side bar
Saturday, January 20, 2018


Third Ward Renaissance: A call for renewal

Businesses like the Nook will be critical to the Third Ward’s revival | Justin Tijerina//The Daily Cougar

Businesses like the Nook will be critical to the Third Ward’s revival. | Justin Tijerina//The Daily Cougar

Editor’s Note: This is part one of a three-part series involving the renovation of the Third Ward. This series will run every Thursday in print from Jan. 16 to 30. Parts two and three can be found here and here

The Nook, one of UH’s newest campus additions, has satisfied the need of many UH students by providing a place that can facilitate both the rigorous needs of academia and the social needs of the everyday student. Its über-trendy warehouse structure, combined with its convenient on-campus location, has solidified The Nook as one of UH’s signature small businesses.

“We’re bringing the best of Houston to this side of town. Not just to UH, but to East Downtown,” said Jacob McClain, general manager of The Nook. “We’re lucky enough to be able to have our start on a college campus.”

The Nook also stimulates the city’s economy through exclusively purchasing its produce from Houston’s own local farmers’ markets, creating awareness throughout the entire UH community about the locally grown crops our city has to offer.

“The majority of our coffee, including the Cougar Blend, comes locally,” McClain said. “A lot of it comes from Katz Coffee. The majority of our beers and wines are local, too. All of our produce comes from Houston’s farmers’ markets. We really want to try to keep the circulation in Houston as best we can.”

It’s also created numerous jobs, suggesting that UH and Houston have more to gain than coffee and pastries from the newly launched lounge.

Though The Nook is arguably UH’s most buzzed-about new business, it certainly isn’t the only one we’ve got to boast about. The New UC will feature a McDonald’s, Starbucks, Chick-Fil-A and Panda Express. Basically, renovation breeds jobs, and it’s not a bad idea to apply this ideology to parts of Houston in desperate need of an economic revival.

Mention areas in need of an economic revival, and most Houstonians will immediately think of Houston’s historic Third Ward, which was originally founded as one of four original political segregation subdivisions and joined Houston’s ranks in 1841.

“The ward system was abolished in 1916,” said Houston Community College history and political science professor and Houston Historical Tours President Keith Rosen.

“Most people misuse the Third Ward terminology because, well, they’re ignorant, and they don’t know what they’re talking about,” Rosen said. “University of Houston has never existed within any ward. The ward system ended in 1916. University of Houston was founded in 1927.”

Former Rice University lecturer and architectural historian Stephen Fox once called the Third Ward the “elite neighborhood of late 19th-century Houston.” It’s 2013 now, and though the area houses much of Houston’s dynamic culture, its rich history has become aesthetically overshadowed by its crippling poverty.

The history of the Third Ward is rich indeed, and many of Houston’s roots lie deep within the area. Elwyn C. Lee, vice president for community relations and institutional access, spoke with me on these roots and on residents of the Third Ward.

“You could go up and down the block and see where numerous judges, elected officials, officers, so many officials (live or have lived) in the Third Ward,” Lee said. “There’s so many famous churches and organizations. … The meetings held that strategized how to deal with white power structure during the civil rights movement were actually held at the YMCA on Wheeler.”

“There’s the famous Judge Jefferson, probably the most respected black judge that we’ve ever had. He was a federal district judge … and a man of immense respect. He grew up in the Third Ward, went to church in the Third Ward.”

Lee is also a former resident of the Third Ward.

The Third Ward Redevelopment Council, in which Lee takes an active role, has been working for years to design a plan to renovate — or, as many say, “gentrify” — Houston’s historic former Third Ward area, including building a recreation center, a community center, a city park and town homes. Any drive down the politically inspired subdivision will show you what’s motivating such plans.

The Third Ward’s dignity has all but disappeared from the area. Empty housing lots overgrown with wild vegetation litter the area, a once-thriving sector for the economic middle-class. Wood and aluminum shotgun shanties line the dilapidated, pothole-ridden streets.

