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Wednesday, 27 August 2014

HOUSTON - DOWNTOWN


I feel I need to say a few words about my temporary new hometown. Many raised their brows in awe when we said we'd move there, and yes, it is not New York. There are few songs sung about this place, but the rough shell hides a soft pit, but in this case someone spit them out over the whole place. And to find them, you have to cover a lot of ground: Houston is the personification of urban sprawl.
The picture above was one of the first images I got on the way from the airport. As the saying goes, everything is bigger in Texas, and so are the highways.
Concrete clashes with the romance of rodeo, cowboy lifestyle merges with the riches of the oil industry. The home of rodeo and NASA and now also mine.
Houston has a not the best image throughout the country, and I am curious how it will shape my experience of America as a whole. The first thing that is noticeable is the omnipresence of cars. Being used to walk and bike, this city in its entirety is impossible to navigate without an engine at your service.
It is the 4th biggest city in the United States, so it cannot be too bad, if you believe the 2 million inhabitants (who are joined by 4 million more in the immediate surroundings).
It was founded by the Allen brothers in 1836, who were keen on developing it. They produced a brochure praising Houston as a wonderful place amidst blue rivers and rolling hills, rumours have it the pamphlet included even a waterfall. This was euphemistic at best, the area is flat swamp land and was infested with mosquitoes.  Yet, the marketing trick worked out and settlers arrived in high numbers. The city turned into a transport hub but only the discovery of oil sparked its growth considerably. The introduction of residential air conditioning in the 1920s however is responsible for the extension of Houston until today, as the climate is very hot and humid.


To me, Houston is essentially a city of the 20th century.
In downtown some of the old buildings are still standing, although dwarfed by the newer additions. But here and there are still warehouses lurking from through dusty, if not ply-wood covered windows. The ajacent warehouse district to the East is slowly undergoing redevelopment, now mixing new town home developments with converted warehouses.

 Market Square, pictured above, looks a bit different today but boast a lively nightlife. Nowadays, the skyscrapers are higher of course and the city has grown far away from downtown. 
Surrounded by suburbs that became inner city locations, downtown still stands tall with its skyscrapers, whereas the rest is remarkably flat and spread out.

 But life downtown resembled a lot that in other cities, but unlike nowadays there were considerably more people in the streets, as this picture shows.
Nowadays, there are tunnels connecting the buildings and hardly anyone just walks the streets outside. I tried to wander and admire the skyscrapers, but every time I stopped, a security asked if I was finding my way. Obviously, downtown is not a place to linger...




picture sources: 1. own, 2. from here, 3. here, 4. here, 5. here.

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