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-   -   Montreal-Mexico City: Impressions of Houston and San Antonio (https://www.fodors.com/community/united-states/montreal-mexico-city-impressions-of-houston-and-san-antonio-496841/)

Daniel_Williams Jan 19th, 2005 08:07 PM

Montreal-Mexico City: Impressions of Houston and San Antonio
 
On the way down to Mexico, I spent a night in SA and on the way back I spent a night in Houston.

SAN ANTONIO. I discovered this trip the valuable importance of timing when visiting a site. I think I hit SA's Riverwalk at a bad moment. On Dec. 28th, there was some sort of football game going on with lots of Ohio Staters in town: the paths alongside the canals were just teeming with tourists, to the point that I felt I could not stop and appreciate what might otherwise be a pleasant canal system with overhead bridges. This combined with what seemed to me too many chain restaurants and a Have A Nice Day chain nightclub left me thinking the words *tourist trap* about the Riverwalk.

On a positive note, the hotel I stayed in, the Painted Lady Guesthouse, 5 blocks or so from the Riverwalk, was just *fabulous*, in the gayest sense of the word. I stayed in the Mae West Room with the grande dame herself highlighted in photo portraits (there was also Liberace Room, Amelia Earhart Room); well-kept, charming, old-style, beautiful inn. Mae would have approved. I like the walkability of San Antonio in the Riverwalk area.

HOUSTON. Jan 7th-10th. My cousin gave me a car tour of the city, driving me through Montrose, Downtown, Medical Center, the Astrodome, the Galleria, Rice U, River Oaks and then back to his home in Montrose. I wanted to be able to appreciate the city and contradict the nay-sayers, but ultimately like others, I found it too much of a sprawl for my taste. There was some pretty modern architecture and fountains downtown, however I didn't see Houstonians sitting out admiring these attributes (stop, take time to smell the roses I wanted to say!)... Too few people walking (it was a weekend and the weather was delightful!) which left me with the impression of barrenness and the large presence of chains, business towers and gated communities seemed cold and inhuman. In sum, I wanted Houston to leave me some impression of its self-identity, but I left thinking generic sprawl in a bayou. I even asked my cousin, who has lived in Houston for 30 years, to try to show me what makes Houston unique and he could not come up with an answer.

I went to popular Ninfa's for Tex-Mex near downtown. The service was friendly and tables cozy, but I found the burrito I got too heavy and processed for my taste. Maybe it was because I'd just had so much amazing fresh food in Mexico itself that I left disappointed.

On a positive note, there seems to be effort to create green space; Rice campus seemed tree-lined with nice buildings. Baba Yega's was a good restaurant in a charming old library (bigger portions than I'm used to though) with mixed fare. In Montrose there were some older (1920s) houses that seemed closer-together which lent some sense of community and history; my cousin would say "hi" to neighbors here. The skyline lit up was pretty.

qzseattle Jan 20th, 2005 12:26 AM



About your opinion of Houston, I think it is hard to change preconceived notions of a place in just one night. For example, you visited the city knowing of its urban sprawl, and that existing belief helped form part of your opinion.

The urban sprawl of Houston is a reality that cannot be denied. However, the areas you visited are all inside of eastern half of inner loop, which is not too large to feel the sprawl. Houston is so big that it is essentially a collection of cities within a city. Houstonions try to get around the sprawl by staying within a specific region. Recently, there has been a strong trend of moving closer to city's core. Areas within inner loop and those close to it have increasingly become more desirable to live. Itís sort of a reverse flight from the Ďburbs to inner city.

I do not agree with the notion that Houston is a strictly city of gated communities. Most, if not all, homes in West U, Bellaire, Southhampton and other subdivisions within the inner loop are not gated. Similarly, many homes in other areas such as Tanglewood, Memorial (and its villages), Briar forest, Heights etc are not gated. Some of the mansions in River Oaks are gated, though. Thatís more of a snobbish display of wealth!

I also donít think there is nothing in Houston thatís older than 30 years. If you went to Heights, you would see many beautiful turn-of-the century Victorian homes. Several of them have been remodeled/restored but, thankfully, not razed. There is abundance of old subdivisions with homes from 1920s and 1930s. Having said this, Houston is still a fairly new city and is not comparable to older cities along the East Coast. And, like other major cities, it did make mistakes of razing down historical buildings.

I do agree that it is a very fast-paced city, especially for someone coming from Montreal. It isnít a walking city but a city of cars. In the past, the city never cared for street life. On the contrary, they built underground system of tunnels in downtown leaving the streets above deserted.

qzseattle Jan 20th, 2005 12:31 AM


Ooops, posted the last message too soon and omitted the last paragraph. Here is it again:

About your opinion of Houston, I think it is hard to change preconceived notions of a place in just one night. For example, you visited the city knowing of its urban sprawl, and that existing belief helped form part of your opinion.