The word “gentrification,” which most believe refers to the forced displacement of people in the process of renovating a city, has been thrown around like a rag doll in conversations regarding the pros and cons of redistributing Houston’s population. However, as Rosen explained, the term itself is rooted in racist, derogatory undertones.

“The only time you hear the word gentrification used is when you have a neighborhood that was once affluent that’s now become primarily Hispanic and African-American and grown poorer. Gentrification is used to describe a neighborhood again becoming a primarily white, affluent neighborhood,” Rosen said.

Gentrification has nothing to do with the economics and everything to do with race. It’s widely misused when discussing plans to renovate the area, and it implies a racial issue with Third Ward renovation plans that simply doesn’t exist. The fiscally decaying area is taking up land that could otherwise bolster the city’s economic growth.

It’s a social pattern that begs the question of whether history should be preserved at the expense of a city’s overall progress. Quite frankly, there isn’t enough room in this column to touch every aspect of this multi-faceted issue: imminent domain, personal property rights and the broad economics of the situation. Socially speaking, history, not progress, should be sacrificed in the pursuit of a more sustainable community. History in itself is about making progress. If our city never progressed, Houston’s history would be limited to John and Augustus Allen’s landing on Buffalo Bayou in 1836 and not much else.

It’s not heartlessly Machiavellian, and it’s not callous — in fact, it’s been proven to be the best solution for bolstering the city’s economy, something that benefits nearly every Houstonian in one way or another.

The 2006 redevelopment of the Buffalo Bayou resulted in a more-than-fourfold increase in the area’s businesses, as the area’s retail sales increased from $10,467,000 to $57,281,000, according to the Houston Chronicle. The area’s number of businesses also leapt from 54 to 236.  Of the park’s users polled by representatives of University of Texas at Arlington, who conducted the study, 99 percent said the area’s renovations improved their overall quality of life.

The restoration and redevelopment of the Third Ward is something most Houstonians see as a universally beneficial solution. The tricky part, though, is catering to the needs of the Third Ward’s longtime residents. Many residents of the Third Ward have been calling the area home for generations, and concepts like “renovation” and “redevelopment” seem to suggest displacement for them.

“Everybody’s for it until it comes after them,” Lee said.

It’s a weighty task to take on. Redeveloping an area, no matter how wealthy or impoverished, almost always causes a gargantuan shift in the economics of the area. In the sense of redeveloping the Third Ward, catering to the needs of both the current residents and Houston’s wealthy young professionals seems near impossible. Throw in the maintenance of the area’s history, and it’s clear just how formidable a task it is to propose a change.

Change, however, is at the heart of growth. To deny change is to deny growth, and to deny growth is to give Houston’s full potential a premature death.

“With progress comes growth. Anytime you stop growing, you stagnate,” Rosen said.

“If you think of a city as an organic object, with a birth, a growth and even a death, you have to maintain that growth. If you don’t, your city will die.”

Read part two of the series here.

Senior staff columnist Cara Smith is a communications junior and may be reached at [email protected]

Tags: ,

  • pippyle2

    “Empty housing lots overgrown with wild vegetation litter the area,….Wood and aluminum shotgun shanties line the dilapidated, pothole-ridden streets.”

  • Indie

    Is this a rough draft for the Onion? I do not think the author of this piece dug deep enough to understand that history isn’t something you
    “sacrifice” or erase for the sake of a false sense of “progress” when it’s really a money and one sided biased land grab to no cultural, community, or Houston Texas pride end. One should take great observation at all the great grocery food stores in third ward. There aren’t any. One should look at all of the great businesses that get loans without stipulations that embed major debt on those who seek those loans..(if they get a meeting for a loan) but There aren’t (m)any… But there are institutions and groups (whom you didn’t speak to regarding your piece) that exist that has kept Third ward from becoming a ghost town named Midtown desire such as the whitewashing of Fourth Ward. Come on U of H.. get some real discussion and debate going on. Are you guys cougars or alley cats? Now try again…

