San Antonio has its Riverwalk. San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge. What about Houston?
Houston has a wonderful museum district, its restaurant district is fabulous (not unlike many other international cities), impressive theaters, and a burgeoning parks system. But of all of Houston’s world-class amenities, are any of them truly unique?
Ryan Holeywell thinks he’s discovered something. Or maybe you could say he’s rediscovered it. Holeywell, senior editor of Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research, wrote about his discovery in the Gray Matters column of the Houston Chronicle.
Holeywell says the Harris County officials haven’t been sure what to do with the Astrodome, which has been unused since the Astros left after the 2000 season. In 2013, voters turned down a $217 million proposed bond referendum to create the “new Dome experience,” essentially an exhibition hall.
Holeywell says he has his own ideas for plans for the place, after taking a tour of the facility two months ago with a group of urban planners.
“You don’t really see buildings like this anymore,” he says. “There aren’t permanent dome stadiums these days. The retractable roof is what’s the standard. And what’s the most unique is the deterioration inside.”
Most of the proposals to revamp the stadium are “futuristic” halls or indoor parks, but Holeywell says they lose the Astrodome’s unique appeal.
“Through 15 years of neglect, we’ve created a space that truly is like nowhere else in the country,” he says.
The internet is replete with images known as “ruin porn,” a subset of rundown factories and malls. Its popularity may relate to the current zeitgeist of creating “authentic experience.”
“That can be sort of the draw or the appeal of the Astrodome,” he says.
Holeywell says he visited a hundred-year-old baseball park and the field gave him the experience of seeing baseball in its heyday.
“Thank goodness they didn’t turn that plot of land into a convention center,” he says, “because now there’s something truly unique in that city that generations will be able to see.”
Though he’s not sure what exactly to do with the Astrodome, Holeywell, as a lifelong Houstonian, says he wants to preserve it in some way.
“My message would be – don’t lose sight and don’t miss out on the neglect that actually could wind up being an asset for the stadium,” he says. “Embrace your ruins.”