Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

Wishing everybody a safe and enjoyable New Year's Eve and a happy and prosperous 2015!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Goodbye Tony Levine, Hello Tom Herman

So why did the University of Houston fire head coach Tony Levine, who had an overall winning record, was coming off a consecutive winning seasons (the Cougar’s first since ‘08-‘09) and was set to take his team to a bowl game? The Houston Press’s John Royal explains:
Tony Levine was fired because his team lost 27-7 to UTSA in the very first game played in Houston's brand-new TDECU Stadium -- a game in which the Cougars were double-digit favorites. He was fired because his team lost to a then two-win Tulane team 31-24, a game that was UH's homecoming game and a game in which UH was, once again, a double-digit favorite.

Levine was fired because the team trailed SMU at the half (SMU won just one game this season) and because it barely defeated Tulsa, another game against a bad opponent in which the Cougars were heavy favorites. He was fired because his record as head coach was a mediocre 21-17 and the team appeared to be trending downwards.

The Cougars fired Levine because he insisted on making Travis Bush his offensive coordinator this season despite Bush having failed miserably at this job during the 2012 season. He was fired because QB John O'Korn, who was the AAC's offensive rookie of the year in 2013, turned into the second coming of Matt Schaub this season. Levine was fired by UH because the Cougars let SMU score 72 points in 2012 and because the team lost 30-13 to Texas State in the very first game played by that school on the FBS level.
You can add last January’s BBVA Compass Bowl blowout – the Cougars didn’t even show up to play until the second half – to Levine’s failures as head coach at Houston. The fact is, Levine simply wasn’t ready to be a head coach, and although I’m sure he is a good guy who tried his best, his mediocre record, his continually unprepared and uninspired teams, and his recurring losses to vastly inferior programs spoke for themselves. UH AD Mack Rhoades did the right thing by cutting Levine loose before the program slipped further. 

Rhoades and the Cougars announced Levine’s replacement last week: current Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman, who will officially take over once the Buckeyes either win or are eliminated from the College Football Playoff. Herman, who was officially introduced as the Coogs' next head coach at a press conference last Friday, recently won the Broyles Award for the nation’s top assistant college football coach and seems to be regarded as an up-and-comer by pigskin pundits nationwide. Back to the Houston Press, whose Sean Pendergast lists three reasons why this is a good hire for the Coogs:
1. Herman has deep ties to the state of Texas, having started his coaching career as a graduate assistant on Mack Brown's staff at Texas in the late 90's before moving on to Sam Houston State as wide receivers coach from 2001 through 2004. From there, he was the architect of prolific offenses at Texas State (conference scoring leaders in 2005 and 2006) and Rice (broke 40 school records in two seasons, 2007 and 2008), before heading north to Iowa State (2009-2011) and Ohio State (2012-2014). Herman's experience in Texas, along with his offensive style, should pay immediate dividends on the recruiting trial.

2. As outlined in the previous paragraph, Herman's calling card everywhere he has coordinated has been wildly prolific offenses. For a Houston fan base that was reenergized in the early 2000's by Art Briles' offenses and then from 2008 through 2011 with Kevin Sumlin's system, the Levine Era was comparatively one big sad face emoji offensively, plagued by a revolving door at offensive coordinator (as mentioned, four in three years). For a school that just invested nine figures in a new venue, a more watchable brand of offensive football is practically a necessity for survival attendance-wise. Herman's offensive pelts on the wall are impressive, capped off by a 59-0 win in the Big Ten title game with Ohio State's third string quarterback Cardale Jones starting.

3. A more watchable, winning product coached by one of the hottest head coaching prospects in the country should be much more marketable to the Big 12 if indeed the conference chooses to expand to twelve teams any time soon. The conference that Houston resides in now (the American Athletic Conference) is in perpetual danger of disintegrating and will always be a target to be raided by the big boys. Houston's primary goal, above anything else, needs to be ensuring that it's a target of a raid not a victim of the fallout. Ultimately, a U of H move to the Big 12 may just not be in the cards, but hiring Herman is undoubtedly a plus in this effort. 
I am also skeptical of a Big 12 invite, but the fact is that the University of Houston did not invest in a new stadium just to lose to teams like UTSA, be an also-ran in the relatively weak American Athletic Conference, and watch crowds for its home games steadily dwindle as the city’s notoriously fair-weather, front-runner fanbase lost interest in the program. If Houston Cougar football truly is to become nationally relevant again, it simply can't remain mired in mediocrity that was the Levine regime.

