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Small-Town Feel in Big-City Houston: the Heights

With its historic homes and small community feel, the Heights in Houston, TX (northwest of downtown) is attracting young professionals eyeing the convenience of close-in living with a walkable area of unique shops, restaurants, parks, and bike trails. The historic, revitalized 1920s bungalows stand beside $1 million new construction for a blend of old and new.

So what can you expect if you move to the Heights? This neighborhood spotlight shares what's so special about the Heights, its changes through the years, and what continues to draw in new families.

Understanding Houston Heights culture

Houston Heights Neighborhood

Photo Credit: Vicki Powers

As Houston Heights resident Lauren Trees so perfectly describes, "The Heights is a weird combination of a hip artsy urban neighborhood, a sleepy small town, and a traditional suburb – all 10 minutes from downtown Houston. I guess that's what you get in a rapidly transforming historic neighborhood inside a sprawling city with no zoning."

Trees and her husband were drawn to the historic nature of the Heights, as well as the walkability and bike-ability of the area, six years ago.

"I'm from Boston and my husband is English, so those elements felt like home to us," Trees relates. "While the Heights has lots of things going on, it still retains green space, front porches, and other elements of a traditional family neighborhood."

The Heights is actually considered Texas' first planned community, dating back to the 1890s. Heights Boulevard and its 60-ft esplanade, which remains today, was inspired by Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. Its Houston Heights Women's Club got its start in 1900. It's also known for being a "dry" area, prohibiting the sale of alcohol since Houston annexed it in 1918. But that was overturned this year – almost 100 years later!

Loving the area's small-town feel

Houston Heights Neighborhood

Photo Credit: VIcki Powers

Sarah Gabbart, who grew up in Houston, absolutely loves the small-town feel of the Houston Heights area, with its local mom-and-pop hardware store, garden shop, cafes, and coffee shops within walking distance. She and her husband moved to the Heights in 2006, back when the area had more affordable starter options for young couples. They chose the Heights because it was close to work and downtown without being in downtown or Midtown. Montrose, where they had been living, didn't offer homes in their price range that weren't complete teardowns.

"I love strolling 19th Street, going to concerts at The Heights Theater, and shopping at the unique local shops that flock to this area," Gabbart relates. "And I love the people here – both the old-time Heights crews (artists and hippies) and the newer generation of families moving here."

Heather Ferguson was attracted to the Heights for its "small-town inside a big city" feel. In May 2016, Ferguson moved to the Heights with her husband and son, who was a high-school senior at the time.  They had lived in suburbia for 21 years, and looked around Houston for about a year before finding their brand-new home in the Heights.

"This was the perfect time for our family to move to the Heights because it enables us to get established in the area before we are empty nesters," Ferguson relates. "My son also likes that his new house will feel like home when he visits during college."

Since her husband works downtown, Ferguson says his short commute is by far the best thing about living in the Heights. They are foodies and love to take advantage of the amazing restaurants all around them.

The Heights also is known for its large community events such as the monthly First Saturday Arts Market, August's White Linen Night in the Heights, and Lights in the Heights each December. The area also boasts some of Houston's iconic street murals on the sides of local shops, including Greetings from Houston (Gelazzi: 3601 White Oak), You Are My Sunshine (Threads: 1948 Rutland) and Love Wall (Harolds: 350 W. 19th)

Houston Heights Neighborhood

Photo Credit: VIcki Powers

Embracing change

The housing market has changed considerably in the Heights through the years, along with the retailers. Rental homes now push towards $2/sq. ft. while 900-sq. ft. bungalows from the 1920s average $400,000–$500,000, depending on location.

Trees says it's amazing how much the Heights has changed in the six years they've lived there. There were maybe three restaurants within walking distance early on, but now she says there are literally dozens. Plus, the 19th Street commercial zone is changing rapidly.

"We've lost some fun quirky shops on 19th, but we've also gained some great places like The Lift, Big Blue Whale, and We Olive," Trees says. "The reopening of The Heights Theater as a premier live-music space, along with a slew of great new restaurants, has brought the area to life after dark."

Gabbart has seen the Houston Heights real estate market change considerably in the 12+ years since they moved there. She says they've been very lucky to find two homes in this area in their price range, at two different stages of their lives – starting out and more established. With this change comes criticism about the Heights not being what it used to be.

"Criticism that there are too many ‘suburban' homes, too many yuppies," Gabbart says. "But I think the Heights is what it's always been: a place where all types of people live. It's a vibrant part of the city."

Gabbart feels like part of the in-between crew, moving to the area before it was completely built-out but after it lost its reputation as a "rough" neighborhood. She and her husband love old historic homes and were instantly in love with the Heights.

Trees admits that not all the changes in the area are positive. The area has lost many historic homes, buildings, and mature trees.

"But, on the whole, it's an exciting time to be in the Heights," Trees relates.


About the author

Vicki Powers

Vicki Powers, formerly of Houston on the Cheap, is a native Texan and freelance journalist. She loves helping Houstonians learn how to live in a big city without spending big bucks.

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