Are H-E-B and the Montrose Land Defense Coalition teaming up?
A month has passed since the loosely organized Montrose Land Defense Coalition (MLDC) protest march that argued for public space on the land of the former Wilshire Village apartments — the planned future home of an H-E-B chain grocery store. From that impromptu gathering, a new wave of collaboration has erupted that may actually effect change on one of the largest open plots of land inside Loop 610.
Recently, CultureMap spoke with Maria-Elisa Heg, the lead organizer behind the coaliton and the woman spearheading the future of a public space-oriented Montrose. She has coordinated talks with a handful of Houston architects, conjuring up concrete schemes for the proposed park. Among the most promising blueprints comes from David Bucek of Stern and Bucek Architects.
The plan features a series of park-like gathering spaces, covered pavilions and a long boardwalk extending from north to south. "If it didn't have a daily farmers market," Heg explains, "it would at least have the facilities to put up a farmers market any number of times a week. Or we could put in food service, space for music. It would be as flexible as possible while maintaining the essential nature of it being an outdoor space.
"I liked Bucek's plan a lot," Heg conitnues, "It has great modular architecture and arcaded spaces for people to sit around. It utilizes the space in its entirety while saving a lot of land from development. That boardwalk — it was really inspiring."
The most surprising development?
"We're taking into consideration a collaboration with H-E-B," Heg says. "They could set a precedent by incorporating the store into the type of buildings of a farmers market that Bucek put together in their plan. It would be a completely different paradigm: A supermarket, sure, but you could walk around to different stalls mixed in with local retailers."
Heg cites open-air markets in Europe (she grew up in France), many of which have been renovated to include both centuries-old family stalls and corporate supermarkets — an arrangement that complements rather than clashes.
"As of a couple of days ago, I talked to Scott McClelland, who is the president of H-E-B Houston. He seemed very eager to work with us" Heg, says, "As to how far he will actually go is another matter entirely."
The development illustrates how activists can partner with architect practitioners to bring about change on the urban landscape. "These architects couldn't approach the team themselves because there are professional boundaries, but as a coalition, we've been able to engage McClelland and told him that as community representatives, they need to be more amenable to the work that we want them to do because they are the ones going into our community."
McClelland has made himself available for a meeting with the coalition in late April or May. In the meantime, MLDC is conducting a survey to compare the results of H-E-B's study that declared a consumer need for a grocery store in an area with three other outlets within a mile radius. The MLDC survey simply asks whether area residents prefer another suburban-style grocery store or a dedicated green market with mixed retail.
Asserts Heg, "We're going to hold them accountable for what they've been saying."
She also advocates continuing to raise community awareness via visits to City Council meetings, planning rallies, local live music benefits and maybe even an exhibition of photography of the site. "We want more artistic involvement and just to keep talking to the right people.
"Now that we're working both with the community and architects, all of us having one voice — it's a good position to be in right now."