Houston Debates What to Do with its Dinosaur Bones

CityLab has a new piece outlining the on-going debate in Houston not to tear down a highway, but what to do with the carcass left behind after they go forward shifting traffic around the city rather than entirely through the city in every which direction.  In that sense, they’ve leapfrogged our efforts locally in Dallas.

The debate is whether to convert the highway into a High Line of sorts or whether to remove it completely and turn it into a La Ramblas type thing.  I would side with the ground plane enthusiasts.  Ultimately, this is their decision but if I were to offer some context it would be to remind Houstonians that you’re Houston.  Not NYC.

The High Line

NYC has crowded streets and plenty of urbanism allowing for life to exist on another plane, above the street.  Houston, like most sun belt cities is lacking for street life.  Why skip this step only to have an empty husk of a former freeway looming over the street?  Everything proposed for the Pierce elevated’s future hypothetical life accommodating bikes and pedestrians would be better off at street level.  In short, build more street life.

La Ramblas, BCA Spain. Houston can grow some big ol’ gorgeous trees which would make for a lovely esplanade. Added benefit, more trees could capture some of that famous Houston pollution better than concrete.

Oh, and there is that thing about the High Line being the most expensive public space in the history of the world at a cool $1000 per square foot.  If that was your yard and you owned a one-acre lot, that would require almost $50 million in landscaping.

Let’s play a quick game.  First, The High Line gets about 4.4 million visitors per year.  That’s a pretty nice number but it’s also only 12,000 per day.  La Ramblas gets 250,000 visitors per day or 182.5 million per year.  Second, NYC census tracts along the high line average about 77,000 people per square mile.

In Houston, along the Pierce (caveat: this would certainly go up without the highway, but I would argue moreso without the structure entirely) that number is more like 3,000/sq mi.  Let’s say that if visitors to the elevated was proportional to population density along it; if NYC has about 27x the density, it could have 27x the visitors (and this excludes all of the tourists NYC certainly gets more than Houston).  If the Pierce elevated were to get 1/27th of the visitors, that’s only about 465 visitors per day.  Worth it?

Please, Houston.  Don’t be silly.  Or on second thought, because you’re so far ahead of Dallas on so many issues, go crazy.  Let us catch up a bit, will ya?


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