Obviously Herman has yet to coach a game for the Cougars, and there’s always a risk associated with hiring somebody without a head coaching track record, but for what it’s worth I like this hire. Herman has a strong coaching pedigree and I think his Texas connections as well as his offensive philosophy will serve him well at Houston.

If Herman is successful at Houston, it is probable that he will move on to another job at a higher profile school in a three or four years. That’s fine with me, because it will have meant that he left the program in better shape than he found it; my only request for Coach Herman is that he not screw the Cougars the way Kevin Sumlin did when he left for Texas A&M (who cost the Coogs a Sugar Bowl appearance by spending too much time negotiating with the Aggies and too little time preparing for the Conference USA Championship Game).

Herman will become the highest-paid football coach in UH history with a $6.75 million, five-year contract. Apparently he was given a decent amount of money for assistant hires as well, and those will prove key to his success here. Herman has indicated that he would like to retain defensive coordinator David Gibbs, who will serve as the Cougars’ interim head coach for their bowl game against Pitt on January 2, as DC in his new staff. Former Longhorn QB Major Applewhite is apparently being considered to serve as Herman’s OC. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Houston adds two new airlines in two weeks

Last week, the Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways (ANA) announced that they would begin daily nonstop service between Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport and Tokyo's Narita International Airport, starting next June. This service, when implemented, would be in addition to United's existing daily nonstop between Houston and the Japanese capital.* As United and ANA are both Star Alliance members, these services appear to be designed to complement each other and feed into each other's networks.

Today, it was announced that Taiwanese carrier EVA Air will begin service between IAH and Taipei's Taoyuan International airport. This service, also set to begin in June, would initially operate three times a week and expand to four flights a week in July. EVA Air is also a member of Star Alliance.

This will add Taiwan to Tokyo, Beijing, Seoul and Singapore (via Moscow) on the list of East Asian/Pacific Rim cities accessible from Houston by either a nonstop or direct flight. As I've said before and will say again, this can only be a good thing for Houston and its economy. What city will be next? Bangkok? Kuala Lumpur?

Meanwhile at the city's other airport, Southwest has announced that it has filed applications to fly to Cancun, Los Cabos, Mexico City and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; San Jose, Costa Rica; and Belize City, Belize from Hobby Airport beginning next year. As the article notes, the services to Mexico are subject to a complicated agreement between the United States and Mexico regarding the number of carriers that can fly between US and Mexican city pairs.

Southwest already plans to fly between Hobby and Aruba once every Saturday starting in March, which would be the first international service from that airport since Intercontinental opened in 1969. The service can begin before Hobby's international terminal is finished because Aruba's Queen Beatrix airport has US Customs preclearance facilities.

(*Last year United announced that they were implementing a second daily nonstop between Houston and Tokyo, but I can only find one flight per day in their online booking interface.)

2014 Houston Cougar football attendance

While we wait for the University of Houston to officially announce their new head coach - as of this evening, it appears that Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman is set to get the job - it's time for my annual update to the Houston Cougar football wins-versus-attendance graph:

The Coogs averaged 28,314 fans per game over seven home games, which is a 4,058 fans/game increase over the 2013 season. That actually sounds decent, given Houston's historical attendance woes. The attendance gets a boost from the 40,775 fans that showed up for the UTSA game; a large number of them did not return after witnessing that embarrassing debacle, and if you take that game out of the mix then Houston's home average falls to 26,237.

It's also worth mentioning that this average is based on tickets sold, not actual butts in the seats. This was increasingly obvious as the season wore on; the announced crowd of 23,572 for the Tulsa game was probably thrice the number of people actually in TDECU Stadium for that game. While the team's mediocre performance through the course of the season probably caused some people to stop going to the games, it's also very likely that a lot of people were so excited by the prospect of a new stadium that they brought extra seats (for example, as part of their season ticket package) that ended up going unused most of the time.

Had Tony Levine remained head coach, the Cougars would probably be looking at a steep decline in season ticket renewals in 2015 which would in turn negatively effect attendance in the coming season. That is no doubt one of the major reasons for his departure (along with the fact that, well, you can't lose to double-digit underdogs like UTSA and Tulane at home and expect to continue to have a job), but it remains to be seen if the new coach will reignite enough enthusiasm among the fanbase to keep season ticket numbers stable.

(Graph updated 1/8/15 to include Houston's bowl game win over Pittsburgh.)

