Gentrification not a cure all for the Heights
A disturbing article was published on Thursday ("Heights bungalows should make way," Opinion) concerning the fate of the Heights. The author condones demolishing bungalows, which he deems shacks, in favor of new development. This argument is problematic because it encourages gentrification and the disenfranchisement of the economically disadvantaged with absolutely no regard for the historical value of many homes in the Heights.
The lack of reverence for historic preservation and restoration in this city is disconcerting. Progress of a city is not measured by how many buildings it knocks down or how big the new ones are. In Houston, buildings are not constructed for permanence in design nor durability. The Heights was the first suburb of Houston and, contrary to what the other author writes, there are buildings predating the 1920s. It would be rash and disrespectful to treat the Heights like some unpopulated piece of land littered with houses ready to be cleared to make way for the fickle wishes of young professionals and developers.
The author contends that the residents should accept the monetary compensation offered by the developers, because eventually they will not be able to afford the rapidly augmenting taxes. Out-pricing current residents is not an acceptable means of development or redevelopment in this case.
Similar gentrification efforts have been underway in Fourth Ward, now recognized as Midtown. After being physically divided by Pierce elevated, the historically black neighborhood deteriorated and was left vulnerable to the ravishes of redevelopment.
In order to create healthy growth within a city, all economic groups should be considered and integrated into the development. Who said "rich" people and "poor" people cannot live in peace, on the same city block? The problem is that developers and landowners alike obsess over property value rather than their quality of life.
I do not contend that one should sacrifice their investment for the sake of having a good neighborhood, but if everyone stops putting price brackets on their neighborhoods and focuses on nurturing the community, the quality of the neighborhood will reflect monetarily, regardless if all the homes are valued alike.
Additionally, the author claims that new development in the Heights will decrease crime and poverty is unsubstantiated. Crime prevention includes participation from residents, law enforcement and lawmakers.
Building McMansions to replace derelict homes will not reduce crime, insofar as the Heights are crime stricken as the author claims. Upon building new, more expensive dwellings, poverty is not eliminated to the extent that residents in this area are impoverished but rather displaced to the other undesirable parts of the city from which they will later be displaced whenever those portions of the city become attractive.
A better alternative is restoring homes with historic potential and building homes that are affordable to both young urban professionals and some current Heights’ residents. These may not be single-family builder-style homes, but more dense dwellings such as townhomes, condominiums, apartments, duplexes or other units with modern urban and relevant historicist architectural styles.
I drove through the Heights a few days ago to compare the real neighborhood with my romantic notion of it. Many houses, irreparable and historically insignificant, line the streets, but those are the exceptions, and few were actually bungalows. One bungalow, which was quite large, sat in disrepair near a gas station that I stopped at. It made me sad to see a home, so majestic, well proportioned, with so much potential one yellow tag away from being torn down.
What will replace it and other deteriorating bungalows? I cannot trust developers to do what is best with these homes or for the city. Most developers strive for maximum profits, not what most enriches the community, often times using divisive and exclusory measures.
For this reason, the community should be involved in the development in order to create a balance between profit and benefit.
In this way, the city and its citizens can progress in a meaningful way.
Griffiths, an architecture senior, can be reached via [email protected]