Houston, first week

Update February 2023: Almost exactly five years ago, I arrived in Houston Texas to work with Dominic Boyer. When I first got there, I wrote about what we were doing in the post below. Since then, we have published the results of our study here: Boyer, D., & Vardy, M. (2022). Flooded City: Affects of (Slow) Catastrophe in Post-Harvey Houston. Current Anthropology63(6), 000-000.

February 15, 2018. On the weekend I moved into my new apartment in Meyerland, a neighbourhood in Houston that was flooded in Hurricane Harvey. A couple days later, it rained heavily and I watched the road adjacent to Brays Bayou fill with water (see the 20 second video below). In the time that it took for my bus to arrive, substantial pools of water accumulated. Evidence of Harvey’s impact is still readily visible, and I wondered, while watching the rain, if residents view the rain differently now, if it engenders unease. A couple blocks from the bus stop where I stood is a sensor that measures the depth of the water in the bayou. Check out the screenshot below.

Houston has experienced epic floods in the past, and the flood warning system run by Harris County Flood Control District has 154 sensors in bayous and streams that show water level in near-real-time (information which is available online). You can see in the screenshot below that water levels rose about 4.5 feet during the rainstorm that I filmed while waiting for my bus. Screenshot 2018-02-14 12.07.47The next day, I walked the path along Brays Bayou to a nearby shopping center (photos below). Most people you talk to in Houston recommend driving as a way of getting around the city. I don’t own a car, but I’ve driven rentals here, and the roads are a joy to drive (if you avoid rush hour crush). And the aesthetics are amazing – there’s something strangely beautiful about the soaring and arching concrete overpasses. From a pedestrian’s or a cyclist’s perspective, infrastructure is lacking – sidewalks and bike paths end abruptly. But there are also moments of promise.