In October 2007, protesters marched down an affluent stretch of Bissonnet Street, many carrying signs depicting a “monster tower” with gripping arms and bared teeth, towering over single-family homes in prosperous adjacent neighborhoods. The protest was sparked by a project known as the Ashby Skyscraper, a proposed 23-story tower on the corner of Bissonnet and Ashby – smack in the middle of two lovely neighborhoods near Rice University, Boulevard Oaks to the north and Southampton to the south. Protests and lawsuits over the project would drag on for years.
Months after that show of civic outrage, as millions of Americans lost their jobs, homes and savings due to a global financial crisis, a more parochial issue – land use policy in Houston , Texas – captured the attention of a small but earnest group of city officials, neighborhood activists and real estate industry leaders who met regularly in a conference room in the annex of the ‘city Hall. They were there to propose a policy that addressed the larger issues that Ashby’s skyscraper represented. I was the reporter at the back of the room, tie askew, doodling conscientiously in his notebook. I will never get those hours back.