Tag Archives: city planning


5 Dec

I visited Houston once. I was there for a long weekend. I stayed downtown. I saw a good portion of the city. I went out to the suburbs. I did not like Houston.

Impressive skyline

Impressive skyline

Houston is huge. It’s the fourth-largest city in the US. From looking at it, you’d think it was a pretty happening place. Downtown Houston is not happening. There are a lot of skyscrapers. There’s even a light-rail line. But there aren’t really any people out on the streets. Especially after business hours. It was kind of weird to walk around at night. I set out from the hotel to find something to do or look at or a sight to see and there wasn’t anything. Most downtowns have restaurants or shops or whatever on the first floor of skyscrapers and they try to make downtown a destination or a place where people at least don’t rush to leave after work. I didn’t really get that sense in Houston.

I don't think the University of Houston has any signature or iconic buildings so here's its soon-to-be-demolished football stadium

I don’t think the University of Houston has any signature or iconic buildings so here’s its soon-to-be-demolished football stadium

Most of my Houston time was spent watching softball games at the University of Houston. UH is a giant school and its campus is pretty giant and nondescript. Its a lot like every other second-tier giant state university that way. The football stadium was kind of cool. I like mid-size stadiums like that. Bad news, though. It’s being torn down. I don’t know what the new stadium is supposed to be like, but I didn’t see anything wrong with the old one. Maybe UH is trying to step up for its move to the illustrious Big East Conference. That was a joke.

I also drove past Rice University. Its stadium is a little bigger and a lot more bland. It also hosted a Super Bowl once. Look at the list of stadiums who have hosted Super Bowls. There are a lot of old college stadiums. The Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Tulane Stadium, Stanford Stadium. The Super Bowl will never be played in a place like that again. Too bad.

Just look at this shit. Not cool.

Just look at this shit. Not cool.

To me the most striking feature of Houston was its highways and highway interchanges. This is probably a bad sign for your city when visitors mostly remember your highways. Houston is a big sprawling megacity. Getting around is difficult and confusing. Most cities have some kind of beltway. Houston has two concentric beltways. When this becomes necessary its a good indicator that things have gotten out of control and maybe you should make your city denser.

Terrible urban design

Terrible urban design

I didn’t have any good food in Houston. Barbecue seems like it would be the best local food. I didn’t have any. Too bad. I did go to a Mexican or Tex-Mex or whatever restaurant. One of my traveling companions was a Houston native, and she recommended it. I don’t remember the name. Sorry. I didn’t think it was that great. It wasn’t really much different that a typical Mexican restaurant anywhere else. It wasn’t bad really, just not noteworthy. It was very busy. Packed, even. With white people and only white people. When you go to an ethnic restaurant and only white people are eating there it probably isn’t a very authentic restaurant. This is always noticeable with Mexican and any kind of Asian cuisine. I don’t doubt that there is a lot of authentic and delicious Mexican food in Houston. It’s very close to Mexico, after all. I do doubt that most white upper-middle class Houston suburbanites have any idea where to find it.

I went to a sort of upscale Mexican place in Minneapolis once with my mom. I don’t remember the name. On Nicollet Avenue somewhere close to the Convention Center. It was good. My mom loved it. It was clear that this was her idea of an authentic Mexican dining experience. I told her that I thought the food wasn’t nearly as good as my personal favorite, Taqueria Los Ocampo on the corner of Lake and Chicago. Lake and Chicago is a bit of a rough neighborhood. At least by South Minneapolis standards. I told her that Los Ocampo might not be fancy or have waiters or use real silverware, but the tacos etc. are far superior to what we were eating on Nicollet Avenue. I’ve never been to Mexico, but Los Ocampo also comes a lot closer to my understanding of traditional Mexican food (all different kinds of beef offal and that sort of thing). I think my mom was kind of floored by this. I think that would be a typical reaction for most people in her age/socioeconomic bracket.

