Sunday, January 30, 2011
Today was the Houston Marathon, in which your humble blogger was joined by 26,000 others in self-inflicted pain and suffering. It occurred to me--in between bouts of cursing my foolhardy decision to enter the race--that running is a great way to observe land use in a city or town. It allows one to tour cities and neighborhoods more slowly than in a car, but faster than walking. And a race as long as a marathon gives you the chance to visit several areas in a city and observe both the use patterns within each neighborhood and the differences between them. The Houston Marathon course directs its runners through several of the more interesting neighborhoods in the city (albeit all in the "favored quarter"). The official race program describes several of the neighborhoods on the course:
Downtown. Downtown Houston is the seventh largest downtown business district in the United States and has the third most concentrated skyline after New York City and Chicago. [I should also note that the race started and ended at Discovery Green, a new urban park generally thought to be a highly successful planning and local government accomplishment.]
The Heights. Founded in 1891, The Heights was one of Houston's first suburbs and is best known for its tree-lined streets, beautiful parks and assortment of new homes, Victorian-era houses, and Craftsman bungalows. [One of the original "streetcar suburbs." In the Unzoned City, HP is a big issue in The Heights as a way of controlling development.]
Montrose. The Montrose area is considered one of Houston's most eccentric areas, and hosts a diverse community of young adults, business professionals, punk rockers and artists . . . . It is an area made for pedestrians where people can walk and cycle easily. [The APA named Montrose one of America's Top 10 Neighborhoods].
Texas Medical Center/Rice University. The Texas Medical Center is the largest medical district in the world, containing 42 medicine-related institutions. [You may have seen in the news recently that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is now being treated here].
The Galleria. The Galleria area, also known as Uptown, is Houston's best-known shopping district and second-largest business district. [One unusual thing about Houston is that there are four or five disparate business districts that would each qualify as "downtown" or the CBD in most cities].
Memorial Park. Opened in 1924 and covering 1,466 acres, Memorial Park is one of the largest urban parks in the United States.
Just from these introductory descriptions, you can see how a comparison of one city's neighborhoods invokes both local and national land use issues. Running through the city was a great way to get a tour of the visual characteristics on the ground. At least that's what I'll be telling myself as I hobble to land use class in the morning.