This week's news that Houston's antiquated, eyesore of a downtown Macy's was closing first sent the Mayor scrambling, setting up something called a "downtown retail task force" who's mission, should they choose to accept it, is to do nothing less than revitalize retail shopping in an area where retail shopping doesn't appear to want to be. Then ChronBlog started scuttling around as Nancy Sarnoff (now pictured with hip, trendy eye-wear) penned a little story that's set the chron.commenters abuzz and has the outer-loop, carbon-spewing, evil-oil supporting, expanding waistline, suburbanites once again at odds with the fairy-fart propelled, twig munching, hip & trendy Inner Loopers or, as they preferred to be called 'urbanites'*.
One thing you need to know about the Loonies...em...Loopers is this: They listen to no opposing views when it comes to glorifying the residential Houtopia that is to blossom from the business district that is downtown Houston. David Crossley be praised.
This highlights a fundamental flaw in how our elected officials propose trinkets for Houston, looking first to the creative class for direction, then the well-heeled developers and then no where else. The problem with this approach is that it frequently leads to silly retail and entertainment projects being built where there are no people to support them. Think of Houston's population dispersion like this: If you took a really big donut, took a couple of bites out of the lower right quadrant and then stretched the SW, W, NW, N and NE (along 59) areas out to where it resembled a Dali painting, took the whole thing and plopped it down on a map of the City of Houston, you'd have a pretty good distribution of the population. The SE corner, where you took the bites, would be the Ship Channel and refineries. We know the people who live there don't shop because, according to Chron Reporter Lise Olson, they dress in petrochemical clothing and subsist on a diet of 1 2 butanediol and other chemicals.
The hole in the middle, and the few crumbs lying there that fell off when you set the donut down, is the residential population in Downtown Houston. Everything else, the meat of the donut if you will, is where people live. Looking at it this way you see why retail and entertainment don't work in Downtown Houston. Of course, the Houtopian dream is to have a light-rail network that will, eventually, after the bodies of crushed, drunk pedestrians are removed from under the carriage, drop you off somewhere nowhere remotely near to your place of residence where you can weave back home while playing a game of dodge mugger. Most people, not wanting to come home with a pipe-imprint in their forehead have forsaken this model and have started to be entertained and shop in places more closely positioned to where they live.
Judging by the Houtpian responses in the comments not only is this the worst idea in the history of the world, but it's also a symptom of the deranged mind of suburbanites. Those in the suburbs are unwilling to see that the Flying Saucer in Downtown Houston is exponentially superior to the Flying Saucer in Sugar Land. When asked to explain why two identical concepts with very similar ambiance, menus and style can be different they typically walk away muttering something about the downtown beer-maid's having more tattoos and more hip, trendy eye wear. By all accounts, Sugar Land Town Square is a far superior a shopping and entertainment district for people in Sugar Land than Downtown Houston is for, well, just about everyone. And there are neighborhood examples all over the City. The Houston Heights basically serves as a self-contained community for well-off Caucasian progressives who spend their time sipping coffee, shopping at Revival Market and holding parties so they can determine what Republican constituency they want to ask their elected officials to tax next. Even Sharpstown is starting to show signs of life and an economic resurgence. And these latter two are directly inside Houston's city limits. I haven't even gotten to CityCentre, Memorial Area Houston, The Medical Center or any other of a host of communities that are building up without the city government forming a commission after a couple of anchor tenants go out of business.
There comes a time when you just have to let things go. As my friend Anne Linehan stated on Twitter: "all the comments talk about Foley's in the past tense. Highlights the problem" Yup, and it's why Houston can't have anything nice, and why we're stuck with a New Year's party that was supposed to be about KC and the Sunshine Band but ended up being 6 or 7 people in spandex dancing to canned music. Houston is so busy trying to build up something that doesn't want to be built up that they've forgotten about those areas that are still trying.
Note: When I wrote this the Apple Dumpling Gang had not yet weighed in. Well, now they have ($$$) and it's predictably awful. Of particular note is this quote:
*What they REALLY want to be called are better, and smarter, than everyone else. In fact, much of their activities exist so that they can convince themselves that they really are.