You'd think Houston would be where La Porte or Seabrook is

You’d think Houston would be where La Porte or Seabrook is

One interesting thing about Houston is its geography. It’s very near Galveston Bay, and even has a port on the Bay. But the city is set back from the water. It seems like downtown was just plopped down in a random place. I wonder why that is. Most cities are constructed around water, and are defined geographically by said water. Not Houston. It’s almost as if the city founders consciously decided not to build their city in the place that would make the most sense. It’s hard to criticize since the city has grown so much but it feels like it could be so much more.

The suburbs of Houston are the same as the suburbs everywhere. Nothing interesting or noteworthy. The place I went is called Katy. That’s a weird name for a place.

That’s about all I have on Houston. Not very much I know. Houston didn’t make much of an impression on me. I wouldn’t recommend going to Houston.


I live in Oakland

12 Oct

Here is a pretty picture of Oakland

I live in Oakland. I used to live in Minneapolis. I moved here two months ago. I didn’t move because I got a new job or because I had a girlfriend here or any of the other reasons that people move. I just packed all my stuff into my car and drove here. I’m 29. It was easy to fit all of my stuff into my car. I think some people would find that admirable, and some people would find that very sad. I can’t really decide how I feel about it.

I like Oakland. I’ve been here for about two months. I like that I’m a fifteen-minute drive from several huge and beautiful parks. I like Lake Merritt. It’s a little reminder of home in a small way. Although Lake Merritt has some problems. I also noticed some of the same issues with a lake I encountered in Denver this summer. They have a really terrible design of bikepaths/traffic/etc. I think other cities could take some tips from Minneapolis on how urban lakes should work.*

*N.B. There will be a lot of stream-of-consciousness rambling like this in my blog. At least for now. I think that’s probably the only way I can write posts that aren’t embarrassingly short. One of the benefits of this blog for you, dear reader, is that you can watch my development as a writer. Oh how I envy you.

People in the Bay Area seem cool. There’s a different feeling in the air here than the Midwest. That sounds like a stupid cliché. Sorry. Small example: Giants fans seemed to mostly be rooting for the A’s in the ALDS and seemed genuinely disappointed when they lost. This is in marked contrast to, say, Chicago, where Cubs and Sox fans actively root for the other team to lose.

Whoever laid out the streets of Oakland was an idiot. It’s almost impossible to get around here, and the street signage is atrocious. I live on 14th Avenue. One block to the west (well, northwest, really. That’s another issue.) is 13th Avenue. One block to the east is 19th Avenue. Good for you if you noticed why this is confusing. On my block there are no 15th-18th Avenues. I live between 26th and 27th Streets. Or rather, where those streets would be. 26th Street doesn’t intersect with 14th Avenue on my side of the street. That didn’t stop the city from putting up a 26th Street sign where it would be if it did. This is like a hundred feet from 26th on the other side of 14th Avenue. I wish I had a camera so I could post a picture because it’s kind of hilarious.

I mentioned that I live on 14th Avenue. That’s in the east part of the city. Yes. I live in East Oakland. A lot of people might think that my neighborhood is pretty rough. I don’t really think so. 70 blocks or so east is a rough neighborhood. My neighborhood does have some ghetto tendencies. There’s a corner store across the street from me. It is not the kind of corner store you find in nice neighborhoods. I think they do most of their business selling individual blunts and cans of beer. I went in to buy a 6-pack. MGD tallboys. I didn’t see anything in bottles and nothing better than MGD. The old lady behind the counter looked at me like no one had ever asked for a 6-pack before. You have to ask for your items, by the way. Everything in the store is behind the counter. And the counter is behind bulletproof glass. If you’re familiar with The Wire, you can probably picture the kind of corner store I’m describing. Across the street from the corner store is a fucking gigantic hospital. You’d think with all the white collar types that a hospital employs that there would be a market for some better local businesses, but I guess not.