I’ve never traveled to the fabled Italian city of Venice, with its legendary canals and historical gondola ways. I’m afraid my exposure to that hallowed place is through the likes of <Indiana Jones and his entering the crypts beneath the cathedrals floor, or the things I've read about restoration efforts in a city living in water.
My hometown is attempting to emulate some of that character, or more precisely, that of our sister Texas city, San Antonio. Anyone who’s visited the Riverwalk in San Antonio knows how pleasant having a small river meandering through a downtown district can be sitting on a caf� patio sipping lattes and watching the flatboats slowly go by full of tourists injecting the almighty dollar into the city’s economy. I used to go down to the Riverwalk at night years ago and listen to jazz bands in clubs dotting the riverside, then enjoy a cool evening’s walk along the Riverway under the lights amid the festive bustle of locals.
Now The Woodlands has our very own water taxis: a far cry from the gondolas but a start I suppose (at $6 per mini-ride, I’m only reporting this at a distance). At the moment our little waterway is a little over a mile long, but eventually will be a bit longer. And at the moment there isn’t much to look at except the high-rise office buildings dotting our riverway and the lovely brown water (most water in Texas always seems to be brown: the exception being the Riverwalk in San Antonio which is an odd blue thanks to frequent dyes dumped in the water). But someday they tell us, we’ll have caf�s and nightclubs and coffee shops and tourist shops a-plenty. And, of course, they tell us “this is a good thing.”
Hoarded Ordinaries today speaks about progress, urban blight, big dirt toys, and man’s constant double standards of complaining about knocking down trees while living in houses built from…trees. The subjugation of our native woods is typically quietly performed in the name of progress, for the almighty dollar, and to make a select few unnecessarily richer all under the holy flag of “this is what you want.” This is what *who* wants? Certainly not the trees or the deer and other animals who make these shrinking scraps of forest their home; possibly not most of us trying to eke out a living and put our kids through college so we can, at some point, retire in reasonable grace; and likely not those already stretched retail merchants dotting the canvases of our vast shopping centers. Some days when I read the business section of the Houston Chronicle it feels like businesses are closing faster than new ones are opening. Something’s out of sync here, but that’s nothing new.
The trouble with living in a growth area like I do is the challenge of accepting constant raping of beautiful forested lands. While the restrictions in The Woodlands for residential construction protect and preserve a respectable amount of foliage, such restrictions are absent for the commercial properties. Construction for yet another huge shopping center began a year ago across from our library and the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, our outdoor music venue. One day this 34-acre forest, bounded in already by roads on all sides, was transformed overnight into a bald tract of land, totally void of any tree or sign of vegetative life forms. The day before you couldn’t see 20 feet into the woods; the day after your mind couldn’t connect your memory of this place with what your eyes were now selling as reality. Progress? You bet…more t-shirt shops, more places to buy babbles and trinkets, a handful of restaurants to add to the ones we have (despite the fact that a restaurant every other month disappears from lack of sufficient customers), all cozily tucked into nearly half-a-million square feet of cutting-edge retail/mixed use. I’ll concede to the evil developers on one tiny point: this new center is bringing us a Borders bookstore. Score 1 for literati, yet still zero for the fauna formerly supported in this now-paved wilderness-less reminder of idiocy.
In the end, of course, they’ll cut down yet more trees and erect yet more centers of retail commerce, which will bring in yet more people. It’s a vicious cycle that seems destined to continue until there’s nothing more to bald. While you might see socially conscious protesters rise up over more impactive issues, rarely does anyone notice and take the time to voice, “Don’t we have enough parking lots? Could we leave just a few native scraps of land, just in case we’re wrong about all this?” But progress smells like Wal-Mart and America wants more Wal-Marts it seems, as well as man-made waterways even if they’re the wrong color to inspire memories of Venice.