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Pro Sports and Identity and Freedmen’s Town Bricks: Houston Matters for Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Houston Astros probably won’t lose 100 games this year, but they’re likely to lose 90. The Houston Rockets’ disappointing early playoff exit has been followed by a disappointing off-season, missing on free agents, and losing roster depth. The Houston Texans lost so many games in a row last year they dismissed their coach, and […]

The Houston Astros probably won’t lose 100 games this year, but they’re likely to lose 90. The Houston Rockets’ disappointing early playoff exit has been followed by a disappointing off-season, missing on free agents, and losing roster depth. The Houston Texans lost so many games in a row last year they dismissed their coach, and sent their quarterback packing. The Houston Dynamo, the one local pro sports franchise we usually look to for success, is having a disappointing season.

What does it do to a city like Houston when our major professional sports teams are consistently bad? Does it affect our opinion of ourselves as a community? Does it self-perpetuate – if success begets success, does failure beget failure? If we consistently lose, does it make it ever harder to convince stars to play here? Does that, in turn, reduce attendance, reducing revenue, reducing quality, reducing attendance further – creating a snowball effect? And what impact does that have on area restaurants and bars, shopping, and hotels? Does a lack of success on the field of play lead to economic challenges in other industries?

On this edition of Houston Matters, we’ll consider how a city’s identity is tied to its major pro sports franchises. First, we’ll learn what impact years of disappointment have had on the city of Cleveland, as we talk with Rick Grayshock, co-founder and editor of WaitingForNextYear.com, a sports blog devoted to covering Cleveland-area sports. Then, we turn our attention inward to Houston, and welcome your thoughts for CultureMap Houston sports columnist MK Bower, and Jeff Balke, writer for the Houston Press.

Also this hour:  More than a century ago, freed slaves and their descendants laid bricks in the Fourth Ward community of Freedmen’s Town. That alone makes the bricks significant, but there’s more to it than that. The bricks are laid out in particular designs at some intersections – designs which in some cases pointed to safe houses for the black community, and some which reflect West African religious traditions. While much of this National Historic District has changed in recent decades, the bricks have remained.

Most agree these brick roads could stand some repair, but residents and preservationists are wary of any efforts that might permanently damage the bricks. But it’s not just about the roads themselves. The water and sewer pipes beneath them are old and in need of replacement. Next month, the City of Houston plans to remove some of the bricks in order to re-pipe portions of Andrews and Wilson Streets. The city repeatedly has stated a desire to try to return the bricks to their original locations, but last month, TxDOT architect Mario Sanchez told the Houston Chronicle that’s not feasible – and that there wouldn’t be enough salvageable bricks. Residents and preservationists are calling on the city to tunnel underneath the bricks instead of moving them – a plan agreed to by former Mayor Bill White back in 2007. City officials say the streets are too narrow to tunnel and argue it could cost four times as much.

So, the project moves forward, for now, while those opposed to it argue it violates federal laws designed to protect National Historic Districts like Freedmen’s Town.

The debate came to a head at town hall meetings this month hosted by the Freedmen’s Town Preservation Coalition, and then at a City Council public session Tuesday, where Mayor Annise Parker and Council Member Ellen Cohen, whose district includes Freedmen’s Town, each defended the project.

We’ll talk with historical preservationist Catherine Roberts, a founding member of the Rutherford B.H. Yates Museum in Freedmen’s Town, and Keith Wade, a senior assistant to Mayor Parker, and chair of the city’s Fourth Ward/Freedmen’s Town task force.

And: We’ll continue our summer reading series, as we talk with Cynthia Brandimarte, author of Texas State Parks and the CCC: The Legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

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