Friday, August 10, 2018

An Unsteady Surface

The challenge is not to let mourning begin too soon. Not to let it begin when the slide begins. You can never be sure anyway, that your suspicions are correct. Not until you are far past the beginning.
When your husband is a full generation ahead of you in chronological age, you may begin to doubt everything you knew about lifespans. You may think that you will follow him into longevity. You may think longevity lasts forever.
You let down your guard.
After all, you’ve been waiting for one kind of problem, one kind of blow.
But it will catch up with him, and you.
Age focuses a new lens upon the constancy of change.
Fayette County seemed fairly settled when I came here in the 1970’s. My initial visit, however, was concurrent with the first few droplets of the deluge that would follow. That rain of newcomers, many from Houston, just kept on coming.
Bringing a torrent of change.
Houstonians see nothing peculiar about this. They’re accustomed. That’s because Houston has minimal identity beyond its openness to transformation.
Massive disruption of the languorous, leafy, semi-Southern city of the early fifties was simply gulped down and digested over decades, excreting concrete freeways by the mile. And bands of residential boxes that march across the prairie and former rice fields. Once home to geese and coyotes, they now boast swing sets and standing water.
The older parts of the city have largely vanished into parking lots, multi-use districts, shopping meccas and apartment buildings.
We returned recently to Houston after a long period away over the past year and a half, and we’ve noticed a different feeling underlying all the new construction.
A frantic quality.
Every commercial thoroughfare inside the Loop is ruptured by road work. At one time, a person could search out routes that bypassed closed lanes and orange barrels. No longer.
The sewer needs of large new complexes now couple with alarm over inadequate storm drainage, as the hurricane season begins.
Hurricane Harvey has done what countless PR campaigns couldn’t. Confirmed a fresh and less mutable identity for Houston: The City that Floods.
The day we drove in, a downpour we consider ordinary, now—two to four inches in an hour—ground miles of traffic to a dangerous, sloshy halt in rising water, imperiling engines and people along freeways and residential streets.
This is the price Houston pays for unfiltered, unconsidered, unrestricted change that flows only where the money goes, ignoring the realities of the landscape and hydrology and human lives. The city has discovered what it means to have constructed itself on the unsteady surface of change. Developer-directed change.
Over the past few years, Round Top, too, has been enjoying the results of developer-directed change. Yet its core institutions—the Rifle Hall, Fourth of July Parade, Brass Band, DYD Club, Town Hall, Historical Society—survive.
Can these institutions endure, however, as music venues multiply and tourists convert streets to sidewalks? As the noise of revelers spreads from weekends to weekday evenings? As ugliness sprawls across the fields up and down Highway 237, outside city limits?
Prosperity comes to pretty towns and rural landscapes because many people desire to escape the stress and visual clutter of cities, along with traffic and other people, crowded together. A different kind of flooding.
Someone needs to be thinking about whether the current explosion of change, locally, might hit a point of diminishing returns. What are visitors looking for when they come to Round Top? Is it a certain charm, a distinct personality, a slower rhythm?
Are they still finding it?

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