HOUSTON – THE BOULEVARD CITY
By Peter H. Brown
Pedestrian Pete’s New Year’s greeting: We are THE BOULEVARD CITY!
Walking around Montrose, the Museum District, the Heights, it is clear Houston is Texas’s “Boulevard City!” Early land developers were quick to realize that boulevards create value and visual appeal like no other street. In 1911 Montrose Boulevard, connecting Buffalo Bayou and Hermann Park, along with Heights Boulevard set the precedent, with a lot of great streets to follow.
Boulevards, with landscaped medians or esplanades dividing the traffic lanes, have become a defining civic tradition in Houston; no other city in Texas is so blessed. These uniquely beautiful corridors are a visual godsend for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists alike, and for those who live and work along their way. The 19th century city beautiful plans by Frederick Law Olmstead directly influenced Houston’s visionary city master plans of 1914 (Arthur Comey) and 1929 (Hare and Hare). Anyone who has walked through NYC’s glorious Central Park or the Boston Commons knows that Olmstead was a boulevard guy. Those were the “city beautiful” days when people really cared about what the city looked like. In contrast, nowadays most anything goes. With a few exceptions, our city seems to be built for cars and for squeezing out maximum real estate profits, rather than for people, especially for people on foot. The Mayor of Oklahoma City, Mick Cornett, recently warned Houstonians, “You can have a city for cars, or for people. You can’t have both!”
Boulevards make sense for many reasons; urban aesthetics, safety, shade, pleasant walking, biking and driving, and ease of crossing for pedestrians.
HERE ARE A FEW STREET-WISE BOULEVARD THOUGHTS FOR THE NEW YEAR FROM PEDESTRIAN PETE:
• Declare our old-style boulevards as permanent historic landmarks.
• Make what is good even better; beautify our neglected traditional boulevards, like Montrose.
• When building or reconstructing high capacity streets, divide the traffic lanes by landscaped medians, creating more boulevards.
• Rethink Houston as a city of great streets, not just collectors, arterials and major thoroughfares “designed for cars.”
• And let’s bury those awful blighting overhead utility poles, wires, and transformers along all of our boulevards.
• Kirby Drive, in Upper Kirby is misnamed; it should be Kirby Boulevard?
• Reconstruct Dowling Street (named after a Confederate hero Captain Dick Dowling) as Emancipation Boulevard to honor the entire city. Make it a real boulevard!
• Where city engineers have paved over the medians for more car lanes, let’s restore the boulevard cross-section, like Montrose from Westheimer to Hermann Park.
• We should be disciplined about naming streets; a boulevard a “boulevard” while avenues and drives are different kinds of streets.
• Let’s rename Buffalo Speedway; (who would want to walk along a “Speedway?”) How about Buffalo Boulevard?
• Finally, let’s drop this branding talk about “Space City” or “City with No Limits” and start saying we are H-Town, the Boulevard City.
HERE IS (PEDESTRIANS PETE’S) LIST OF SOME OF THE BEST BOULEVARD STREETS WHICH MAKE OUR CITY GREAT:
• Most romantic boulevards: North and South Boulevard in Boulevard Place.
• Most historic boulevards: Heights Boulevard, Navigation Boulevard, Montrose Boulevard.
• Best reclaimed boulevard: the Navigation Promenade, in the Greater East End, an amazing people place in the 30 ft. wide esplanade.
• Most elegant boulevard: River Oaks Boulevard (with new landscaping.)
• Most “Bayou City” boulevards: North and South McGregor, with Braes Bayou as the “median.”
• Most modern boulevard: Post Oak Boulevard in Uptown/Galleria.
• Best joggers’ boulevard: Tanglewood Boulevard, with its popular esplanade trail.
• Best neighborhood boulevards: Caroline, Crawford, and Calumet in the Museum District; Southmore in Third Ward. Shouldn’t they be renamed “boulevards?”
• Best institutional/commercial boulevards: Holcombe in the Medical Center, Rice and University Boulevards further west.
• Best hidden neighborhood gems (short streets discovered walking): The 1400 block of Bonnie Brae in Montrose, Audubon Place in Upper Montrose, and the exquisite Norhill Boulevard in The Heights.
Pedestrian Pete invites you to nominate your favorite Boulevard by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Send a message about great streets to the City Public Works Director Dale.Ruddick@houstontx.gov and to your District Council Member urging them to preserve, protect and beautify! LET’S MAKE HOUSTON AN EVEN MORE BEAUTIFUL BOULEVARD CITY!
Read Pedestrian Pete’s previous articles on Free Press Houston by clicking here.
by Guest Author