Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Houston's Front Porch: Why So Messy? Updated March 12, 2014

I love our city, and especially our city's governmental buildings and parks. Houston is blessed to have such a large system of parks, and should be the envy of many cities. For those working downtown, City Hall Plaza and Hermann Square provide an opportunity to admire our city's history and get a bit of fresh air.

This really is Houston's front porch! It should show the best we have to offer. (And it does, hosting festivals and regular events like the Urban Harvest Market on Wednesdays, as well as other more spontaneous sights, like the older gentlemen who regularly play baseball catch on the grass.) It also allows people to demonstrate their First Amendment rights. It is a space for all, and it is valuable to civility in Houston.

Over the last few weeks, however, it has been getting noticeably more messy. During my walk into work, as well as to and from lunch each day, it is hard to miss the group that gathers daily to spend their day around City Hall. Most people appear to be homeless or without normal work hours, simply spending time loitering for the entire day in Hermann Square or the area outside the Houston Public Library (UPDATE 3/12/2014: Sources tell me that within the last few weeks loitering is no longer being tolerated near the Houston Public Library, as the Houston Public Library Plaza is for library patronage only. Those loitering were told they would not be able to stay there, and would need to find somewhere else to go. It seems they have chosen Hermann Plaza.) Typically, these days seem to be spent without incident, but one can suspect this may be why there is such a large amount of refuse left in the park. These are areas for all, but there are also opportunities exercise the civility that the City of Houston encourages.

This morning (Tuesday, February 25, 2014), this is what Hermann Square looked like. This is not what our city's front porch should look like to welcome citizens, visitors and city employees. I don't know what should be done, but this saddens me that right under the shadow of City Hall, our parks are treated like this. Clearly, there are many violations of the City of Houston Parks and Recreation Department's rules and regulations.

This is an opportunity to extend grace to those who do not follow the law or respect the civility of our city or the public good of our parks. But, we should not tolerate this treatment of our public places. As someone who loves cities and the people they represent, I am aware of the impact that public spaces have on a city's reputation. City halls and government buildings are typically the "front porch" of most cities, and should be respected, serving as a comfort, welcoming to all.

EDIT: These photos have been added for the mornings of March 11, 2014:

 .....and March 12, 2014.