The north side of Memorial Park may be where all the eye candy is, but the south side is the less-beaten path, featuring a winding network of multi-use and all-terrain dirt trails for hiking and biking. It's also perfect for wildlife spotting. During the day it's a haven to butterflies, squirrels and birds, like woodpeckers and jays. Toward dusk you can see anything from baby armadillos to turtles lounging in the bayou to bats from the nearby Waugh Bridge colony drinking from the water. Once, after a rainstorm, we even scared up a water moccasin.
No one who lives here needs to be told that Houston can flood every now and then. Doing something about it, though, can be intimidating — drainage and flood projects can be hugely expensive, take years and years to plan, approve and build, and only affect limited areas. Stephen Costello and others decided to take a big-picture approach and rolled the dice on a referendum called Renew Houston, which takes the financial strain of flood projects largely off the city budget. Voters approved a monthly fee that will eventually fund $10 billion in improvement projects and nothing else. It will be a while before we see any results, of course, but flood planning and prevention in Houston is suddenly looking a lot brighter.
Texas Children's Hospital
You only have to hear Robin Dysart's story to understand the life-changing work being done by the staff of dedicated doctors, nurses and researchers at Texas Children's Hospital. Dysart's nine-year-old son had suffered from epileptic seizures his whole life, often as many as two or three an hour. As the seizures became more and more severe, Dysart and her husband knew that medication would no longer provide their son the relief he needed. Luckily, Dysart found an expert at TCH who offered them laser surgery, a procedure so new that TCH was the only one to offer it. Placing their trust in the TCH staff, the family agreed to the procedure. The result? Dysart's son hasn't had a single seizure since the operation. That's just one of thousands of TCH stories with happy endings.
The Initiatives for Houston grant program already acknowledged this year's winners for Best Architects with a $2,500 check for their Emergency Core project. The Rice University School of Architecture students are designing a sustainable, livable and, most importantly, affordable alternative to disaster relief shelters. Stone and Barlow set out to address many of the problems displaced persons saw in recent disasters where relief shelters were unsuitable to the climate, quickly deteriorated or were costly to transport and maintain. The final design hasn't been completed yet; the pair is working on constructing a prototype that will be unveiled early this fall. Expect something green, lightweight and low-cost.Readers' Choice: Gensler
Houston Public Library: Julia Ideson Building
If information is power, the Houston Public Library can make you King Kong. Forget about those shushing librarians guarding stacks of books. Today's HPL system is more like a vast multimedia network filled with experts and information. It's all there, at your fingertips, everything you ever wanted to know about everything you ever wanted to know. Start off a regular old goober and end up highly informed, intelligent citizen of the world. If you can learn it, you can learn it at the Houston Public Library. For free.
It wasn't the perfect crime, but it certainly took the largest amount of cojones. Andy Surface of Alvin set up a fake business venture that sounded kinda like the company that does the printing for Condé Nast magazines, including The New Yorker and Vogue. He then sent out e-mail invoices for upwards of $8 million. The crazy part? The publisher actually paid him. Surface, faced with an investigation and possible charges, later relinquished his claim to the money.

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