Y'all, I'm on a business trip in Houston. this is my first time in the city, so I figured I'd get the "authentic Houston experience" by not driving at all and walking the half mile radius around my hotel. It's so dismal it makes me giddy. Come along with me, won't you?

I'm staying in a Fairfield Inn and Suites right by the highway. In isolation, it's nice. It's a quick half mile walk from where my conference will be. Though it's the cheapest marriott hotel, it gets me points and has free breakfast and such.

In other words, nothing about it is objectionable or dirty. It also happens to be the saddest place in north america. Why? Let's explore further to find out!

This fairfield is conveniently located near some commercial space, a couple strip malls, and residential areas that are completely gated off. there are no sidewalks; the road next to it people are going roughly 40 mph / 65 kmph.

so, if you want to do anything, you basically need a car. But lets say you don't wanna have a car and decide to risk your life by jaywalking in in an unfamiliar, pedestrian unfriendly city. Let's see what we can find!

the safest places to walk to are this restaurant that's closed on sundays which looks like a former drive-in, a shipley donuts (will try--would like to get a kolache while I'm here, and a popeyes. I ate lunch at that popeyes. the restaurant was blaring a station that was peaking and distorting the speakers. It played "the 80s, 90s, and today," which is code for unoffensive white people music. this popeye's by the side of the highway was good. I am satisfied.

across the street from this popeyes, we find a strip mall; based on the design I'd guess early to mid 2000s in design.

couple things I like here. I like how there are no places to sit or interact with outside, but they still put that one sad desperate plant. Also I like this Kolache place that has no clue what its identity is, advertising italian panini and korean bulgogi right next to each other. Is it a drug front? who knows!

We turn around from this strip mall, and look under the overpass. Hmm. Signs of civilization on the other side!

So let's do something that no texan expects you to do: cross the street. Seriously, I did not see one single other pedestrian and all the drivers were looking at me cheerfully walking down this sidewalk as if I had three heads. Let's see what's over there, shall we?

Okay. We've got an utterly ordinary strip mall from the early to mid 2000s. Needs power washing. The mexican place (Carnitas, seen in previous shot) looks nice and is quite busy during sunday lunch rush. Nowhere else is.

The "for lease" place has a hell of a lot of abandoned crap inside. It'd be fun to root around in.

We sally forth and find a comfort inn and suites not too different than the fairfield inn where I'm staying.

On one side there's a weird for sale house (could be former medical offices?), and on the other side we find a drab industrial building.

also, lots of security cameras. remember, this is the comfort inn and suites. for there to be true comfort everyone must be watched at all times

next to the strip mall with the mexican place, there's a road that suddenly ends, and a best western that looks even more comfortable than the comfort inn

It's got that nice prison yard feel, and seems like a great and unique place for a family of four to get away for the weekend in beautiful houston. after all, they are right near a popeyes and a mexican restaurant and vague, nonspecific industry and commercial space

walking back under the overpass we can hear cars whooshing by overhead. We've encountered no pedestrians thusfar but there are countless people whizzing over us.

Looking up, we can see that this structure has a lot of thought put into it. It's the only thing we've seen so far that really feels intentional and impressive. a feat of engineering, all to make sure nobody has to stop in this area unless they have to

Follow

we go back to the first strip mall we saw, the one with the sushi place. We stand in the parking lot and look east. we can see why Arcade Fire wrote The Suburbs about this place:

"Sometimes I wonder if the world's so small,
Then we can never get away from the sprawl,

Living in the sprawl,
Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains,

And there's no end in sight,
I need the darkness someone please cut the lights."

an ordinary houston office park on a sunday. a contextless, almost featureless space; like something from a PS1 game with distance fog

zones without people. spaces without meaning.

sometimes, as in the second office, things get so drab that they cross over back to being interesting. Like, why is that path leading into a window with no door? did this level not get tested yet?

past these offices, we find a golf course. this particular golf course borders more offices one one side and a gated residential community on the other

courses like this one typically aren't built to make money from people playing on them. Rather, they make money from selling the land adjacent to them so people have a view of something green and quasi-natural.

now here's something I love, because it's so quintessentially american.

at first glance this is a pond with a path around it. In reality, its a retention pond, because Houston has a very high water table and is contantly at risk of flooding.

so much of american public space is not meant to be used, but just to appear as if it could be used. around this pond are some offices, another sad hotel, and a parking lot

who is this for?

and that's the space around my hotel, everyone! There's plenty to do here. I can do the fun activity of not leaving the hotel, for example. I can sadly masturbate to pay per view porn or Real Sex on HBO, as many sad businessmen have before me

Let's end this thread on a learning note. How did this space end up like this?

