Saturday, January 26, 2008

Houston Streets 12 -- More Spring Valley

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Today's exploration was short but strenuous. I continued to explore Spring Valley, vainly hoping to finish it off today. I didn't even come close, mainly because of the construction on Voss, which made the ride a lost more difficult (and muddy) than I anticipated. Voss north of I-10 doesn't connect with Voss south of I-10. Just south of the freeway, Voss veers east about a block so that it can be connected seemlessly with Bingle, a major north-south arterial. Now the Katy Freeway was built in 1955-56, so I am going to speculate that before that when the road was a 4-lane east-west highway called SH 73, the two Vosses were continuous.

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Anyway, as you can see, Voss is a mess. And this mess goes the entire length of Voss from the freeway to Westview, and continues north of Westview (at which point the street name becomes Bracher). This was a royal muddy pain to ride on, and I can only imagine how difficult it is for people who live on the streets off of Voss.

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Voss crosses a creek (which I am pretty sure is Hunter's Creek) a couple of blocks north of the freeway. Right now, that bridge is closed, but it's supposed to open on January 31. Fortunately bikes are a lot more flexible than cars in these situations, so I just rode across it at will.

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This attractive house is at the corner of Green Valley and Voss, on a weird triangular lot. Its garage opens onto Voss, but from it looks like they must have had a period where the garage was totally inaccessible. So they parked their car in a carport on the Green Valley side of the triangle.
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And this is one of the coolest carports I have ever seen. I love the slanted roof and the rectangular framing arch in front of it. But I have a question: is this carport new? It doesn't look new, but if it's not new, it seems pretty weird that they'd have a garage on one side of the hosue and a carport on the other. Plus, the driveway leading into the carport looks decidedly new and temporary.
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Indeed, they didn't even bother taking out the curb (which is pretty small and probably poses no barrier to most cars). Even if the carport is temporary, it looks great.

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This old-fashioned house on Burkhart off of Voss, with its expansive front porch and flag, looks like something from the turn of the century. The 19th century. But wait...
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This is the flag! Wow, this is not something you see in Memorial that often, right in congressional district 7, which regularly re-elects the very conservative, very pro-war Congressman John Culberson. Of course there are going to be people against the war here--it's gotten steadily less popular, even in solidly Republican areas. But you just don't see people wearing their anti-war feelings on their sleeves much in Memorial. But maybe Spring Valley is a haven for peaceniks, because right around the corner on Voss, I saw this car:

That bumpersticker says "Peace is Patriotic." The other one says "Not All Who Wander Are Lost," a good slogan for an itinerant biker like me. (Also note how mud-spattered the car is--this is from the construction on Voss.)

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Now it turns out that if you go to the end of Burkhart, you can walk to Bingle through two connected driveways. Apparently at one time, you could drive through (there is now a gate on the Bingle side), which made this aging sign necessary. I guess people were using this as a cut through for their cars. Frankly, I would be skittish about even walking through after seeing this sign, unless I knew all the property owners and whether they were shoot-first-ask-questions-later types. The sign is old and weathered, and covered with little colorful decorations like hearts and flowers, as well as little messages, including the cryptic, "I rapped ur mouse!" Indeed!

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This beautiful house is down at the end of Cedarspur off of Voss. I love the three redwood projecting structures on its side.
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Here's what it looks like from the front. It has an unusual but far from unique design that I call "two opaque wings connected by a transparent part in the middle." You may recall a similar design on Farnham Park. This house was built in 2006--one of the rare examples of a new modern house in this neighborhood.

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Here's another interesting house on Cedarspur, but on the part that connects with Bingle.

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This neighborhood is rapidly filling up with McMansions, as we can see here on Lufton. I picked up a few real estate flyers as I rode, and one non-McMansion was being offered for $400K (1865 sq. ft) while a McMansion a few blocks away was being offered for $765K (4442 sq. ft.). I wonder which one will sell first?

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This is the most amazing house of all. It sits at the corner of Bingle and I-10, right next to the Grace Church. It amazingly avoided being destroyed by the freeway widening. It looks a little shabby and run-down, and stylistically, it seems unrelated to any other house in Spring Valley. So why is it amazing? It was built in 1939. The owners don't actually live in the house, but it does appear to be occupied. I'd love to know its story.

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This is not the only "pocket park" I saw on my ride. Steve Radack seems to like using these little odd pieces of county-owned property this way. This one is on Bracher, just north of Spring Branch. I certainly approve--the relative lack of walkable neighborhood parks in Houston is unfortunate, and as nice as big parks like Memorial and Herman Park are, they are no substitute.

One last mystery photo. What do you think this is?
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I'm not sure, but I think it was where a bunch of houses and Bunningham street used to be. The wall on the right is the freeway noise wall. I suspect that these properties were condemned when the freeway widening started.

Spring Valley is not a big place. It must have lost a significant portion of its tax base when its properties were condemned. This strikes me as one of the key problems with freeway widenings. Who benefits from freeway widening projects? Aside from the obvious winners (construction companies, cement makers), the biggest winners for the I-10 widening are people who live way far out from the city. People in Katy, for example. Also winning big are developers who are turning greenfields way out west into suburbs. The people who buy those houses can commute into Houston in a reasonable amount of time, which helps make those developments viable projects. Now people in Spring Valley and in other areas along the freeway closer into town benefit some--their drive-times into downtown or the Galleria/Post Oak will be shortened somewhat. But their benefit is less than those who live much further out. Plus, Houston, Spring Valley, and Hilshire Village lose a lot of property tax payers to condemnation. So from where I sit, I wonder if Houston really gets a net benefit from these massive freeway widening projects. Of course, John Culberson and Randal O'Toole love them--who cares if a bunch of people lose their homes in the process and the inner city and villages lose some of their tax base?

Now maybe this could be solved by thinking outside the box. That's what Houston Strategies does, imagining a stacked, partially underground freeway--build down, instead of out. It sounds like science fiction, but if I were a Houston politician, I would demand this option be considered before the next land-grabbing freeway project is OKed.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Carol said...

Nice to find a local doing a local blog. Awful cool that I recognize so much of what you've posted here. And you're right - Spring Valley lost something upwards of 80%ish of its business tax base when TxDot came through. I know at the time there was much discussion of how high the taxes would have to go to cover the loss but don't know what the out come was. I'm in Binglewood so when you come up Hollister past Kempwood drop in - we're a beautiful little oasis!!

12:03 AM  
Blogger Robert Boyd said...

Thanks for stopping by. Of course I plan to eventually do other areas north of I-10 on the west side (and on the east side too). I mean, the plan is to do all of Houston eventually. Of course, I may be 112 when I finish it, tooling around on an electric 3-wheeled bike.

9:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awesome job of capturing much of the essence of Spring Valley and Hilshire Village. You actually showed a couple of homes I haven't seen yet; I'll have to check them out shortly.

Not only did we lost most of our business tax base in Spring Valley due to the freeway widening, we lost dozens of homes when two streets (Bunningham and one other) were completely decimated.

BTW, the creek that the new bridge on Voss crosses is Briar Branch. I'm certain of this; my house on Ben Hur backs up to it.

2:21 PM  
Anonymous Lisa said...

Love your blog. There is a new construction home going on the SE corner of Westview and I think Bingle. Everytime I try to see who is the builder, the traffic is too heavy and I can't see it. I think the sign lists "USC...." , but I can't find out anything on the web. It's an interesting, refreshing departure from the usual.

12:02 AM  

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