job, and I was somewhat at loose ends. My boss at the time, who was a devoted dog lover, had been trying to convince me to adopt a pooch. Whether by fate or by accident, a friend of hers found this furry stray on the street, and the two of them had been foster-caring for him. Both had two dogs of their own, so they wanted to find someone else to keep him. Mary Ann, my boss, worked me over for a week before I finally agreed to give it a try. I had no idea what I was doing. The first full day I had him, a Monday, I let him into the back yard of the house I was renting to do his business, and when I checked on him five minutes later, he was gone; apparently, there was a hole in the fence of which I’d been unaware. I took a quick look around, but saw no sign of him. I called Mary Ann in a bit of a panic, as I was already late for work, and she drove over to look for him as I headed to the office. She found him – he must have just been exploring, and came back – and I took him for walks instead of letting him into the yard after that.

I started dating Tiffany a few months later. She was charmed by Harry – she’ll tell you that she fell in love with him first – but couldn’t abide the fact that he had the run of the house, including the couches. So off to obedience school we went. It was clear that Harry had been through this before, and was basically humoring me. He managed to overcome my ignorance in these matters to pass the class. That didn’t stop him from hopping on the couch whenever we weren’t looking, mind you. One tip we got from the trainer was to put tinfoil on the couches as anti-dog devices. We preferred using tinfoil baking pans, since the air conditioning or ceiling fans would sometimes blow regular foil off the couch. The problem was that the pans didn’t quite cover the cushions sufficiently. Harry learned to nudge the pans aside enough to create dog-sized sleeping spots for himself. We always found it too funny to get upset about.

When we moved into the Heights later that year, the first house we lived in had a closet that Harry claimed as his space. We put his dog bed in there, and he’d retreat to it whenever he needed some quiet, or when there was a scary thunderstorm outside. Frequently, though, we’d come home to see that he’d dragged his dog bed out of the closet and into the middle of the floor in the next room. Always to about the same spot, too. This puzzled us until one winter day when, as Tiffany was standing over Harry on his bed in that spot on the floor, the heat kicked on, and she felt the warm air blowing down right on to where he was. Clearly, this was no ordinary dog.

We were a little worried when Tiffany was pregnant with Olivia that Harry would feel put out by the arrival of a human puppy. But he adjusted just fine, and was always protective of the girls. It probably helped that he learned early on that small children were even better food providers than big people, mostly because they were less squeamish about sharing what they were eating. When Olivia started on solid food, she would put her fingers into her mouth after taking a spoonful of cereal; this helped her learn how to swallow. When she took her fingers out of her mouth, she would hold her hand over the side of her high chair, and Harry would be right there to lick it clean. When she started eating Cheerios, Harry would station himself at her feet, knowing that a few of them would inevitably hit the ground. Olivia’s signal in those days that she was full would be to take whatever we’d put on the high chair tray, and toss it on the floor for Harry. We referred to it as his tribute; this occasionally made for some embarrassing moments at restaurants and other people’s houses, but everyone thought it was funny. Audrey did the same thing – when she started at the same preschool Olivia attended, one of her teachers asked if we had a dog. When we said yes, she said she could always tell, because kids in houses with dogs always dropped the last bit of their food on the floor.

Harry loved people, but he had not been socialized to other dogs, and at best tolerated them. He really hated anything with a rumbly diesel engine. Buses and garbage trucks were his sworn enemies. I’d be out walking with him when we’d hear one of them in the distance, and he’d freeze, on point. The noise would get louder, and he’d start running in tight little circles, and when the offending vehicle passed by, he’d just go ballistic. The first time my folks visited and took him for a walk on their own, we warned them about this, but nothing could adequately prepare them for it. One way I knew that he was starting to slow down was when he stopped barking at trucks and buses. It’s been long enough that when Tiffany read to Olivia a book called “Dog Heaven” (which I have not been able to bring myself to read), which talks about how in heaven dogs get to do things like chase squirrels and whatnot, Olivia said “But Mommy, Harry doesn’t chase things”. Well, he used to, it was just that he preferred things with wheels.

I suppose we’ll get another dog some day. Olivia has been asking when we’ll get a puppy. I don’t know about that, but another rescue dog would be fine. I’ve often thought about the people who must have owned and loved Harry before we got him. I’ve tried to figure out how he came to be wandering the streets. He was housebroken, healthy, gentle and affectionate, so I can’t believe he was a behavior problem, and he was just too lovable to abandon for whatever reason. I guess he could have just gotten loose and wandered off – for the first year or so, I half-expected to hear from the people who’d had him before, that they must be out there looking for him. But if they did, they never found him. And if there is someone out there who is still grieving for their loss 13 years ago, all I can say is that we took good care of him, we loved him very much, and we grieve for him now. Goodbye, old friend.

