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Westchase

Reimagining Richmond Avenue

Remember the Richmond Strip? If you were here in the 90s you probably do. You also probably haven’t been out there since the 90s. Now there’s a plan to restore some of the luster to that part of town.

It was along this stretch of Richmond Avenue that revelers rushed out to celebrate after the Rockets won two NBA championships in the mid-1990s. The annual St. Patrick’s Day parade drew ample crowds to the six-lane street and to bars like the Yucatan Liquor Stand. Every weekend, partygoers found a vibrant scene of restaurants and dance clubs, arcades and two-stepping joints.

Widely referred to as the Richmond Strip, the area – just past the Galleria from Chimney Rock to Hillcrocft and from Westpark to Westheimer – was the place to see and be seen for much of the 1990s, a flashy drag of bars, clubs and restaurants seen as the Houston’s answer to Sixth Street, Beale Street and Bourbon Street.

Now the largely abandoned entertainment district is a focal point for city and business leaders in the area, hoping it can shake its forlorn image and draw on the energy of nearby businesses and retail opportunities along nearby Westheimer in the Galleria area.

“It only takes driving up and down the streets in the area to see the problems that exist,” City Councilman Mike Laster, who represents the area, said Tuesday.

[…]

“We want the area to overcome the negative image,” said Daniel Brents, chairman of the Urban Land Institute panel commissioned to study the area.

The panel, which includes real estate experts, landscape architects and urban planners, presented a general concept to revitalize the area at a community meeting on Tuesday. They interviewed business owners and neighborhood groups as part of the study. A primary suggestion was to make better use of existing tools such as management districts, tax increment reinvestment zones and other incentive programs to help spur development.

John Dupuy, a landscape architect with TBG Partners, noted the disparate land uses in the area that was originally meant for single-family homes but evolved over time. He cited a few current bright spots, including new townhome developments, a group of exotic car dealerships and custom car shops and an immigrant community that recently created an independent soccer league.

“We wanted to find a way to make these anchors more significant and tie them together,” Dupuy said. “We want to make corridors clean, safe, walkable and successful streets.”

Problems identified by the panel include infrastructure, drainage and a lack of lighting. The group’s interviews with interested parties also found that a lack of open space, parks and safe sidewalks hampered development.

There’s a great then-and-now slideshow here, and you can see a copy of the plan here. I doubt the Strip will return to its past glory as an entertainment destination, but there’s no reason why it can’t be an attractive and enticing part of town again. It’s a great location, between the Galleria and the Energy Corridor, and it’s got a lot of potential. I look forward to seeing what they make of it.

Mattress Mack is watching you

Be sure to smile for the cameras if you visit the Westchase District.

A West Houston nonprofit group on Tuesday applied for city permission to install the first of a dozen security cameras it plans to purchase to reduce crime in the affluent neighborhood.

Images from the cameras will be fed to the Houston Police Department as part of an ongoing city initiative to assemble a network of hundreds of security cameras to monitor public streets, stadiums, freeways and the Port of Houston.

Calling it a prime example of a private-public partnership for public safety, HPD Assistant Chief Vickie King said the westside initiative is allowed by city ordinance.

“Communities who want to install cameras that capture movements on the public right of way may do so, so long as private property is shielded from view,” she said.

The proposed camera system was introduced Tuesday by Houston businessman Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale and his wife, Linda, who live in an apartment at the Westside Tennis and Fitness Center, which they own. McIngvale said he became a fan of camera-surveillance technology because it quickly ended auto thefts and burglaries after he installed them at his furniture business.

“Police are stretched on their budgets, so it’s something we wanted to do as merchants,” said McIngvale, a member of the nonprofit Operation Westside Success, which is raising money for the system. “We’ve got a big economic stake in this, and it’s up to us to make our neighborhoods better.”

Dennis Storemski, director of the Mayor’s Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security, said the city has 25 surveillance cameras in the central business district and is using federal grants to tie into state highway-department cameras on Houston freeways, as well as cameras monitoring the Houston Ship Channel and port facilities.

Yes, I remember when the existing downtown cameras became more ubiquitous. At the time, the goal was given as crime reduction as well as better response to emergency calls. While the former is clearly a goal of the Westchase cameras, it’s interesting to note that wasn’t mentioned here as a function of the downtown cameras. Not sure if that reflects an official shift or just the vagaries of editing, but I thought it was worth pointing out. I also rememher that some folks got all freaked out by the downtown cameras, which were an initiative of HPD Chief Harold Hurtt, who is not mentioned in this story. I wonder if there will be a similar reaction to this.

James Murphy, general manager of the Westchase District, said cameras the improvement district installed on private property outside restaurants and shopping malls led to a dramatic reduction in crime.

“We have 11 cameras we’re using, and it’s fantastic,” Murphy said. “We’ve reduced parking-lot crime in those locations 70 percent on average, and in some areas more. We’re talking about auto theft, auto break-ins and robberies.”

Somewhat serendipitously, this story appeared a day after this one, about a study on the CCTV cameras in London.

The use of closed-circuit television in city and town centres and public housing estates does not have a significant effect on crime, according to Home Office-funded research to be distributed to all police forces in England and Wales this summer.

The review of 44 research studies on CCTV schemes by the Campbell Collaboration found that they do have a modest impact on crime overall but are at their most effective in cutting vehicle crime in car parks, especially when used alongside improved lighting and the introduction of security guards.

That seems to jibe with the Westchase experience. As long as they don’t see the cameras as a panacea, they ought to get some benefit from them. Thanks to Grits for the link.