The Future that Houston Envisioned for 1990 … in 1968
1968 … the year that humans first traveled around the moon during the Apollo 8 mission. It was a triumphant time for America and Houston, home of the NASA “Manned Spacecraft Center,” its name at the time. We could do anything, it seemed. And we did.
1968 Plan for 1990
A reader recently sent me a preliminary plan developed in 1968 called Houston 1990. The Honorable Louis Welch was Mayor and Intercontinental Airport was still a year away from opening. And the Houston Planning Commission (which developed the plan) clearly had its eye on supporting future growth. The plan discussed new water sources, transportation corridors, green space, cultural amenities, employment centers, retail centers, housing choices and more.
Not all of ideas became reality. But most did.
Hits and Misses
For instance, the plan talks about an “emerging” office, retail and high-rise residential area near Westheimer and West Loop 610. (The Galleria?) It also mentions an emerging business area near Holcomb and Main (The Medical Center?) It predicted the continued dominance of single-family housing and the need outlying employment centers as Houston expanded so people could continue to live near where they worked.
For older Houstonians, this will be a nostalgic trip on Rocky and Bullwinkle’s “wayback machine.”
For younger Houstonians, it will be a lesson in the value of planning. For instance, future transportation options can be taken off the table if land isn’t set aside early enough and people build homes on it. That’s why it’s interesting to see something that looks like a network of greenbelts where the Grand Parkway is now.
But people also ignored parts of the plan. For instance, the need for flood control. The plan designated wide green spaces around bayous and creeks which were largely undeveloped at the time. They could have been used for detention ponds and channel expansion as development pushed outward.
Reservoirs that Never Happened
The plan also showed large reservoirs.
- One was immediately west of what is now Kingwood where Spring and Cypress Creeks come together with the San Jacinto West Fork near I-69.
- Another was west of a tiny town in the hinterlands called Tomball on Spring Creek.
- A third was on the Brazos River near Richmond and Rosenberg.
- And the fourth was a sprawling affair north of Lake Houston that took in portions of Peach and Caney Creeks, the San Jacinto East Fork and Luce Bayou.
Not one of these reservoirs was developed. And with few exceptions, none of the land along the bayous was set aside. The land along the rivers and streams became settled. And now those areas flood significantly during heavy rains.
Difficulty of Flood Mitigation After Development
The planned lake west of Kingwood is now sand mines and subdivisions. Lake Conroe would be built in 1973, five years later farther upstream. And Kingwood started building out in the early 1970s.
Building flood mitigation projects along these waterways now would be difficult. It often requires buyouts that can take a decade or more. This problem was foreseen. People were already building up to the edge of bayous, as you can see in the enlarged portion of the map below that shows Halls Bayou.
Many outlying areas that were sparsely populated in 1968 would follow the Halls Bayou pattern.
However, that can become expensive and controversial as we saw this week in Huffman. Some areas there along Luce Bayou flooded badly during Harvey and Imelda. Harris County Flood Control District commissioned a flood-mitigation study that recommended a construction of bypass channel (see sections 4.1.3 and 4.1.4).
But local opposition developed from homeowners whose property would be affected. They fought the project. Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia killed it in the 8/24/21 Commissioner’s Court meeting, citing local opposition. That left Huffman with no immediate flood-mitigation hopes after three years of study and planning.
For Complete 1968 Study
For a high resolution PDF of the entire 1968 plan and accompanying text, click here. (Caution: 33″x30″, 14 megabyte file. Best viewed on large screen. )
Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/27/2021
1459 Days after Hurricane Harvey