So, another year has come and gone. 2023 has faded away and 2024 beckons.
Like many, I was fortunate enough to have been granted most of the last week of the year off, between Christmas and New Years Day. I had a nice few days off. A couple of days after Christmas, I decided to make a day of it by visiting the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and specifically their recent exhibit of ancient Egyptian monarch King Tut.
I got a late start as I work evenings and I often don’t get up these days until after 10:00am due to the odd hours at my new job. I got out the door and started my drive over to the HMNS at roughly 1:00pm. I figured the fact that the museum, which is normally open until 6:00pm (except on Thursdays when it is open later), would mean that I would get roughly three or so hours to visit. The last time I had been to the HMNS was to visit the Pompeii exhibit back in 2021. I had also thoroughly enjoyed the Magna Carta exhibit back in 2014. Being a big reader and fan of history, I couldn’t get enough of either or those exhibits, and I figured the King Tut exhibit would have much the same meaning for me.
Except it wasn’t. I wended my way through Houston traffic to get to the Museum district area in the early afternoon. Admittedly, it was during the week after Christmas, the weather was pretty nice, and hence there were probably 20,000 other Houstonians who had the same thought I had. I made it to the always wonderful Mecom Fountain and from there drove into Sam Houston Park….
And then, I sat there and sat there and sat there and sat there in traffic. I went round and round in circles all around the park area and the neighborhoods nearby. There was not a single space to be found anywhere. I drove around for roughly 45 minutes before finally deciding to give up visiting the museum for the day and spend my time doing other things. On my way home, I chatted with a friend of mine about what had happened and it was at that point that I decided to write this piece.
When “Progressives” aren’t being very progressive
The thought did go through my head as I was driving home that I should have planned my day better. Indeed, the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s own website has a suggestion guide on how and when to visit the museum. If I had only planned ahead, or so goes the thought.
And yet, I had another thought that went through my head. I’ve lived in Houston for most of my life, including a spell of time when I didn’t live that far away from the Museum district 25 or so years ago. One thing I definitely noticed about the Museum district and the Hermann Park area in general is how little has changed during that time. The population of Harris County has doubled from between 1990 and 2024, and yet little or nothing seems to have been done to accommodate more visitors.
Now, in certain circles of the City, there might be smug comebacks along the lines of, “Well Neal, you should have taken the METRO light rail line there!” The problem with that is that I didn’t want to have to park my vehicle some vast distance away from the Museum just to take a train ride to the Museum. And when you see all available parking in the area is maxed out to the nines, you just might figure that a silly train isn’t the answer.
But what is an answer to this issue? Well, my suggestion is that the Museum district and Hermann Park take a cue from the University of Houston, an entity which has kept up with the growth of the Houston area over the past generation, and start building multi-story parking garages. I vividly remember that while doing my undergraduate work at the UH that there were circa 30,000 students at the school. Now there are over 45,000 students, but parking has become way easier than it once was thanks to the foresight of the powers that are to build more parking.
Now, I did chat with a longtime friend of mine who commented that building more parking for the Museum District and Hermann Park might be a bit more difficult than simply signing some contracts. There was recalling that when Annise Parker was Mayor that the Houston Zoo had to fight like hell to get 250 spaces of parking made available for the employees so that the zoo employees would not be trapped in a daily parking nightmare. There could be governance issues that need to be untangled before more parking can be built. Building multi-story parking garages is expensive, but most people would likely not mind paying $10 or so in order to have the convenience of more parking made available.
And so my suggestion to the incoming Whitmire administration and to Houston’s cultural powers-that-are is this: If you want more people to attend your venues, exhibits and events, then build more parking spaces to accommodate them.