Monday, December 08, 2014

Alabama-Birmingham drops football

Last week was a sad one for Blazer players, coaches, fans and alumni:
UAB is shutting down its football program.
The university announced the decision Tuesday, minutes after president Ray Watts met with Blazers players and coaches, while several hundred UAB students and fans gathered outside for the third straight day in efforts to support the program. UAB made the decision after a campus-wide study conducted by a consulting firm over the past year.

"The fiscal realities we face -- both from an operating and a capital investment standpoint -- are starker than ever and demand that we take decisive action for the greater good of the athletic department and UAB," Watts said in a statement released by the university. "As we look at the evolving landscape of NCAA football, we see expenses only continuing to increase. When considering a model that best protects the financial future and prominence of the athletic department, football is simply not sustainable."

UAB said in a release that it subsidizes $20 million of the athletic department's operating budget of some $30 million annually, and said both those numbers rank fifth in Conference USA. The university said the difference over the next five years would be an extra $49 million with football, including a projected $22 million needed for football facilities and upgrades.
UAB's problems, however, weren't just financial. They were also political:
Part of the problem, according to UAB football supporters and former players, is that the university doesn’t have its own board of trustees and is controlled by the University of Alabama System board, which oversees campuses in Birmingham, Huntsville and Tuscaloosa. 
Thirteen of the 15 trustees received undergraduate or law degrees from the University of Alabama, including Paul W. Bryant Jr., the son of legendary Crimson Tide football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. 
Only three board members have academic ties to UAB. One of them, Barbara Humphrey, is the wife of former Crimson Tide star running back Bobby Humphrey. 
“Some of the folks on that board would rather destroy UAB than beat Auburn,” said Alabama state Rep. Jack Williams, an outspoken supporter of UAB football. 
UAB football supporters have long argued the board of trustees has sought to hamper the program’s success. In 2006, UAB had reached an agreement with Jimbo Fisher to become its new football coach. But the board of trustees nixed the deal, and Fisher, who was then LSU’s offensive coordinator, went to Florida State the next season. He succeeded Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden in 2010 and guided FSU to a BCS national championship last season. 
In 2011, UAB announced plans to build a 30,000 on-campus stadium, which would have allowed them to leave the cavernous-yet-crumbling Legion Field. However, the University of Alabama Board of Trustees shot that plan down as well. In retrospect, it seems obvious that the Board did not want UAB football to succeed; as's Jon Solomon reported last month, apparently there was personal animus involved:
Simmering under the surface of this debate is the role of powerful trustees with Crimson Tide ties, including Paul Bryant Jr., the son of the legendary Alabama football coach. To UAB supporters, there is no doubt Bryant Jr. plans to finally kill UAB football before he leaves the board this year after a decades-old feud tied to Gene Bartow, the late founder of UAB athletics.

Bartow accused Bear Bryant of cheating in a letter to the NCAA in 1991.

"Gene Bartow, out of his mouth, told me on many, many occasions that the aim of the board of trustees was to kill UAB football in the last 8-10 years," said Jimmy Filler, UAB's biggest booster and the creator of the UAB Football Foundation. "They're going to get the recommendation from [UAB President Ray Watts], and they'll accept what he brings to them."
The Board's meddling aside, UAB football faced a genuine financial crisis, the same one that many other smaller schools with lesser-known programs are facing as well:
In many ways, UAB football symbolizes the have-nots in college football -- schools with limited resources for such an expensive sport. It's a divide that's only going to widen due to NCAA autonomy and pending court cases. Athletes are going to receive more benefits from universities, such as cost of attendance, and consideration of those extra expenses is a large part of UAB's strategic study.

Like many lower-resourced Division I schools, UAB has drained money on football. From 2006 to 2013, UAB athletics received $85.4 million in direct institutional support and $28.4 million from student fees. Subsidies accounted for 64 percent of UAB's athletic revenue in fiscal year 2013, though the university's support declined by $1.4 million that year in a rare instance when subsidies decreased.
Although UAB won six games and qualified for a bowl for only the second time in their program's history, they were not invited to any bowl games, so their victory over Southern Miss at the end of November will be the last game in the program's history.

UAB began playing football in 1991 and moved up to FBS (Division I-A) in 1996. The Blazer program went 119-152-2 over its 24 seasons of existence, including an all-time record of 4-5 against Houston. (Their very first win as a member of Conference USA was against Houston; that game ended up being the straw that broke the camel's back as far as Kim Helton's disastrous tenure at UH was concerned, and it's worth mentioning that the same consultant who recommended to the UAB administration that they shut down their program, Bill Carr, hired Kim Helton when he was Houston's AD. So Carr clearly has experience in killing, or almost killing, football programs...)

