Not that my fascinations are any of your concern, but stick with me and I’ll explain why I think many of you might be interested in attending this class, which happens to be open to the public.
Over the years, I’ve sat at this computer steaming mad at the structure of our city and the way our neighborhoods are treated. I’m never mad at any single person; I just don’t like the circumstances and I wish there were something we could do about it.
Take, for example, the notice I get from my wonderful neighborhood once a year. They ask for a $250 contribution to the Constable program, and every year, my wife and I write the check. We do that so our neighborhood can pay for a deputy from the Sheriff’s Department to patrol our streets during the week. Oak Forest does the same thing through a private security firm. The Heights pays for the same program through Constable Alan Rosen’s office.
Completely different topic, but important to the conversation: Earlier this week, Houston received up to eight inches of rain in some parts. When I walked into our office Tuesday morning, I was welcomed by the smell of sewage and a couple inches of water standing on the floor. For more than two hours, I stood over a Shop-Vac and, by my estimate, pumped out more than 300 gallons of water from The Leader office.
Any among us would be upset about having to pump smelly water from our offices or homes, but the larger issue has nothing to do with the two hours I spent dumping buckets.
All of us, by our own will, live in a huge city – the fourth largest in the United States. There are benefits to big-city living, including employment opportunities and entertainment venues you can’t find in Podunk, USA. But part of living in this great, big city is that we don’t get individual attention.
I’ve lived in small towns and remember the days when I could call my city council representative and fix a problem – say a backed-up sewerage line. In Houston, you dial 3-1-1 and hope for the best.
I’ve lived in small towns where I had a concern about the safety of my home, and I remember calling a friend at the police department asking if he could make a couple of extra swings by the house. In Houston, you shell out an extra $250 for that service.
Here’s something to joggle the mind: Most of The Leader’s coverage area is represented by Ellen Cohen, the city council member for District C. (We also have parts represented by Brenda Stardig and Karla Cisneros.)
But let’s use Cohen’s district as the guidepost. District C has a total population of 199,432 people, according to the city of Houston. That is the exact same size as the entire city of Amarillo, which has its own mayor, city manager and four city council members. Cohen’s district is bigger than the entire cities of Salt Lake City (193,000), Mobile, Ala. (193,000) and Tallahassee, Fla. (190,000). If you need to get in touch with Cohen, take a number – somewhere between one and 199,000.
Again, that’s not Cohen’s fault. She works hard at her job, but she has neither the time nor desire to know my office flooded earlier this week.
In the past, I’ve contended that we live in a city that has taxation without representation. We pay taxes for public safety, but we have to pay on top of that if we want actual safety. Our city’s infrastructure is in horrible shape, and we don’t have the money to do much about it.
And in an odd sort of way, that’s why I’m so fascinated by the class Rice University’s Glasscock School of Continuing Studies will host this fall. The class is called “City in a City: Community Identity and Houston’s Sprawl.”
In a blunt sort of way, the course will look at how small pockets of Houston, some that were once their own cities, have been swallowed by the behemoth known as Houston. It will look at why we may have lost some of our small-town charm, but also analyze how places like the Heights have happened to maintain it.
Cathy Maris, the director of community programs at Rice, said the course is designed to look at some of the very distinct communities that are part of a much larger city.
“The idea is that Houston has a unique set of unique communities,” Maris said. “These were independent communities and we’re going to look at how those came about, how they have kept their character of independence, and if they’ll continue to maintain their unique flavor.”
The course, which begins Oct. 4., lasts six weeks and will be led by Jim Parsons, the director of special projects for Preservation Houston. The first class will be a look at the annexation spree the city of Houston took on after World War II.
On Oct. 11., the class will focus on Southside Place. On Oct. 18, Anne Sloan – considered the official historian of the Heights – will offer a lecture on what has happened to the Heights.
“What I will be discussing is basic Heights history with an eye toward what this means today,” Sloan said. “Preservation will be a big part, as well as the reuse of historic buildings. I will explore what I think founder O.M. Carter’s reaction would be to this suburb he created.”
Sloan was quick to add the caveat that the lecture is still a work-in-progress, but I have no doubt it will be illuminating.
The course will finish with a presentation on Bellaire (Oct. 25), Harrisburg (Nov. 1) and River Oaks (Nov. 8), which was never its own city but, let’s face it, kind of thinks it is.
Parsons, who spent some time explaining the class to me earlier this week, said he thought understanding how some of these former cities were engulfed by the larger Houston can help maintain the charm of places like the Heights.
“The more you know helps you understand and respect why preservation is so important,” he said.
The class costs $200, but if you register by Sept. 20, it’s $190. There’s an added discount for Rice alumni, but it’s open to people like you and me. You can also go online at glasscock.rice.edu for more information.
If you have any interest in helping maintain the allure of places like the Heights, you should consider this course.