  • Ghetto Klue

    “You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums”

  • Oneidiotatatime

    These comments are very predictable and the best testament as to why The Nook or any other investment in this area will fail if these attitudes prevail. Here are some of my favorite excerpts: “Profit must be taken out of the slums” (can’t recall the last time I saw an advertisement for the new slum development), “all UofH offers…is a place where campus police can harass you and…a Chick-Fil-A sandwich” (I take it higher education is no longer a benefit to community, huh?) “whitewashing” (race-card played, what a surprise!?), “loans without….debt” (my favorite new concept), and of course the ever popular “the city refusing….” (City = government, taxes, and tax payers; refusing = prioritizing). Granted, the Third Ward has a rich history and has made significant contributions to the national hip-hop scene, and nowhere in the article does it suggest that we shouldn’t preserve the best of what the Third Ward” has to offer. But, as it points out, “it is a weighty task” and “to deny change, is to gives Houston’s full potential a premature death”. Now, how about that Chik-Fil-A?

  • sandra

    this is dismissive of the Third Ward community. Obviously, many of the individuals in the article do not have any idea what the 3rd ward community represents. Gentrification serves only upper class privileged people and opportunistic working class folks.

  • Inevitable

    As controversial as these conversations get, redevelopment of an area that has been long forgotten by the city is necessary to improve the lives of those that live there. I should know, as a former UH student I live in the former 90’s murder capital of America, East Palo Alto, Ca. Redevelopment in the past 10 years has not only brought thriving businesses, new homes, and residents with the like of those that work for neighboring Facebook and Google, it’s helped the residents afford the new homes and continue to be a part of the community. The city is now tree-lined with beautiful neighborhoods and safety to match. Nowhere in the article did the author state that people will be forcibly relocated, it is that redevelopment does drive up the economics. It is the city and state’s responsibility to assist these people with affording the new houses where their’s once stood. Blaming the author seems like a shallow attack on sensible ideas.

    • Brian McKinney

      The streets of Third Ward are tree-lined, it is almost like being in an urban park. Also, to compare San Francisco to Houston…two totally different ballparks.

  • spikey2

    i live in the old section of third ward near Mcgowen. My family has owned property in this area since the 1880’s. I returned and had a small home built. I now have two new homes under construction next to me with more planned. I welcome the new neighbors I have lived on a block with no neighbors for years, I am now inspired to make my house a home knowing that my return to the hood was not a foolish mistake as many of my friends had told me!

  • Brian McKinney

    This perspective is seemingly equivalent to tearing down old Parisian buildings for “new” ones just to say progress has been made. Wrong. Real progress it not about tacky, lack luster, generic, non-synergistic “town-homes” (as was done to Freedman’s Town in Fourth Ward), it is about recognizing an areas history and uniqueness and working with that as it’s value and attraction. I believe many people in Third Ward want the area to be revitalized, but reject the ideology of people who only want to make money off of the area. People who do not live here. People who would only drive to Katy after 5 pm, and casually make their way through the area for a Cougars game. If you take a look at the “town-homes” that were built in the northern section of the community, it looks like a fortress, it opposes the neighborhood. Progress cannot look all alike. Houston cannot stand to loose anymore history to developers who do not care what they do or who they do it to as long as they make money.
    Third Ward would make a beautiful bungalow community as it was before, actually revitalizing the community. Not making it look like the other side of 288, which is not cohesive and looks quite discombobulated. But i guess that’s progress? The next generation will look at that architectural and lack of planning blunder of a mess as exactly what it is.
    Ode to Generica: Profits for souls at any cost.

Back to Top ↑
  • Sign up for our Email Edition

  • Polls

    As the Fertitta Center finishes construction, men's basketball is playing at Texas Southern's H&PE Arena this season. Will you be watching from the stands?

    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...
  • Recent articles

  • Special Sections