Bill Baldwin in a historic warehouse in the Heights that will soon be renovated as a mixed-use commercial space.Courtesy photo
The official grand opening of Buffalo Bayou Park set to take place next month, following almost 30 years of planning. Photo by Shelby Hodge
Metro Rail’s completed expansion through the East End and Southeast opens this month. Photo by Elizabeth Rhodes
The Memorial Park Tomorrow master plan is also well underway. Rendering courtesy of Nelson Byrd Woltz
The Sunday Streets program opens up some of Houston's best known thoroughfares to pedestrian traffic. Photo by Richard Carson
Bill Baldwin is constantly learning something new about the city he’s called home for 17 years now. This is surprising since many know him to be an expert on all things Houston.
A top residential realtor in the inner loop, he’s also deeply entrenched in local politics and is the broker/owner of Boulevard Realty, with a sales force of more than 60 agents working throughout Houston. For him, knowing the entire city inside and out is no small feat, but he’s up for the challenge.
“I’m absolutely invigorated by what’s going on in Houston right now,” Baldwin says, referring to the rapid resurgence of the urban lifestyle throughout the city. “The revitalizing wards and fringes of the loop, the connectivity of the hike and bike trails, and a transit system that’s adapting to be uniquely Houstonian—these are all happening on top of our existing economic vitality and the strong food and arts scene, which are the hallmarks of any great city.”
To try to keep up, he’s kicking off a campaign at Boulevard meant to help fellow Houstonians experience it all. “This summer we’re undertaking what may not seem totally intuitive for a bunch of realtors, yet to us it fits perfectly: we’re publicizing everything we think Houstonians should rediscover about Houston through our blog and social media.”
While there’s no shortage of best-of features and things-you-may-not-know lists dedicated to Houston already, Baldwin sees it as more of a duty than a marketing ploy.
“There is really no other profession positioned, or even obliged, to remain an authority on the selling points of every part of the city like us realtors. The product we deal in is the city itself, so we have a vested interest in protecting, preserving, and promoting what’s best for the long term and for the greatest number of Houstonians.”
What is it that he sees as so great about the city’s new direction?
“Primarily, I think we’re solidifying our identity as an urban area that takes green space seriously. I think we were all tired of the stereotype of this being some miserable concrete behemoth.” Indeed, with the official grand opening of Buffalo Bayou Park set to take place in the fall following almost 30 years of planning, the city is rediscovering its own birthplace in an inspiring way.
“I’ve noticed an exponential climb in the number of joggers, bikers, and kayakers on these trails over the past decade. On a really beautiful day, there may be just as many people around here as there are at Memorial Park, which is about to experience its own rebirth, of course.”
While it’s hard to imagine the city’s older, more renowned destination park getting any better, the Memorial Park Tomorrow master planning is also well underway. “I don’t think we realize how unique it is to have the central part of our city made up of two masterfully thought-out, enormous public park systems, but that’s what’s in store for us.”
Baldwin’s also used to handling questions about how all this comes to pass logistically. “I think most people assume this is municipal parks spending run rampant, but the Buffalo Bayou public/private partnership was ingenious, and the Memorial Park master plan is funded through the Uptown TIRZ. A lot of effort has gone into how to make these both ambitious and fiscally responsible.”
When talking about the TIRZ (or Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone), Baldwin is quick to pick up on a puzzled look so he can follow with an explanation of the fairly new tax policy with a reassuring air, and has taught his associates at Boulevard to do the same.
“I think it’s funny when people from outside of the city refer to Memorial Park as ‘the Central Park of Houston’ when in reality it’s almost twice the size of Central Park. Wouldn’t it be grand if one day people said that Central Park is ‘the Memorial Park of New York’?,” he says with a smile.
Between Bike Houston, Metro Rail’s completed expansion through the East End and Southeast this month, and the new Metro bus network debuting this fall, city dwellers are starting to see glimmers of homegrown public transit and active transportation infrastructure that was once the city’s most glaring lack.
“It’s no secret that our traffic congestion is a problem. Inner loop realtors know that we’ve already seen an influx of people move here from the suburbs precisely for that reason.”
For Baldwin and his associates, encouraging Houstonians to open their minds to other forms of getting around is also part of the job, they have championed the Sunday Streets program since its inception and providing reassurance that the beleaguered sidewalks in Houston will soon find relief as part of ReBuild Houston.
“We’re also explaining ReBuild Houston on a daily basis, we want people to celebrate this very smart measure that they approved at the ballot box," he says.
Enlightening Houstonians about these sorts of trends in a convivial, relevant way is exactly the point of Boulevard’s forthcoming “Rediscovering Houston” blog series, published 2-3 times a week through at least the end of August. It will follow everything from the parks and public transit Baldwin gushes about to the significance of newly designated arts districts, the ever-changing food scene, the real estate market, of course, and even local elections.
“We decided it’s time to share our knowledge and resources with a broader audience outside of our friends and clients, since that’s why we’re here. Cities are living, breathing things and we want the widest number of people aware of how to take part in our amazing city and all it has to offer.”