Say what you want about downtown; with the addition of the light rail and increasingly landscaped and well-tended pedestrian areas, it's never been easier to get around by foot if you live in the CBD. Don't want to endure the mid-day heat in your suit? Take the tunnels and walk your ass all over town in air-conditioned comfort. Otherwise, you can hit everything downtown has to offer in ten to 20 short minutes on the surface streets: concerts at the House of Blues, games at Minute Maid Park or the Toyota Center or farmers' markets at City Hall and Discovery Green. The ballet, the opera, the symphony, the Alley Theatre — all are within mere feet of each other. And in many places, the bar and restaurant density means that you can just show up at the Pavilions or Bayou Place and decide from a wealth of options on the fly. Walk to one of the many light-rail stops and within minutes you can be in the Medical Center, the Museum District or even Reliant Park. With the opening of grocery stores like Phoenicia and the construction of the new Dynamo Stadium, hoofing it around downtown is looking more attractive by the day.
Got a teen in trouble with drugs? Cornerstone Recovery Program is an outpatient service equipped to help you and your child. Firmly rooted in the tenets of the 12-Step program, Cornerstone provides comprehensive A-to-Z treatment by a qualified staff, many of whom have personal history with addiction in their families. Cornerstone is concerned with long-lasting results, so each teen patient has an individualized treatment plan uniquely suited to their needs and family situation, with — here's the good part — realistic goals.
If there were a Fortune 500 of charitable organizations in the U.S., no doubt Neighborhood Centers would be on that list. With the dynamic Angela Blanchard at its helm since 1998, the nonprofit — begun in 1904 as an "affordable nursery" by Alice Graham Baker (yes, those Bakers) — has swallowed up Houston and the Gulf Coast. It has 60 centers (and growing), offering affordable child care, senior services and a plethora of community initiatives. NCI invented the concept of "one-stop shopping" for social services. We wish we could buy stock in it!
The asthenosphere and lithosphere don't usually concern us, but thankfully a brainiac team over at Rice University led by Alan Levander has them on their radar. There's a huge section of land known as the Colorado Plateau; it has a "rising while it's sinking" quality that's had scientists scratching their heads for a while. Seems the bottom layers (that's the asthenosphere) are pushing up, while the top layers (the lithosphere) are sinking down. This rising-while-it's-sinking phenomenon might not mean a lot to you and me, but once Levander and his team figured out that's what was going on with the Colorado Plateau, geologists all over the world got real excited. Finally, the mystery was solved.
The Baker Institute is the place to turn for the latest trends in national and international affairs, and how to change them. A nonpartisan think tank, it brings together experts across all disciplines — academia, media, business and nonprofits. Journalists, policymakers, even U.S. presidents have lectured and hosted seminars at the Baker Institute. Fellows teach classes and seminars at Rice, and students can intern for the think tank. This year, the Baker Institute held an energy conference on what to do about the Japanese nuclear crisis. With an all-star board of advisers including Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell, the Baker Institute offers a unique Houston perspective on affairs of the world.
In selecting sites for their offices, most lawyers go for weighty solemnity or tried-and-true antique charm — think vintage Heights Boulevard arts-and-crafts bungalow. Not appellate court lawyer Tim Hootman. His riotously colored assemblage of old rail cars — a caboose, a boxcar and an old Pullman sleeper — on the corner of Pease and Dowling is just plain fun. You might think Hootman is a train fanatic, but he has long protested that he is not. Instead, he's just a guy who likes to play with architecture, and this woebegone fringe of downtown is much the better for it.

Best Thinker: Getting Electricity into Homes

Wind Power in Texas

Hard as it may be to believe, Texas is actually on the green cutting-edge when it comes to providing electricity, thanks to its enthusiastic adoption of wind power. The blustery, abandoned Panhandle is tailor-made for windmills, but other areas of the state are just as perfect. The world's largest windmill farm is a billion-dollar operation with more than 600 huge turbines in Nolan County (county seat: Sweetwater). The biggest problem is getting the electricity into homes: building the power lines. (If there were a cheap and efficient way to store the power until it was needed, that would help, too.) Wind power is growing, and Texas is leading the way.
The run-down plaza near the intersection of Bissonnet and Rampart may not look like much, but this is no ordinary strip mall. It's the cheapest trip around the world you'll ever take. At Maru Grocery, Houston's one-stop shop for all things Ethiopian, you can buy fresh spices, just-made injera and a slew of Ethiopian cookbooks. For a bit of magick, head next door to Botanica Elegua, an Afro-Cuban voodoo and Santeria shop. A Mexican restaurant, Colombian restaurant and Salvadoran restaurant populate the rest of the plaza. Finish off your tour du monde with a sweet taste at Panaderia y Pasteleria, a Mexican bakery and torta store. Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Houston anymore.
It was a brutal legislative session for public education in Texas this year, as the Tea Party Caucus demanded budget cuts that had districts slashing programs and laying off teachers. Democrats like Scott Hoch­berg were hopelessly outnumbered, but did the best they could fighting rear-guard actions to protect as much as possible. Hoch­berg has long made himself one of the most knowledgeable and effective members when it comes to public education, and those who support good schools needed every bit of his expertise and savvy this year.
Let's face it: It was not a good year for Republicans in the legislature, unless by "good" you mean "getting everything they wanted passed." Which is probably how they define it, sure. But the session turned into an orgy of slashing budgets for health and education and passing a bunch of social-issue bills that seemed generated from your cranky uncle's e-mail forwards. One Republican stood out from the partisan mess, and it was newcomer Dan Huberty from Humble. A former school board president, he calmly showed a willingness to work across the aisle and listen. "If there were such elections, he would have won freshman class president by a landslide," Texas Monthly wrote in its Best & Worst Legislators edition.

Best Of Houston®

Best Of