Concrete Island

July 11, 2009

Picture 2CNCRETE J.G. Ballard’s Concrete Island is the story of architect Robert Maitland, whose car accident in April of 1973 leaves him stranded and confined to the forgotten land under the spur of the M4 motorway in London.

Maitland, the hero of the story, ends up stranded in an ‘island’ defined by the concrete structure of the highways that surround it and the deafening roar of the cars. No-one sees him as they drive by and, as he remarks more than once, no will ever think of looking for him there.

The ‘island’ – and extension of his car and of himself- is nothing but the wasteland of urban living. The space is constricted and airless, left to overgrowth, trash and a seemingly abandoned outbuilding where Proctor and Jane (a brain damaged acrobat and a social outcast) live forgotten and isolated from and by society.

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June 23, 2009

Walkability ranks cities and neighborhoods on their walkability.  Here is a snapshot of our sites current levels of walkability- which is about average for Houston.

Jumping K-Rails

June 22, 2009


Existing Conditions

Once, when I was about 13 or 14, we had some massive flooding out in Humble. Highway 59 was totally under water starting just north of FM 1960 going almost all the way to Kingwood. We lived in a neighborhood right off of the highway and I remember wading out to the freeway with my cousin. We just sat there in the middle of this concrete speedway.  It was quite the experience. Remembering walking along the deserted highway always brings to my mind Stephen Vincent Benet’s short story, By The Waters of Babylon.  There was something powerful about being there, in that space, totally unprotected, small, and vulnerable. Maybe that is where this whole obsession started.

We made our first “official” site visit to our site on an early Sunday morning.  After consuming unhealthy amounts of caffeine, and recovering from the shock of finding other people actually awake at 7am on a Sunday, we made our way to the empty Northwest Transit Center Park and Ride. Read the rest of this entry »

It is hard to imagine a Houston without highways. How you can’t go anywhere without coming in contact with the highway. No matter where you are you have to be aware of your position as it relates to the highway. This reality  though shows the dependency that the city has developed towards its concrete arteries. They are the only mode of transportation for long distances and some would say even for short distances. So in Houston the relevance of the highway is that they are essential for the ability of the city to live.

It could be argued that the highway is essential to the survival of any city, to take it further to the survival of any country. This is true, but the difference is that the highway is essential both to the workings and to the identity of Houston. Let’s take a much older city, Munich, Germany, which I recently visited. It is one of the largest cities in Germany and one constantly filled with travelers from all over the world. The highway in Germany is treated much differently than it is in Houston. The beginnings of the highway can be said to be very similar: both were made to transport the military quickly across the country. The difference comes in the way that the highway meets and interacts with the city. In Houston the highway seems to pierce through the city dividing anything that comes in its path. The city then grows out from the highway. In Munich the highway appears to be much less important. The highway is subservient to the city, it is defined by the city not the other way around. The highway also seems to dissolve as it nears the city center. It goes from four or five lanes into a large boulevard until it becomes part of the normal city street grid. Also the highways seem to have no problem disappearing under the city for a while and then reappear where it is appropriate. There is a real sense of hierarchy in the way the highway meets the city.  In the end what all of this means for the city is that the highway plays a supportive role as opposed to a dominant role. The highway doesn’t dictate development, as it does in Houston. So as you enjoy a stroll in Marien Platz one of the last things on your mind is: “how do I get back to 59 from here?”.