Sunday, June 19, 2005

Summer News

Lesson of the day: it never hurts to ask. UT rules say you can only take 12 credits in the summer session, but Rachel needed 15 to graduate, hence she was preparing to take one lonely class in the fall semester. The other week, Rachel asked her UT advisor if she could add a summer class even though it is against policy. The advisor took a look at Rachel's incredible grades and said that it was okay, but admonished, "You will be very busy!" In conclusion: we just saved ourselves $3000!

Rachel will graduate from UT on August 15. Rob will begin school at Rice on August 8. Enjoy your summer vacations friends! We spend our weekends studying... though we did just discover a $1 DVD rental machine in the grocery store. That keeps us pretty occupied. After two years in the Peace Corps, there were many movies we had on our "movies to watch" list.

Quick weather note: After an unseasonably mild spring, summer has finally arrived. It's around 100 degrees these days. I am SO allergic to Texas! It's pretty funny, and all you can do is suck it up (literally) and keep downing the Benadryl.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Deep Thoughts by Rob

St. Edwards University, recently bulldozed a forest to put up a parking lot (like the song). One of the ironies of the project was that since city officials require adequate drainage and runoff for new structures, the university bulldozed another section of the forest to build a retaining pool (adjacent to the already-present creek). School officials might reprove: “but we added some really nice landscape around the parking lot and retaining pool!”

Texas will most likely begin paving its state with an entire new freeway system, the Trans-Texas Corridor, parallel to existing freeways. Sure it would be nice to widen the freeways by a lane in the countryside, but is it necessary to create an entire new freeway system that civilians will never use (it will be a toll road) and that will slice a ¼ mile of concrete through forests, plains, farms, and deserts? Texas state officials respond - and this is only mild hyperbole, “But what will Texans do 100 years from now if we don’t build these freeways today!”

As a socially and environmentally conscious individual, I am alarmed by the pace of development in America (and Texas in particular). A recent article in the Houston Chronicle wrote about a simple and unfortunate reality: it is cheaper and easier (politically and legally) to buy a farm in exurbia and convert it into the next track of homes for middle-income, traffic-braving soccer moms and dads, than it is to build closer together within already established city limits. As a result places like Houston have both underutilized land within city zones, gentrification occurring in older more historic city zones, and city limits expanding further and further into semi-virgin land: in some cases new subdivisions are being built 50 to 80 miles outside the city center. One of the new reported communities boasts nature trails and bird look-outs. This sounds wonderful until one realizes that their house no doubt use to be the bird's house. Following developers’ trends, the new subdivision will likely be called “Scissortail Landing,” eponymously named for the birds that no longer dwell there.

The desire to obtain “the good life in the suburbs, far removed from the problems of the city,” has become a problem in itself. Development for the sake of development creates myriad social ills, including traffic congestion and pollution, out of control commercial and residential strips (ever see a new Home Depot built in the same parking lot as an old shuttered Home Depot?), and decreased socialization among neighbors due to larger and more separate homes.

Try this fun exercise, visit, click on “Satellite,” close your eyes and click on a random area of America. Then zoom in. No doubt you'll land in the 'burbs.

Sunday, June 05, 2005