An interesting article from Sunday about the battles, philosophical and otherwise, between residents in Midtown, which is just south of downtown Houston, and developers. Midtown is one of the few places now where you can see real mixed-use development. With its close proximity to downtown, and with the free downtown shuttle that passes through, it’s an attractive place for people who don’t want a long commute to live.
IAN Rosenberg watches every move in Midtown. A passionate advocate of urban living, he has been pleased with some of the neighborhood’s development.
But the sight of a bulldozer at Gray and Bagby makes his blood boil.
He and other Midtown community leaders are trying to create something unique in Houston: a charming neighborhood where people walk to their favorite bookshop, diner, movie house and grocery — a bustling retail and residential mix.
It’s a challenge, because they’re going against the Houston grain.
At Gray and Bagby, CVS Pharmacy is constructing a suburban-style store, with a parking lot in front, next to the spot Midtown leaders are holding up as the model of what the neighborhood should be. They say the drugstore’s suburban design may destroy much of what they’re trying to do.
The CVS/Midtown conflict is emblematic of a bigger struggle in Houston, pitting the developer-friendly, suburban car culture against the effort to create a walkable urban environment designed to attract the “creative class” of young professionals who are said to drive 21st century economies.
CVS sees it differently: Focused on the present, it wants to lure the tens of thousands of commuters driving to and from downtown each day with easy parking.
“You can’t have a store that looks pretty but creates barriers to customer use,” said Todd Andrews, CVS’ director of corporate communications. “They’ll go somewhere else.”
That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. I think CVS is wrong, as Midtown really didn’t exist a decade ago and is pretty clearly populated by people who want to live in a mixed-use area, but that doesn’t mean it will suffer at the cash register. It’s only now that amenities like drugstores and grocery stores are being built in this area, and so residents may not have much choice about who they patronize unless they want to drive elsewhere, which defeats the whole point. On the other hand, the more pedestrian-friendly Randall’s may wind up giving CVS a lesson in being a good neighbor. It’ll be fun to watch.