Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Clustering Cultural Institutions

The New York Times has an interesting article on the benefits of clustering cultural institutions like theaters and museums, with Philadelphia as a case study. The Planetizen abstract:
Jane Jacobs would have told city planners to diversify the location of attractions, but today's museums rely on foot traffic for customers and revenue. It is a natural decision for Philadelphia to put two new museums along side of its other non-historic cultural attractions. This may not be the best decision for a city that struggles to do non residential development. On the other hand, "Can anyone say it's bad to have the Louvre, the Orangerie, the Jeu de Paume and the Orsay within walking distance?"

Houston is very lucky in this department. For a city built around the car and sprawl, it is amazing that most museums ended up in a cluster near Hermann Park and most theaters ended up in a tight cluster in north downtown. Both are part of what make the Main St. light rail line effective, particularly for tourists (mostly conventioneers, I suspect, although out-of-town medical center patients and their friends and family might also be substantial).

Beyond cultural institutions, the Texas Medical Center is the largest medical cluster in the world (by far), which has really put it on the map globally and is a huge gem for the city. If those hospitals and schools were spread all over the city, their collective impact would be dramatically diminished.

The next clusters for Houston? There are a lot of efforts to build a biotech industry around the medical center, although that may end up fragmented with the Woodlands and Pearland. It would also be neat if the energy trading equivalent of "Wall Street" ended up clustered downtown, although the Enron collapse plus online trading make that seem like a long-shot.


At 11:08 PM, April 06, 2005, Blogger hcpark said...

Pre-Enron collapse, there was talk of such "Utilities Alley", i.e., Louisiana Street downtown. As you walked down Louisiana, you could run into Dynegy, Reliant/Centerpoint. El Paso, etc, and if you go a block or so, you would see Enron, Texaco, etc.

Of course, Louisiana Street became "Scandal Alley" -- Enron, Andersen, Dynegy, El Paso, etc. In fact the Federal Courthouse is one block off Louisiana...

At 10:02 PM, April 07, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I definitely agree that we are quite fortunate to have the clusters that you mentioned. However, I think they are made even better when other uses are layered-in. You'll recall that the theater district was pretty much vacant except just before and after showtime until restaurants and clubs started popping-up in the mid/late-90s. Even now, it could use a lot more of... well, almost anything but another theater.

The museum district needs cafes and a touch of indie/arty/fancy retail. However, it's wonderful being able to hit several museums and the park on foot.

The Medical Center needs to have more restaurants and retail on the ground floor of parking garages, though this is happening to an extent. In fact, I had lunch today at a restaurant adjacent to the Dryden Street light rail station.

Single-use clusters can be dead zones. They need those other supporting elements to make them vibrant.


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