on one level, spaces like this developed because Houston has literally no zoning and you can basically put anything anywhere. This makes it unique among american cities.

but we can find places like this anywhere. the pictures I took could very well have been taken in Waltham, Mass., or Hunter's Creek, Fla., or Waxhaw, North Carolina. They're ubiquitous across america. What else brings these about?

in short, this type of urban planning happens because

1. the city is shaped by money, not what's actually best for people. this type of construction seems cheap (it's more expensive than it looks, though many of these costs are hidden for now) and makes money, so we do it

2. On some level, this is what people want, or think they want. I'll go into this further on the next toot.

where one might look at american suburbia and see walls that close off and isolate, others see walls that protect.

spaces that don't want you to be there reflect the wishes of americans who don't want anything to do with public space, or really any other people. This is an america that watches local news and sees that 8 people were killed this week in town and panics

that leads to what we saw today--spaces that push you away because they're trying to.

spaces that only look right when passed by quickly in a car, because that's the only way they're meant to be seen.

spaces that are neither walkable, nor sittable, nor livable.

Guy Debord said it well in the society of the spectacle. This is right from the beginning:

"the spectacle is both the result and the project of the dominant
mode of production. It is not a mere decoration added to the real world. It is the very heart of
this real society’s unreality. In all of its particular manifestations — news, propaganda, advertising, entertainment — the spectacle represents the dominant model of life"

another note, to close out on:

the suburban landscape does not like being questioned, nor does it understand being interacted with critically.

That I can walk around a space like this is undeniably a reflection of my privilege as a relatively normal looking white dude wearing glasses who dresses on the nicer side of average.

If I was not white, or dressed less conventionally, or not a man, there would be much more risk to what I'm doing.

buuuu-uuut, if you DO have the luxury of exploring your backyard and the suburban landscape, I highly encourage doing so.

If by yourself, listen to music and imagine the whole endeavor as a music video, and note how the song does or doesn't match the space.

better yet, bring a group and discuss what you see.

@realmaxkeeble i love wandering around places like that while listening to surreal electronic music tbh

@polymur I paired all of this with a favorite of mine during solo derives: Oneohtrix Point Never's "Zones Without People"

really emphasizes how unnatural everything is

@realmaxkeeble i'd probably listen to "radio-activity" by kraftwerk and pretend that the buildings are as simulated as the voice of the votrax synthesizer

they LOOK like human spaces but there are no humans there. it's so strange and illusory

@realmaxkeeble man you talking about this reminds me of this sculpture by ingvar cronhammar called "red fall". it looks like a building, it even lights up at night, but...there are no doors, nor floors, nor anything inside. it superficially resembles something familiar and yet it's so alien upon closer inspection. i love that

@realmaxkeeble
Fantastic thread. Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts!

I have a real soft spot for Houston. I started medical transition at the Legacy Clinic in Montrose neighborhood, and driving over from NOLA--it was like driving from one fever dream to a different type of fever dream.

Houston made no sense. Even the nicer neighborhoods were a surreal jumble. The food was so good. The first thing I experienced on the first trip was a sidewalk junkie punching my car.

@realmaxkeeble this is an amazing thread that perfectly describes the place where i grew up even though it's far away from texas. i am so happy to be out of there.

@realmaxkeeble this is an excellent read, and it really made me consider the space around where I am. I see a lot of similarities to what you describe now that I think about it, with features not meant to be explored as a pedestrian—only in a passing car. It’s almost like a mini golf course where everything is there ornamentally, to be enjoyed quickly quickly, lest you stare too long and realize it’s actually kind of griss

@realmaxkeeble I recently learned the phrase "hostile design" for urban areas, and I think it could be relevant to this discussion about suburbia.
Similar logics of inaccessibility seem to apply, since h.d. tries to "prevent crime" by making public spaces unwelcoming for homeless people, people with disabilities, etc

@realmaxkeeble THANK YOU FOR THIS THREAD. It puts words to how absolutely fucking WEIRD the United States is.

@June thanks! I've done a couple others like it in the past on some other accounts; I'll need to find them. I particularly like one I did a while back about a massive strip mall near my house in florida that is so surreal and neoliberal that it's absurd

@realmaxkeeble completely genuinely i can't imagine living here and being happy. it's like this place got designed to keep people as far away from each other outside work hours as possible. it's so fucking bleak and so unbelievably lonely

@stolas I didn't get to the area where most people actually live, but it's close to what i took pictures of

people who live near places like this tend to live in gated communities, these walled suburban enclaves with a whole lot of security theater that doesn't actually do anything. you need a car to enter and leave; you can't actually walk anywhere

@realmaxkeeble That's just really weird to me. I can understand having to use a car for everything if you live in the middle of nowhere but what's the point of a city that you can't walk around in?
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