In a section we dubbed “The Vision,” we talked to prognosticators and even local historians who had watched the transcendence of the Heights, specifically, and asked what they thought would happen in the next five to 10 years.
Through those interviews, we took some liberties. Our talented design team (a guy named Jake) built graphics to show what changes might happen to Shepherd Drive. We made uneducated guesses at the changes on 19th Street, and even attempted to predict what kinds of businesses might dot the streets once all the used car lots realized this area of the city wasn’t the best place to do business any longer.
Speaking of those car lots. At some point in 2013, I did an analysis of how many used car lots we had between I-10 and Tidwell along Shepherd, and I think the number came in somewhere around 58.
Of course, we’ve had other types of fun looking at the changes in our area. For instance, three years ago, I did an analysis of how many mattress stores we have in a 9-mile radius of The Leader office. Amazingly, we counted 33 of them.
And more recently – in the past year – I was perplexed at how horrible our teeth must be. There are now 21 dentists within five miles of our office.
For the casual reader, this may seem like we’re just playing games in your local newspaper – we also counted 61 Tex-Mex restaurants in our coverage area, which seems low. But this has been more than us having fun counting businesses. There’s been an actual method to the odd research projects.
One of the jobs of a local newspaper is to serve as a history book for the area. In 30 years from now, when Shepherd has turned into a paved street of gold, people will look back, and the archives of The Leader will tell them there were once 58 used car lots on that single street.
Since our company has owned The Leader, we’ve recorded thousands of changes that have happened in our area. We’ve done it because we believe the people who live here need to know. We’ve also done it for columns just like this. It’s an interesting exercise to see the transformation of our community.
Except for some people, it isn’t.
Back in 2012, I rented my first home in the Heights – a bungalow near the intersection of Nicholson and 14th Street. (Speaking of transformation, that bungalow no longer exists and the property is part of a great couple’s backyard.)
When I rented that home, I happened to be a single fellow who liked the prospects of living in the Heights. The home was central to my job (which spanned all of the Greater Houston area), and I liked the idea of being near people my age.
What I found out about the Heights was actually quite different. When I’d walk along 19th Street, I’d see about 12 re-sale shops and two or three decent restaurants. I went to a grocery store on 20th that didn’t even sell beer. If I wanted to buy new clothing, I had to drive to Kirby or, Heaven forbid, the Galleria – I’ve been to that wretched place twice in the 13 years I’ve lived in Houston.
When I moved to the Heights, I had no intention of ever buying the local newspaper. I was like half of the population here: I wanted to live near the middle of town. But when the opportunity came to buy The Leader, and I started looking around our area, I thought it was important that we do the best job possible of tracing the changes that happened in our community.
These days, I’m starting to hear more and more people who aren’t happy with what’s happening in the Heights. One reader, in response to a story we wrote about the Carter & Cooley building, said, “Can’t developers leave ANYTHING original?… 19th Street is going to be all yoga, hipster clothing and chains soon. No charm or interesting local merchants left.”
Another reader said, “The downward spiral [of the Heights] really accelerated with the Heights Beverage Coalition turning it into a boozatorium, but it was already on the way down. Crime is all around, traffic, car accidents and self-serving out-of-town developers run wild creating more impervious ground to make sure that there will be more floods.”
None of those are invalid points, but it dawned on me this week – as I reviewed some of the comments we’ve received – that the transformation of the Heights isn’t all it was cracked up to be. I look back on the very first week I became publisher of this paper, and all the rage was the Heights Walmart. The anger moved to the new complexes along Yale and I-10. Pretty soon, folks got angry at some of the pop-up retail centers along Shepherd because the stores and restaurants moving in couldn’t stay open more than a few months.
I called Bill Baldwin earlier this week about the conundrum – few people have done more to preserve the Heights while also helping it grow. I told him I honestly don’t know what to tell readers who are upset that changes keep happening to our community.
“The world changes, and people just don’t like change,” he said. That’s a universal truth, but what he said next is exactly what I planned to write.
If you don’t like the changes, and the new stores and the hipster clothing, don’t patronize the stores. Spend more time at C&D Hardware than you do at Lowe’s. Visit Harold’s Tap Room instead of national restaurants moving to the area. Use Allegiance Bank and not one of the national brands sprouting up around you.
I don’t mind most of the changes happening to our area, but the folks who don’t like it have a fair point. In the end, it’s the mighty dollar that matters most, and if you want to clean up the storefronts with businesses you like, don’t support the ones you don’t want in the neighborhood.