Alabama-Birmingham is the first FBS school to drop football since Pacific University ended their program in 1995. Fivethirtyeight's take on the Blazers' demise is here.

Houston 31, Cincinnati 38

It could have been a blowout: the Cougars were trailing by 18 points late in the third quarter, and things looked bleak. But the Cougars cut the Bearcats' lead to a touchdown in the 4th quarter and in the game's final minute marched down to the Cincinnati 11-yard-line, hoping to tie things up. Unfortunately, the Cougars threw three incomplete passes into the endzone, and the Bearcats hung on to win the game and a share of the AAC title.

The Good: Running back Kenneth Farrow was in beast mode once again, as he carried the ball 19 times for 138 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Greg Ward added another 84 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries of his own. Ward also completed 27 of 45 pass attempts for 360 yards and two touchdowns through the air; his 89-yard strike to a wide-open Markeith Ambles was Houston's longest touchdown pass since the Run and Shoot era. With 594 total yards gained, the UH offense was definitely not the problem in this game.

The Bad: In what has been a trend over the last few games of the season, the Cougar defense struggled. The losses of cornerback Lee Hightower and linebacker Derrick Mathews have certainly hurt, but have opposing offenses also gotten wise to defensive coordinator David Gibbs' schemes?  The run defense yielded 160 yards and three touchdowns to Cinci RBs Mike Boone and Rodriguez Moore, and the pass defense allowed Cinci's two quarterbacks (Gunner Kiel played the first half; Munchie LeGaux the second) to pass for 348 yards and two touchdowns. The secondary also dropped what would have been an easy pick-six that could have completely changed the nature of the game. In fact, the defense's streak of consecutive games with a turnover came to an end after 34 games.

What It Means: The Cougars end the regular season with a 7-5 record, which is enough to get them into the Armed Forces bowl against Pittsburgh in Fort Worth on January 2nd. However, this season can only be described as a disappointment, and for the reason head coach Tony Levine will not be joining them. I'll have more to say about that in an upcoming post. 

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Gettin’ crazy with Google Street View

I don’t remember exactly why I was looking at this particular location in Google Street View, but I and found this very, um, interesting scene (apparently taken in August 2014) in front of the Bank of America at the corner of OST and La Salette in Southeast Houston:

I’m not sure what is happening here. Is the pedestrian extending the middle finger to the driver of the silver Nissan a panhandler, angry that he or she won’t give him any change? Did the driver and the pedestrian get into an altercation somewhere, such as inside the bank or in front of the Taco Bell next door? Is this some sort of domestic disturbance? Or was this tableau staged for the passing Google Street View cam?

Interestingly, this little bit of weirdness can be viewed in Google Maps, but not in Google Earth; in that app, Street View reverts back to imagery taken in 2013 when it gets to this particular intersection. Somebody else must have noticed this scene and complained about it.

I'm not complaining; I just want an explanation...

Houston 35, Southern Methodist 9

It’s a pattern that has repeated itself all season: the Cougars start out slowly against an inferior opponent and fall behind. Sometimes they lose (UTSA, Tulane). But sometimes the opponent is just so bad that the Coogs can’t help but win. Such was the case last Friday in Dallas: after an early score, the Cougars fell behind the winless SMU Mustangs and trailed at halftime, 7-9. But the Cougars held the Ponies scoreless in the second half, while the offense scored 28 straight points, and Houston notched its seventh win of the season.

The Good: Kenneth Farrow had another monster game, carrying the ball 18 times for 110 yards and 2 touchdowns. Quarterback Greg Ward rushed another 14 times for 93 yards and three touchdowns. The Cougar defense, meanwhile, held SMU to a single touchdown, ten first downs and 223 total yards for the entire game.

The Bad: Houston’s sluggish first-half start included a missed field goal, two failed fourth down conversion attempts, an interception, two sacks and a safety. It really was some truly awful football. Fortunately, they got it together in the second half.

The Ugly: See above.

What it Means: The Coogs secure a winning season with the win. The regular season ends with a trip to Cincinnati to face the Bearcats next Saturday.

When the "creative class" gets displaced

If you live in Houston, then by now you might be aware of local writer Anis Shivani ominously-titled jeremiad, How Oligarchs Destroyed a Major American City.

