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Concrete and a Creek: Houston’s Urban Landscape

In Shout Outs, Sina's Posts, Trips on May 12, 2012 by SN

Besides its great art museums, Houston also has an interesting urban landscape. On Sunday, I took a huge 7-hour walking tour all around town in order to get a sense of the city. I decided to meander along the Buffalo Bayou creek and park towards downtown. To my surprise, the river was not one of those straightened waterways with concrete to both sides, but it flowed naturally as if this was a river in the wilderness 200 years ago.

Creek and Concrete: Buffalo Bayou Park and Downtown Skyscrapers.

Set against the rectangular skyscrapers in the background, the landscape was suddenly composed of opposites: Concrete meets creek, gray meets green, civilization meets wilderness.

This clash between 19th century Western wilderness and 20th century urbanization is also reinforced by the many highways which run partly above the Buffalo Bayou, sometimes even several stories high. What a sight!

Creek Meets Concrete: Higway Lanes Several Stories High.

Creek Meets Concrete: Underneath the Higway System.

Although I haven’t seen oil wells in or around Houston, this exorbitant highway architecture is a clear sign that there was lots of oil available in the region. I see a clear connection between the many highways and Houston as a hub of oil production as the availability of oil and gas lead to car madness and sprawl.

Accellerator of Sprawl: Houston Highway System.

Yet, while the car is the dominant mode of transportation because of the historic availability of oil, Houstonians increasingly challenge this dominance. A couple of years ago, a METRO light rail system was installed that runs on a north-south axis from downtown to the outskirts. Someone sarcastically mentioned that the tram connects the football and the baseball stadium showing the interest groups behind its construction. The light rail is currently expanded by an East-West line. Besides taking the new tram, more and more Houstonians ride their bike in the city, sometimes they can even use new bike lanes!

My walking tour led me pretty much all aroun downtown along Tranquility Park, which commemorates the space flight, Market Square in the ‘historic’ district, and the Discovery Green park.

Finally, let me briefly mention my accommodation in Houston, the HI Hostel Houston. It is one of the best hostels I have stayed at so far in North America! Located in the hip and alternative neighborhood Montrose, it was built in 1918 as the residence for the Houston Mayor at this time. Opened only in September 2011, the freshly renovated gem is a classic Southern mansion with hardwood floors, French doors, a hammock, BBQ pavillion, and a great swimming pool.

HI Hostel Houston: A Gem in the Montrose Neighborhood.

The interior gives way to modern furniture while the dominating colors are white and gray.

HI Houston: Modern Interior Design.

HI Houston: Modern, Not Cold.

Yet, despite the modern look, it always felt comfortable, warm, and very inviting to me. Grace, the General Manager of HI Houston, did an extremely good job in decorating and making this hostel feeling like home. She was very nice and talked to us often. Her cool style and the laid-back atmosphere was felt by each one of the 12 guests from Austria, Australia, Japan, Canada, etc.: We shared the pool, had dinner together, and many inspiring conversations. Among the most intriguing guests was Don, a 63-year old military retiree from Michigan who has been travelling since November 2005. The guests had one thing in common: being open to new adventures, to searching for the unknown, and to learning about different cultures while simultaneously learning about ourselves. I really, really enjoyed staying there.

Shout outs to Grace for her wonderful hospitality!

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One Response to “Concrete and a Creek: Houston’s Urban Landscape”

  1. […] are Hispanics. The desert city is certainly a lot different from the Metroplex Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, but also San Antonio. “Western Landscape”: Franklin […]

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