Coming Down From the Heights

Five reasons it might be time to leave the neighborhood.

Highlights from Hair Balls

Think of the glorious potential of having a Houston/Dallas hockey rivalry.

Surreal Estate

I am a big fan of the Houston Heights. I lived there for the better part of 15 years and spent countless summer days at my grandparents' house just about eight blocks east of there. It has so many things that make it a desirable place to live, from the big old oak trees to the quaint shops to the location so close to town. It's a far different place from when I bought there back in 1996.

White Linen Night inundates the neighborhood with inebriated visitors.
Marco Torres
White Linen Night inundates the neighborhood with inebriated visitors.

At that time, there was still regular gunfire nearby. I saw a car chase right on my block complete with one car blowing out the back window of the other with a shotgun in a drug deal gone bad. About 2 a.m. one New Year's Eve, I heard the familiar sound of a machine gun — yes, fully auto and everything — being fired off just down the street. Of course, my house cost about one-third what it would now — when I sold in 2009, I got substantially more than double what I had paid — and my guess is that the OK Corral-style shootouts are mostly a thing of the past.

Still, over the years, the growth and the popularity of the charming neighborhood have begun to take their toll. The gentrification has begun in earnest and doesn't appear to have been beaten back in quite the same way it has been in the Montrose. But the Heights has never had the level of commercial and retail development that West­hei­mer has, so this is happening more to the homes and streets themselves, which is why, if you live there, I think it might be time to consider a move.

5. Crazy Development

Beyond the strip centers that are ever so slowly making their way into the area, the biggest threat is from homebuilders, who have taken — as they do in so many places — to buying up single lots and cramming four town homes onto them just feet apart from one another. Where lovely wood-frame, pier-and-beam bungalows used to stand, there are now brick squares three stories high. Trees are cut down for more land space, and if the developers don't build town homes, they put in homes so skinny you could touch both walls with your arms outstretched, so two could fit in a space designed for one. It's much like what began in West University years ago, but with more reckless abandon.

4. The Death of Front-Porch Living

I'm not just talking about the fact that so many of the aforementioned new home developments have as their front door to the street a garage door instead of an actual front porch. I'm also talking about the slow disappearance of friendly neighbors right on your block. One of the really wonderful features of a porch is how it draws people out into the front yard. Houstonians are naturally friendly, so being there and seeing others lends itself to getting to know one another. As this style of home begins to disappear, so does this type of lifestyle so intrinsic to life in this historic hood.

3. The Events That Overrun the Neighborhood

Years ago, I rented space in an antique shop on 19th Street. At the time, there was very little in the way of marketing being done to interest people in visiting the shops that lined the street. Restaurants came and went — I still miss the fantastic croissant breakfast sandwich I got at Kaldi Cafe before it was shuttered and became Shade — but most of the shops remained relatively the same. Only, very few young people knew they were there. The merchants got together and came up with the idea of a holiday event to coincide with the holiday Home Tour. Soon there were other events, like White Linen Night, which completely inundated the entire area with drunk visitors. It might sound more sophisticated than the Westheimer Arts Festival, but the results have unfortunately become similar, which is why the Arts Fest was kicked out of the Montrose.

2. Chains Slowly Creeping In

For years, Starbucks tried to get a spot near 19th Street but was rebuffed. Now a Starbucks sits conveniently across the street from a giant Walmart and next to Jimmy John's, Chipotle, the Corner Bakery and other chain establishments just across the freeway from Heights Boulevard. Slowly but surely, chain restaurants and stores are replacing independents. Fortunately, there are still some outstanding local eateries and shops around, but the new, widespread development should be a concern to residents.

1. The Cost

Not only does a 1,100-square-foot bungalow cost well into the $300,000 range, but the escalating real estate market is driving the diversity right out of the neighborhood. For years, remodeled homes sat next to small, old rent houses. Now an empty lot costs more than $200K. Just the dirt. I'm glad the housing market has grown so dramatically in Houston. It certainly benefited me. But the explosion in the Heights has gotten out of hand and with all the money in property, it's no wonder developers are moving in and destroying the character of the neighborhood. Frankly, if I owned a house that I bought there even ten years ago, I'd cash out now while the values are this high.
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4 comments
koothyman
koothyman

The author is such an idiot...typical hipster BS....you wont a friendly dense neighborhood environment but when it happens you dont like it? also you made events for people to come to the Heights but when it gets too successful you dont like it? you're an idiot...and I hope the the heights gets super dense townhomes and bungalow home they need both....so stop your whining also more street level retail...you kaka

Loona_c
Loona_c

I so get what you are saying.  Many years ago we considered moving in to the Heights.  We liked the idea of an old fixer upper.  And we visited with friends who had great neighbors and block parties.  But I wasn't comfortable with the rougher parts of the Heights nor did I think much (then) of the HISD schools.  Now that the kids are grown, I revisited the Heights, considering moving.  And was very disappointed.  You are so correct about the disfunction/disjointedness of town homes butting right up against vintage homes.  A real shame.

carpetbagger
carpetbagger

It seems you want to have your cake and eat it, too. On the one hand, you bemoan the lack of outdoor contact and community, and on the other, you complain about the kind denser development that would encourage people out of their cars and onto the streets to meet each other.


The porch lifestyle worked in a time when we weren't living in an over-air conditioned and automobile-dependent society. Now that you can move from an AC'd mall to an AC'd car to an AC'd home, why spend time on a hot and humid porch? Because the Heights is not really a walkable neighborhood people are forced into their cars and street life is dead.


Now, imagine if development was dense enough to support cafes and stores on every major block. It wouldn't be too much of a pain to walk a few minutes down a shaded street in the summer to run your errands. You could meet others on the street or at the cafe. This is your new porch. Unfortunately, the Cult of the Sacred Bungalow seems to have an outright revulsion to any development denser than a 50' wide single family detached home, which means people will continue to drive around and run over anyone who tries to walk or bike anywhere. 


Denser development does not need to mean you become the next Upper Kirby with giant, sterile apartment complexes. Look to examples like the old prewar suburbs of Chicago that feature beautiful row houses and 3 to 5-story apartments built with quality materials and surrounded by big street trees and great parks. Each major city block has enough stores and cafes to cover 80% of your errands by foot. It's possible to have a beautiful and comfortable neighborhood without relying on cars.


Hey, maybe if the Heights gets its act together people would start replacing their town home garages with something better because they don't need cars.

ZipAdiDoodah
ZipAdiDoodah

It would have been perfect if we had landed the Edmonton Oilers.

 
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