I’ve only lived here since 2004, yet my wife is a long-time resident. And while some of these changes took place while I wasn’t officially a resident of the city, they’ve made life grand in my opinion.
In no particular order….
Katy Freeway Expansion
Interstate 10 stretches from Los Angeles to Jacksonville, Fla. During the past six years, Houston’s congested stretch of I-10 expanded greatly after a massive construction project. Sure, there is still traffic, but according to a 2008 highway study, the expansion of the Katy Freeway decreased the morning commute time for drivers between three to 26 minutes a day and shaved six to 17 minutes off the evening drive home. Add that up for a year, and there’s more time with family and friends and less time in your car. If that’s not cause to give a shout out to President Dwight D. Eisenhower every time you get on I-10, I don’t know what would be. After all, it was Ike who expanded the interstate highway system and proposed more funding for what might be one of the most important yet underrated policies of the 20th century: the Federal Aid Highway Act in 1956.
New Beginnings: Dynamo, Texans and Cougars…oh my!
In 2006, the city of Houston acquired a major league soccer franchise. After wisely changing the name from the Houston 1836 to the Dynamo, the club went on to win back-to-back championships. Not too shabby. A proposed downtown stadium by Minute Maid Park is in the works, and with stars like Brian Ching leading the Dynamo, the next decade should be a good one for Houston soccer fans.
While they don’t have two championships to their name, the Texans have made their mark on the city since 2002. The National Football League awarded Houston an expansion team after the Oilers absconded their powder blues to Tennessee. Texans fans are still waiting for the team to make a post-season run, but they are evidently having quite a bit of fun in the process. In 2009, Forbes Traveler magazine ranked the Texans tailgating scene No. 1 in the country. Reliant Stadium hosted Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004, and Texans fans are hoping they’ll get to a Super Bowl soon.
UH Football Renaissance
Getting snubbed from the Big 12 hurt. Some dreadful seasons like 2001, when the Cougars ended the season winless, hurt even more. But former coach Art Briles and current head coach Kevin Sumlin—the 2009 Conference USA Head Coach of the Year—helped resurrect the UH football program. UH football is not only back, but they’re bowling. The Coogs take on Air Force Thursday in the Bell Helicopter Bowl Game in Ft. Worth, continuing a streak of bowls since 2005. And with junior QB Case Keenum, often named in the Heisman discussion, still in the mix, things are looking up for U of H.
Original Ninfa’s on Navigation's New Patio
There are Ninfa’s all over Texas, and Houston for that matter. But nothing beats the Original Ninfa’s on Navigation, which is still independently owned and far better than its chain imitators—especially now that they’ve expanded the outdoor seating. It’s a Houston institution, and with our glorious climate, you’d be missing out if you didn’t check it out.
Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark
I’m somewhat risk averse, so I never got into skateboarding. But I do love the aesthetics and offerings of this 30,000-square-foot skate park. It has not only brought even more buzz to the downtown area, but it has put Houston on the map in the skating world. The Houston Parks and Recreation department bills the facility as “the first world-class, in-ground skatepark” in Houston. For free, skaters can “work on their kick flip, Ollie, fakie big spin...or learn how to stay balanced!” I think that balanced part was meant for me.
Memorial Park Living trail
Until Dec. 1, the only living bridge I was familiar with was the Waugh Street Bat Colony Bridge. Home to some 300,000 Mexican Free tail bats, every time I’d run under it—holding my breath of course—I had this weird feeling the bridge was coming alive. Now that the Living Bridge has been completed as part of renovations by the Memorial Park Conservancy, runners will be able to enjoy a new path and avoid that pesky Memorial traffic.
No Smoking Ordinance
It’s not that I have anything against smokers. It’s the dry cleaning costs that make me glad they’ve banned smoking. Although the civil libertarian in me says let folks do what they want to do, I find the 2007 change in the law to be a welcome one.
Friends visiting from the Northeast always remark on the relatively sedate downtown Houston scene. Midtown is trying, and doing a nice job of, changing that. With great restaurants, bars and easy access to the light rail, Midtown is one of the only feasible places to live in Houston sans automobile.
Metro Light rail
For a buck, you can ride to museums, bars, restaurants and Reliant Stadium. Thousands of people use the light rail system every day, and according to recent studies, our light rail is one of the best in the nation when it comes to people per rail line. The full vision of light rail is not completed yet, nor is it without controversy, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Starbucks across the street from a Starbucks next door to a Starbucks at West Gray and Shepherd
Comedian Lewis Black may find this a sign of the apocalypse, but I find it wildly convenient. I’m still amazed how the stores stay open, but I guess our caffeine consumption is just too much to resist.
New contraflow instructions for hurricanes
Hurricane Rita was my first encounter with a hurricane. My family decided to stick it out here in town, but thousands of other Houstonians braved 30-hour car rides to Dallas. The mass exodus, spurred on by legitimate fear, made clear the need for a more planned and orderly evacuation of a city of four million plus residents. So while the only Rita we still like is from a Mexican restaurant, I’ll thank Rita for giving us a better evac plan, as evidenced by the smooth-as-possible exit during Hurricane Ike.