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Austin's booming residential downtown.
Photograph by Matt Hawthorne

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Five years ago I moved to the greater Houston Heights area, and since then, what has happened to my neighborhood, and all of the west side of the Inner Loop, has been fearsome to behold.

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Over much of that time, I worked downtown and rode my bike to and from the office. The trip was five or six miles each way, depending on the route, but no matter which way I went, the scenery changed month by month, season by season. And the change was always toward bigger, denser, costlier, and more. Before oil hit the skids last fall, there was more residential construction going up in the Houston metro region than in all but two U.S. states. “What used to be here?” I found myself wondering frequently, passing yet another fenced-off construction zone.

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I could pedal due east and traverse Lawrence Park, one of a couple of historically black enclaves carved out of the Houston Heights. Until recently it was a warren of narrow, ditch-hemmed streets lined with hundred-year-old bungalows, some of which appraised for less than $50,000. It was the kind of neighborhood with cookouts every Saturday and joyful gospel on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings, and it wasn’t uncommon to see beer-sipping old men slapping down dominoes on front-yard card tables.

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