A hippie bohemian flashback

Remember this?

Those were the days, my friends, those were the days. These days? Not so much.

Three years ago, developers got the city to shut down Bolsover Street so they could build the seven-story complex, but those plans stopped after the economy took a turn for the worse.

The Houston City Council will vote Wednesday to decide whether to turn the entire thing into a surface parking lot.

Somewhere in this crazy world, there’s still a place for hippie bohemian attorneys. I just know it.

The inauguration

Here was my view of today’s inaugural festivities:

Mayor Parker administers the oath of office to Council members

Mayor Parker administers the oath of office to Council members

Click the photo for a larger version. Tiffany and I were seated next to Martha, who has some pictures as well as a post about Mayor Parker’s inaugural address. It was an honor and a privilege to be at the Wortham Center for this historic event. We were there as guests of Council Member Melissa Noriega, to whom I would like to express my gratitude.

Here’s a roundup of the coverage that I’ve seen:

Houston Politics
Hair Balls
Bay Area Houston
David Ortez
Nancy Sims

The inaugural concert at Discovery Green is this evening starting at 6 PM; my advice would be to dress warmly.

Two things I’ll add to all this: In Parker’s speech, she mentioned that she had been asked what city she would compare Houston to. She said she thought about it and decided it was “the Houston of my imagination”, in which (among other things) different law enforcement agencies worked together seamlessly; a robust transit system was available for all who needed it; the high school dropout rate was “insignificant”; our air was clean; and neighborhoods had the ability to preserve the things that made them special. Also, while she spent plenty of time talking about the challenges that we faced, she specifically mentioned that she “inherited a city that’s in good shape”, and thanked Mayor White for that.

All in all, a wonderful event. If you were there as well, please leave a comment with your impressions. The new Mayor and new Council get down to their regular order of business on Wednesday.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from all of us

Merry Christmas from all of us

From ours to yours, have a very Merry Christmas. I’ll have a Christmas version of the Friday Random Ten up later today, but that’ll be it till tomorrow.

Still more on Parker’s win

Hereare a couple of photo slide shows from the Annise Parker victory party on Saturday, from TPM and Hair Balls, the latter of which has some pix from the Gene Locke event as well. And BOR has a recording of a voice mail message President Obama left for Parker to congratulate her on her win. There’s a mighty nice thing to have.

We don’t have precinct data yet – at least, I don’t have it yet – but the Chron takes a stab at analyzing Parker’s support.

She was the policy wonk, a community activist who had won hard-fought elections for city council and controller and who had been a city official for a dozen years — and who, by the way, happened to be gay. Although she wasn’t a particularly exciting candidate, she ran a cohesive, focused campaign that relied on her years-long practice of grass-roots politics and her lengthy experience grappling with neighborhood issues at City Hall. She sought the endorsements of the same heavyweight political groups that swung in behind her opponent, but when the checks went the other way she countered with what turned out to be a more potent coalition of interest groups: liberals and progressives, feminists and gays, civic activists and moderate Republicans, particularly female Republicans.

In the end, Annise Parker’s name identification and years-long experience as candidate and elected official were too much for Gene Locke to overcome. What looked like a close race just a few days before Houstonians went to the polls turned out to be a relatively easy win for Parker, who got 53 percent of the vote to Locke’s 47 percent.

I suspect that when the precinct data becomes available, it will look a lot like it did in November, with Locke dominating Districts B and D, and Parker leading everywhere else.

Friday random ten: Tell me what that white stuff falling from the sky is called again?

Yes, this is happening right now in Houston.

Yes, this is happening right now in Houston.

That would be “snow”. Which we don’t get much of here in Houston. But we’re getting it today, and it’s even starting to accumulate. So here are ten songs about snow and/or winter.

1. Snow Day – Trout Fishing in America
2. Snowflake Reel – Hot Club of Cowtown
3. Rain and Snow – Solas
4. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! – Ella Fitzgerald
5. Snow in Austin – Ellis Paul
6. Frosty the Snowman – Bing Crosby
7. Sometimes It Snows In April – Michele Solberg
8. Sleigh Ride – Squirrel Nut Zippers
9. Winter On Pecan Street – Trish & Darin
10. Sometimes In Winter – Blood, Sweat & Tears

I can also report that I have no fewer than six versions of “Winter Wonderland” in my iTunes. I think there’s a federal law that requires its inclusion on all Christmas albums. What’s the weather like on your iPod today?