Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Tropical Texas image strategy

Both Neil Peirce in the Chronicle this morning and the NY Times (overview) are extolling the virtues of Chicago's "green" strategy for renewal.
During the last decade, the city's performance, measured in virtually every conventional category of civic well-being, has been off the charts, local boosters say. Chicago attracted more than 100,000 new residents, added tens of thousands of downtown jobs, prompted a high-rise housing boom, reduced poverty rates, built thousands of affordable homes, spurred a $9-billion-a-year visitor and convention industry, and transformed itself into one of the most beautiful cities in America.
I know Mayor White has announced similar initiatives for Houston, both on the environmental side and a new downtown park very similar to Chicago's Millenium Park. I'm not saying we want to just do a "me too" strategy, but Chicago is similar to Houston in many ways, and so a program that substantially boosts their image is something we should look at. Never be too proud to adopt what works.

Our big advantage is that we don't freeze solid for several months every year, which can be kinda hard on plant life. We live in a lush environment where just about everything grows, and maybe we should play that up (with due credit to David Crossley's "Garden City" vision). The snappy phrase I've been turning over in my head is "Tropical Texas". Everybody loves the tropics. Visions of swaying palm trees on a white sand beach with clear blue water. It's a great brand upgrade from "hot, humid, sweaty, and mosquito-infested", similar to the impressive image boost swamps got when they became "wetlands" - they went from something you wanted to drain to something to preserve. I think we can similarly turn our weather liability into an asset.

The phrase could be an umbrella theme for projects ranging from the Buffalo Bayou Project to the Willow Waterhole to Trees for Houston to the Botanic Garden to the bayou linear parks plan to highway beautification to tourism. But the real payoff would be inspiring thousands of landowners around town - especially commercial ones on major thoroughfares - to install attractive tropical landscaping, which would go a long way towards alleviating Houston's "ugly" image. It's the kind of campaign where the mayor's bully pulpit could actually make a real difference.

To be clear, I don't see "Tropical Texas" as Houston's core identity, but a helpful adjunct to help people get beyond the usual negative stereotypes. I've talked about an identity/brand for Houston many times before on this blog (most links here), and I think it's a bigger concept than "Tropical Texas" - but it's still a good rallying theme that could target a specific flaw in our image: ugly concrete sprawl + oppressive heat and humidity. Certainly not the whole answer, but it could go a long way. How about it, Mr. Mayor?

8 Comments:

At 6:50 PM, May 30, 2006, Blogger David said...

Actually, what's wrong with "Garden City"? This is not about Texas, and the tropical part, particularly the palm trees, won't fly with any of the green groups who are in coalition with groups like Keep Houston Beautiful and so on. On the other hand, the nice part about the tropics is essentially absent here.
I think Houston is already more of a garden city than Chicago is.

 
At 7:58 PM, May 30, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Agreed vs. Chicago, but I think Garden City would be harder to make stick. It's almost impossible for Houston to lay claim to it, because it's so broad - 18.5 *million* hits on Google. A whole lot more cities across the globe can make a stronger claim on it. But "Tropical Texas" - we can own that, whether Beaumont or Corpus Christi or Padre like it or not (we "outweigh" them).

 
At 8:34 AM, June 01, 2006, Anonymous Brian S. said...

Has anyone in Houston ever thought about creating an artificial beach on a artificial water feature? It would go along with your tropical theme. I'm all for park space, but you need to give people a reason to be outside in the heat.

 
At 6:47 PM, June 01, 2006, Anonymous RedScare said...

I don't see anything wrong with Garden or Tropical. I don't see any green groups being offended by palm trees. A tree is a tree.

Frankly, I've always wished Houston would invest more heavily in fountains...not to be the "City of Fountains", just because Houston was built on the water. Fountains dovetail nicely with gardens as well.

 
At 8:05 PM, June 01, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I like fountains too, although they have two downsides in Houston: 1) they don't really offer any cooling benefit from adding humidity (like in drier areas of the country), and 2) if they end up with any stagnant water (either from bad design or non-operation), they instantly become a mosquito breeding ground. Still, I'm a big fan of Mecom and the Cotswald project fountains downtown.

 
At 11:18 AM, June 02, 2006, Blogger kjb434 said...

You be surprised at how many people in the "green" community would object to the tropical concept especially palm trees.

People who are generally pro-natural species of plants would view planting palm trees as an abomination and often site the I-45 (Gulf) at Beltway 8 as what not to do.

Personally, I don't really care. If the trees and plants grow and work well with other plants and trees, then go ahead and plant them.

 
At 8:17 AM, June 04, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Houston always tries to echo the best atributes of other cities while ignoring it's own. We are not Miami where palms grow naturally and the beaches are white. We are Houston. Trees and shrubs grow like kudzu and "Garden City" represents an achievable goal that plays up our natural gifts.

 
At 8:50 PM, January 06, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

no clever label is going to make Houston good. i have never hated a place as much. not even a free ride to Rice can keep me here. i'm out as soon as the semester is over. you guys just keep smiling while your swampy-smelling, car-crazed, mosquito infested town sinks into the mud.

 

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