July 5, 2005, 10:47PM


Finding a spot for a shady bus stop

Group to use design survey to help get eclectic new shelters built

Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

CONTINUING a years-long effort to highlight the neighborhood's diverse array of artists and, well, general funkiness, the Houston Heights Association is running a survey for residents to choose among six eclectic designs for new bus stops.

The designs were the created by students working in Cheryl Beckett's graphic communications class at the University of Houston last fall. The idea was suggested to Beckett, a Woodland Heights resident, by association board member Gonzalo Camacho.

"Gonzalo was looking for different ways to get public art in the Heights," Beckett said. "He had suggested these bus shelters. That was kind of interesting for us to do something that was functional and public art at the same time."

The idea was a last-minute addition to the class, but the designs show off a depth of understanding of the neighborhood as a whole, Beckett said.

"This was great for the students," Beckett said. "They were graphic design students and not architects, so we don't tend to think in terms of large scale public projects. There was a pretty good learning curve in a short time since the project was only four weeks long.

"They tried to understand not only what the Heights is all about, but what you'd want to place in that environment and what goes into a bus shelter."

As part of the students' preparation, association Restoration and History Committee chairman Dean Swanson gave them a talk on the history and architecture of the neighborhood.

"We had done banners for the Houston Farmer's Market, so they had a little taste of the Heights already," Beckett said. "Then in came Dean and they had the raw materials to make an assessment of the neighborhood in a week. So it was pretty interesting how they viewed the Heights. They did a lot in a short amount of time."

The six designs from the students, who have all since graduated, range from a celebration of the arts-and-crafts bungalow architecture so prevalent in the neighborhood to one with an arboreal theme celebrating the Heights' trees.

Others highlight the historical role of the trolley line that originally connected the Heights to the city of Houston, the neighborhood's artistic tradition, the ubiquitous (for the Heights anyway) front porches and the area's elevation, which originally drew residents to the neighborhood back in the 1890s.

Beckett said that whichever one comes out ahead in the survey, the thing to remember is that the designs represent prototypes more than finished products.

Any final design would have to be approved by the Metropolitan Transit Authority after going through its review process.

The Heights Association, for its part, plans to make the survey results the basis for discussions with Metro to get the shelters, or at least some of them, built.

"Members of the board of directors of the Houston Heights Association and our members would like to work together to make these shelters a reality and for them to become landmarks that remind us what makes the Houston Heights so unique and the reason we call it home," read a statement on the group's Web site.

Said Beckett, "If you don't approach Metro with a plan, they will just go forward with what they normally do. Ideally, you get your funding in place and then see if Metro is amenable to doing these more unusual bus shelters.

"We did present them to three people from Metro back in December. It was very positive in the sense that there was quite a lot of flexibility in terms of what could be done with them. So, certainly, these are prototypes for ideas more than they actually are things you would finally construct.

"Many things have to be considered in the real world in terms of seating, distance from the bus, disability access and that sort of thing," Beckett added.

Beckett said that, while this was the first time she had done anything like this in her class, she plans to do it again.

"I think all in all, it was a great experience for them," she said. "To have Dean Swanson and the Metro people come in and critique it makes a big difference. That really helped them understand what the public needs a lot better than just listening to my critique."

Graphics, booklets and models of each design are on view at Karen Derr Realty, 1545 Heights Blvd.

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Copyright © Gonzalo E. Camacho