The urban sprawl of Houston is a reality that cannot be denied. However, the areas you visited are all inside of eastern half of inner loop, which is not too large to feel the sprawl. Houston is so big that it is essentially a collection of cities within a city. Houstonions try to get around the sprawl by staying within a specific region. Recently, there has been a strong trend of moving closer to city's core. Areas within inner loop and those close to it have increasingly become more desirable to live. Itís sort of a reverse flight from the Ďburbs to inner city.

I do not agree with the notion that Houston is strictly a city of gated communities. Most, if not all, homes in West U, Bellaire, Southhampton and other subdivisions within the inner loop are not gated. Similarly, many homes in other areas such as Tanglewood, Memorial (and its villages), Briar forest, Heights etc are not gated. Some of the mansions in River Oaks are gated, though. Thatís more of a snobbish display of wealth!

I also donít think there is nothing in Houston thatís older than 30 years. If you went to Heights, you would see many beautiful turn-of-the century Victorian homes. Several of them have been remodeled/restored but, thankfully, not razed. There is abundance of old subdivisions with homes from 1920s and 1930s. Having said this, Houston is still a fairly new city and is not comparable to older cities along the East Coast. And, like other major cities, it did make mistakes of razing down historical buildings.

I do agree that it is a very fast-paced city, especially for someone coming from Montreal. It isnít a walking city but a city of cars. In the past, the city never cared for street life. On the contrary, they built underground system of tunnels in downtown leaving the streets above deserted.

The city has just initiated an attempt of increasing urban density of Downtown and Midtown areas. Along with the effort of revitalizing main street with pedestrian-friendly features, the city has been encouraging mixed-use development (such as residential towers with ground-level retail) in and around Downtown and Midtown. Some new projects have been recently completed, and several more are on the way. A number of bars, cafes and restaurants have opened up in the area. Also, just recently, the city has introduced redevelopment guidelines for Midtown area to ensure that new development is pedestrian-friendly (wide sidewalks, landscaping, store fronts facing the street etc). There is also a Buffalo Bayou master-plan to develop the Bayou that meanders through Downtown and create Houston's version of ďRiverwalkĒ. We will see what's future has in store for us.

Daniel_Williams Jan 22nd, 2005 05:44 AM

Hi qzseattle:

My cousin explained to me and I could see what you're saying about Houston being several cities within a city. And it's true that it wasn't all or even mostly gated communities; I didn't mean to imply that... there were just more of them than I'm used to seeing.
And indeed there were *lovely* older homes on North/South Blvd, Montrose and I'm sure many other areas.

I do try to let my 3-day experience guide me and not fall into preconceived notions; my notion of Mexico City was totally blown out of the water this trip. And I can like fast-paced cities and do indeed enjoy myself in New York City, which although fast-paced has an active street life and soul. There's always plenty of people out strolling, appreciating the side streets of Chelsea, Greenwich Village, Park Slope. I can say the same for Houston-size cities like Boston, Philadelphia, even New Orleans; I think the compactness and lived-in-ness (and for sure their history/architecture) is part of what gives them their identity.

Ultimately I stand by what I said though that despite some nice older homes, architecture and independent restos, overall I was left with the impression of cars, freeways and suburbia with cold peopleless business districts in between, a generic sprawl in a bayou. I wish Houston all the best in its revitalization efforts.

qzseattle Jan 22nd, 2005 11:32 PM


You can definitely not compare Houston with New York or Boston. New York is, of course, one of the liveliest and densest cities on earth!

Indeed you can't compare urban density or compactness of Houston with any northeastern city. In fact, I do not think that you can do that with most western cities. In general, most cities in the western states, and those in Texas in particular, are wide open and spread out. These cities are also much newer. I donít think you would find history/architecture you see in northeastern cities out here.

Having said this, as shown by the recent trends, Houstonians are feeling a newborn desire for higher urban density and active street life in central business district. The city is trying to work towards that goal. As a result, a number of people have moved and are moving towards inner city locations. Many residential structures such as high-rise condominiums, town homes, lofts etc have been going up or are slated to go up. Dallas is experiencing the same phenomenon. While I donít believe for a moment that they would ever match New York, Boston or Chicago, I think that things would get better.

qzseattle Jan 25th, 2005 05:27 PM


Here is the link to revitalization plan for downtown Houston in case you are interested:

http://www.houstondowntown.com/Home/...owntownin2025/

emummert Jan 26th, 2005 02:40 AM

San Antonio....a nice city with a semblance of a center and decent culture and good food.

Houston?....ewwwwwwwwwwww


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