I originally saw the article last week, when a friend of mine posted it on Facebook. Shivani rails against the what he sees as the unyielding march of corporate-driven inner-west-Houston gentrification, which is changing the character of the city and is forcing him to leave his pleasant apartment on tree-lined Steel Street, near the corner of Kirby and West Alabama and only a few blocks away from the mansions of River Oaks. "Houston has transmogrified into a city ruled by a brutal strain of neoliberalism," Shivani laments. "It took only a few short years for developers to displace the original population of the central neighborhoods, while converting the core city into an exclusive playland for the rich."

The first time I read the article, I was sympathetic to his plight, not only because I also rent in a nice part of town (and therefore live with the fear that the landlord will sell this property out from underneath me at any moment), but also because some of the recent development occurring on the west side of downtown truly is ugly schlock that drives up rents for everybody, makes traffic worse, and will likely sit vacant and deteriorating after the next oil bust occurs. I also felt, however, that Shivani's understanding of the economic forces behind his predicament was rather naive. Houston, after all, is a developer-friendly city. It's been that way since the Allen Brothers founded it, and it's the reason why it has such laughably weak historic preservation codes and why it's the largest city in the nation without zoning.

But after giving the article a second, closer look, I realized something: Shivani's not naive. He's whiny, entitled, illogical and generally clueless. As the Houston Press's Angelica Leicht explains in a must-read critique:
Shivani starts right off by saying that the desirability of Steel Street has made him and his neighbors victims of the leveraging of urban space. 

"My neighbors and I are currently being affected by what I consider the most monstrous example of gentrification in Houston," he says. "My neighbors on Steel Street -- at the Kirby and Alabama intersection, arguably the single most desirable location in Houston -- and I have become victims of the grotesque leveraging of urban space by those who falsely assert that the market alone decide outcomes." (Emphasis added.)

But while this argument may work for Shivani, it's hard for us to equate "victims of the grotesque leveraging of urban space" with folks affluent enough to live on the corner of West Alabama and Kirby. 

What Shivani also fails to note is that the area of Upper Kirby has not been any sort of "urban space" since the 1980s, when the average person could afford to live there. Still, Shivani insists that gentrification is taking over the area, and he cites the rising rents -- which, remarkably enough, he compares to those in New York City -- and corporate indifference as having stamped out the area's intimacy.

He even goes so far as to note the changing face of Montrose in the early 2000s as a prime example of a neighborhood surviving a residential change without being gentrified.

"Artists, writers and eccentrics from around the country descended in droves in the 2000s to take advantage of Houston's livability. They flocked to the legendary 'gayborhood' of Montrose and brought other neighborhoods around downtown to life," Shivani says. "I called Houston in those halcyon years 'Austin-plus' because it had a lot of the capital's aesthetic attractions in addition to remarkable diversity and friendliness."

There's a problem with Shivani's Montrose logic, though. While the author may believe that the influx of creatives into Montrose was a positive change, free from the displacement of residents, he's merely reframing the gentrification that took place in the city's now formerly gay area during that time.
The same people Shivani claims were just taking advantage of the area's livability were responsible for the gentrification of that area, a process after which many of the residents in the once-affordable neighborhood had been forced out. What happened in Montrose was the same type of injustice the writer is complaining about, yet he appears oblivious to that.
Shivani then detours into a tinfoil-hat non-sequitur about Memorial Park: he decries the fact that so many of the trees there were "supposedly killed" by the drought, but suggests that the trees were actually destroyed as an "excuse to 'redevelop'." He calls the recently-unveiled Memorial Park master plan a "boondoggle" that is intended to "take down pristine ecological systems and rebuild them for commercial ends," even though the entire purpose of the master plan is to restore a portion of the park to its original, coastal-prairie-like condition so that it can better sustain the ravages of future droughts.

Things get even more bizarre from there, as Shivani singles out the closure of a mediocre Tex-Mex restaurant as proof of the corporate oligarchy's destruction of his neighborhood and its character. Back to Angelica Leicht:
But as misguided as Shivani's arguments are up to this point, they get downright weird when he uses Taco Milagro, which used to sit at the corner of Westheimer and Kirby, as an example of the hazards of gentrification. 

"Taco Milagro, at the intersection of Kirby and Westheimer, used to be a lively public-private space. The food was very healthy and people from all over the city danced the night away and congregated on the large patio. But at the gateway to River Oaks, with condominiums going up all around, this open space was unacceptable, so Taco Milagro suddenly shut down," he says.

The closing of an upscale taco place, which once sat in an upscale strip center with an upscale cigar bar, is not what gentrification looks like, but again, Shivani seems oblivious to that. 

