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.
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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