January 29, 2009
Houston Have Your Say 2.0

So last year I got to serve as an on-the-spot blogger for KUHF's production of Houston Have Your Say, which was about immigration. I blogged some of it at Kuff's World and some of it at a blog that was set up for the show. Tonight I'll be back in the KUHF studios along with my compatriot from the last time, Ree-C Murphy of Lone Star Times and Chronically Right, and the topic will be growth. There's a new blog for the occasion, which you can find here - expect to see our output there this evening.

That blog already has a few entries on it, from some of the guests who will be on the program to discuss the issues. One such entry is here, from Tory Gattis of Houston Strategies. In the spirit of kicking things off, I'm going to pick a nit about his case for why we shouldn't fear growth, a thesis with which I otherwise concur.

Houston has a pedestrian-hostile tropical climate five months of the year. While northern transit-based cities benefit from a personal warming technology - the coat - the only personal cooling technology that exists for southern cities is an air-conditioned vehicle.

All due respect, but as someone who grew up in a northern transit-based city and spent ten years of his life walking or taking public transit to get to school, it's cities like New York that are pedestrian-hostile for five months of the year; essentially, November through March. It's true one can wear that magical personal warming technology Tory refers to when it's cold, but up north we also have what's known as "snow", which turns into "slush", and trust me on this - your coat only helps so much in those conditions. I've seen snow as early as Halloween and as late as Easter - in fact, the last snow day I recall as a student was on Good Friday, in the first week of April. Some day, when I tell my daughters that I often went to school in a foot or more of snow, I won't be exaggerating. (The bit about it being uphill both ways will admittedly be a stretch.) You want weather that's not fit for walking, or for waiting for a bus? Let me introduce you to the concept of the "wind chill factor". That's my idea of an I'd-rather-be-driving climate.

As for Houston, well, I may be more heat tolerant than some, but for the most part outside of July and August, I'll take our weather over theirs. And you know, in a well-designed transit-oriented city, they do have a remarkable pedestrian-cooling technology available. It's called "trees", which when planted along sidewalks can make a big difference in the ambient temperature. You may recall a big argument over the redevelopment on Kirby Drive regarding the dispensation of its trees. And though it may not provide as much relief, unlike your car's technology, a tree canopy won't break down on you and require a costly repair.

Anyway. Like I say, Tory has some really smart ideas, but to me at least, the suggestion that Houston has worse walking weather than New York or Boston or Detroit is frankly ludicrous and in need of some pushback. For more on being a pedestrian in Houston, I'll refer you back to Andrew Burleson's recent post about walking as well as this earlier one about urban corridors and the need to value sidewalks and walking as much as we do cars and driving. May we have a lively and informative debate on all these topics tonight.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 29, 2009 to Elsewhere in Houston

There's also a good technology they have up North for getting around on the icy streets and sidewalks - the ice skate. Too bad we don't have their weather advantages down here - where it is 60 degrees and sunny.

Posted by: Mike on January 29, 2009 12:58 PM

Chuck - as usual, you hit the nail on the head. . . particularly the part about trees! I hear complaints here in Phoenix all the time...but if you just step into the shade, it's instantly 20 degrees cooler. Imagine that!

Posted by: Denise Krause on January 29, 2009 5:38 PM

See comment here:


Posted by: Tory on January 30, 2009 10:15 PM

I'll agree it can be miserable up north. But you get to work, take your coat off, warm up, and naturally dry off if some snow or slush got on you. On the other hand, if sweat soak your clothes walking in the heat and humidity to work, you not only look bad until you dry out, you smell bad all day. Pretty much unacceptable for office work.

As far as the trees and shade: they are absolutely helpful, but my experience is that they're a lot more helpful in dry climates (like Phoenix, that Denise mentioned). When it's 95 with 95% humidity, the shade doesn't really help all that much.

Here's another piece of evidence: in the pedestrian-oriented French Quarter of New Orleans, with a similar tropical climate to ours, the tourist "off-season", with the cheap rates, is, you guessed it, the summer. People just don't want to be out in it, shade or no.

Posted by: Tory on January 30, 2009 10:27 PM

>>Here's another piece of evidence: in the pedestrian-oriented French Quarter of New Orleans, with a similar tropical climate to ours, the tourist "off-season", with the cheap rates, is, you guessed it, the summer. People just don't want to be out in it, shade or no.

I'll take a wild guess that January is not the season that tourists flock to Chicago either... but they still built a very good metro system for the people that are there no matter what the season.

Also, how much time has Tory really spent up North? If you bundle up so that you are really warm, and then walk a lot, or get on crowded and significantly warmer trains, and then back off, etc - you can end up sweating quite a bit in this whole process. Again, hasn't stopped people from walking or taking transit.

Posted by: Mike on February 3, 2009 6:39 PM
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