The entire premise of that argument -- the downfall of a Thursday night hot spot with overpriced margaritas, which was never a bastion of inner-city living -- is so entirely privileged that it's laughable, and furthermore, it just doesn't work.
The further you get into the article, in fact, the more you realize that Shivani probably doesn't understand what true gentrification really is.
Shivani never once sells us on the supposed gentrification of Upper Kirby in his article, even with all those words. What he does sell us on, though, is how privileged he is. It's a point that is driven home when Shivani inexplicably tries to differentiate himself from poor welfare recipients.

"We're not homeless, we're not welfare recipients, we're the backbone of Houston, tens of thousands of hardworking residents who put the city in the position of promoting itself as a cultural destination in the first place," he says. "We ride bikes or walk; we loyally support local establishments; we love our neighborhoods and treasure them, yet we are the ones whose lives are destroyed."

In saying this, Shivani seems blissfully unaware that such examples -- bike lanes, a vibrant local business scene -- are luxuries that many longtime residents of gentrified areas only get to enjoy right before they're priced out of their homes.
Which begs the question: how long was the Steel Street apartment complex Shivani's "home," anyway? His bio says that he has lived in Houston for two decades. Has he lived in that complex the entire time? If so, he's been paying rent (and assuming the risks that come with renting, such as being forced to relocate on short notice) the entire time. Sure, buying property is expensive, and people don't always have the financial wherewithal to do it (I'm trying to get to that place right now). But think how much equity he'd have in an actual house by now, if he had brought something like a Montrose bungalow 15 or 20 years ago, when prices were still affordable and before the corporate oligarchs began their onslaught into "the single most desirable location in Houston." The same goes for some of Shivani's displaced neighbors: a guy with a law degree from UT who has lived there for 40 years, and another man who has lived there for 30.

Ironically, when Shivani speaks of some of his displaced neighbors, he unwittingly describes what gentrification truly is:
Mark (a University of Houston graduate student in literature) and his yoga-teaching wife Lisa also grew a vegetable garden; they have since reluctantly departed to east Houston, the reservoir du jour for the displaced.
In other words, educated, upwardly-mobile members of the "creative class" who have moved to the east side of downtown, where homes are still affordable, and are in turn probably displacing some truly low-income family. This is what is known as real gentrification.

Towards the end of his rant, Shivani suggests some "basic initiatives in the spirit of developing a more progressive urban policy" that Houston should consider. Among them:
An arbitration committee should provide a mechanism for future disputes between neighborhoods and developers, to reduce the power of developers working through the planning commission. The planning commission's arbitrary powers should be severely curtailed.
The planning commission's powers are not "arbitrary." They are carefully delineated by city ordinance and state law. Shivani is utterly ignorant of what powers municipal planning commissions in this state have and do not have, as specified by Texas Local Government Code. And then this:
Rents should be regulated in central districts to retain the kind of people who create urban vitality. A plan should be set in place to make aesthetically appealing housing available at modest cost in historic neighborhoods, in order to counter renewed segregation.
Yes. Rent control to "create urban vitality."Because Shivani is a "creative" who "keeps things real," and therefore the rest of us need to subsidize his rent so he can continue to live in the nicest part of Houston. If Shivani thinks that initiatives such as these would ever fly in a place like Houston, he is simply divorced from reality.

Of course, the purpose of his polemic is not to open up a dialogue about how to reform urban redevelopment efforts in Houston; it's simply an article designed to elicit sympathy and outrage from coastal elites who are just as privileged as Shivani and whose opinion of Houston as a soulless redneck hellhole in the middle of flyover country (even though they've never actually set foot in this city) needs to be reinforced. This is why his screed was published by left-leaning outlets like Alternet and Salon.

Those of us who actually live here, however, know better. Leicht, one last time:
The injustice of the redevelopment of Steel Street -- if "injustice" is what you really want to call it -- is hardly interchangeable with actual gentrification. In cases of true gentrification, the displaced aren't allotted options, and they are certainly not allowed a forum like Alternet to air their grievances. 

Just ask some of the original residents of the East End or Oak Forest, where gentrification is actually happening. You might not find too many of them commenting on Shivani's article or blogging in solidarity, though. Perhaps they're too busy working and trying to find a rent that's feasible for their low-income, welfare-recipient asses to care.
There's also a good discussion about this article on Swamplot, although Shivani himself seems to think that those who comment there are merely "boosters locked into the developers' myopic viewpoint." Which makes me wonder if maybe he's just trolling everyone.