honoring harvey's heroes

Houston real estate and civic powerhouse shares lessons from Hurricane Harvey in telling new book

Houston real estate powerhouse shares lessons from Harvey in new book

Bill Baldwin headshot
Baldwin, a civic powerhouse, shares his lessons from the storm that ravaged the Bayou City on Friday, June 10. Photo by Julie Soefer

As one of Houston’s most recognizable figures in real estate and social circles, Bill Baldwin, the dashing owner of Boulevard Realty, has garnered a reputation as an passionate voice for quality of life initiatives, urban renewal, and crucial city issues.

While he mixes with the city’s A-listers and elite with his partner Fady Armanious (the celebrated Tootsies creative director), Baldwin exudes a consummately everyman Houston mentality, as evidenced by his ardent support for equitability for all, smart city planning, preservation (especially in The Heights and Inner Loop), walkability, and even a run for city council.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner named Baldwin to the City of Houston planning commissioner post and as co-chair of the Quality of Life Transition Committee. Both appointments were a perfect marriage of his broad-minded civic interest and real estate/development planning acumen.

Baldwin’s latest endeavor is a new book about a subject dear to him: Hurricane Harvey, its aftermath, and those who rose above — literally and figuratively — to help their fellow citizens. The new tome, Heroes, Hope, and High Water (find it here), is his account of the 2017 storm that ravaged the city, how he was inspired to take action, and was in turn inspired by those around him.

Speaking about the storm, Baldwin has noted that Harvey equally affected Republicans and Democrats, the rich and the poor, and the young and the old. In 2018, Baldwin gave the commencement address at his alma mater Sam Houston State; the speech was the catalyst for his new memoir.

Locals can meet Baldwin when he discusses the book at 6:30 pm Friday, June 10 at Brazos Bookstore in-store event. CultureMap caught up with the real estate powerhouse/civic mind/author ahead of his appearance.

CultureMap: Harvey impacted everyone in the city differently, as you’re well aware How were you and Fady personally affected?

Bill Baldwin: I start the book out discussing how Fady and I had no damage. That first Sunday after Harvey made landfall in Houston, we went out and assessed our neighborhood.

It was after that when I decided to venture to the George R. Brown Convention Center and my 112-day experience working in Harvey Recovery began. We felt very lucky indeed. To be able to be on the front lines helping out other Houstonians instead of being the ones in need of help was a true blessing.

CM: More than volunteer, you actually created an citizen-powered organization to help.

BB: About a week after the hurricane hit our region, I created the Harvey Relief Hub.

That first Sunday, I hopped on my bicycle (and waded through four feet of water at one point) to join the city’s emergency Disaster Relief Center downtown at George R. Brown. After five days of volunteering at GRB, it became clear to me that there was more I could do to help.

Long lines of Houstonians wanted to volunteer, but were being turned away. Donations had become so enormous that there was no more room and they were no longer being accepted.

So, I decided with my partner [Armanious] and some of the friends I’d made that week at GRB to start the Harvey Relief Hub. The Hub was a place to pair together those wanting to serve, those wanting to donate, and those wanting to help in other ways with those in need of help, supplies, and information. We took all volunteers and donations.

CM: The photos in the book are strikingly candid—a mix of found imagery and documentary style.

BB: The photos in the book come from many different people, including me. Most of them are very real photos just taken on people’s phones to capture what was going on at the time.

Many of them are grainy or blurry, but they’re real. They’re real, down-to-earth photos simply telling the story of Houstonians stepping up to help Houstonians during this crisis.

CM: Your commencement address to the graduates at your alma mater turned out to be quite pivotal.

BB: I was lucky enough to give the commencement address at my alma mater Sam Houston State in the summer of 2018. That speech focused on the life lessons learned from Harvey and this book is the end result of that event. The book starts at Harvey, but it ends with the lessons.

To me, this book is less about the hurricane and more about what happened after the hurricane and the goodness in mankind after an exceptional event in time.

CM: What are some lessons we can all learn from Harvey, given our often short memories and even disaster fatigue?

BB: The core of the book is really all about the many lessons I learned in the aftermath of Harvey so I encourage everyone to purchase a copy of the book to read them all, but one of the biggest lessons I learned is that people are truly good. They want to help and are willing to help others.

Don’t believe the rhetoric that more divides us than unites us. That is just not true. Harvey showed us how united we can become. At a time when our country seems so divided, I think it’s crucial to remember that.

CM: We’re officially into hurricane season. Do you think were headed for more devastating storms like Harvey? Are we ready?

BB: Our region of Texas will undoubtedly continue to flood. All sorts of efforts are being made to mitigate flooding in the region, but in the Houston area, we will always need to prepare ourselves for flooding and major storms.

It’s hard to know how well our city will hold up physically to the next major storm, but I can assure you that Houstonians will be ready to step up and help their fellow Houstonians in the aftermath of that storm.