When was the Last Time You Visited a Downtown Houston Park?

Categories: Environment

Photos by Yuri Peña
Allen's Landing
As you read this, it may be pouring rain outside. Alternatively, it may be so bright outside that you're not sure if you're in the greatest state in the union or on the best star in our solar system. This is Texas, so it really could be either. Hell, this is Texas, so it could be both.

But it will not always be raining, nor will it always be so hot you start making references to cliches about eggs and sidewalks. No, this is Texas, which means we get our fair share of beautiful days too.

And if you're looking to spend one of those days outdoors, why not flip the script a bit and head to one of Houston's downtown parks?

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Hermann Park Switches It up With Its Parking. Get Ready.

Categories: Environment

Photo courtesy of Hermann Park
Get ready for a new parking place

Starting today, Parking Lot C at Hermann Park -- the one outside the Houston Garden Center, the Houston Museum of Natural Science and Miller Outdoor Theatre -- is no more.

Instead, a new, bigger lot -- also called Parking Lot C -- will open in its place today. To get to it, drive along Hermann Drive and enter at either Jackson or Crawford streets.

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New Family Garden Set to Open at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Categories: Environment

Photo courtesy of Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin

Reading over the press materials for the about to be opened Luci and Ian Family Garden (a new venture for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin), I was struck by how much sounded like the kind of fantasy garden created by a children's book author,

"A maze made of native shrubs, giant tree stumps for kids to climb on, giant bird nests made from native grape vines, a grotto with caves and a waterfall, a lawn designed with native turf, a creek with dinosaur footprints and water activities," are just some of the promised windfalls.

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10 Adult Toys that Aren't Full of Banned Toxic Compounds (sNSFW)

Photo by The U.S. Army

Hey, so you know those adult toys you've got stashed away in your sock drawer? They might be full of toxic compounds that are banned for use in most items in the United States. Fo' real. It's time to start side-eying that vibrator.

You see, earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Customs confiscated 200,000 dolls that were shipped over from China, just in time for the holidays, because they contained high phthalate levels. Phthalates, or chemical plasticizers, had been used to soften the dolls' plastic outer materials, which would presumably make them more cuddly and all. But as helpful as those plastic-softening phthalates can be, they're equally as pesky on the toxic side. They aren't good for your health, especially when items that contain them are chewed on.

The FDA considers phthalates a "possible human carcinogen," and studies on lab animals have showed some nasty results, even in low doses. Exposure has even been linked to preterm birth in recent studies.

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The Bayou Planting Guide: Updated and Ready to Help Save Houston

Categories: Environment

A spirit guide in handy form
When I lived in Mississippi on the edge of undeveloped land, our family spent a lot of time and effort beating back the kudzu during the year. We were beating it because it couldn't be killed. At least we never figured out how.

Kudzu was one of those well-meaning efforts to improve upon nature. Years earlier, as the story goes (and I believe it because I had a friend there who said he did this as a kid) Boy Scouts had been sent out to fight off erosion with this handy dandy import, planting it along fields and streams and everywhere a little green was needed. Turns out, as most people now know, kudzu is incredibly invasive and chokes the life out of native plants. It was a great bad idea.

In Houston, through the ages, we've made a habit of trying to improve upon nature as well, as Terry Hershey, co-founder of the Bayou Preservation Association, notes in her forward to the second and latest edition of The Bayou Planting Guide for Houston. And the results have been calculated in increased flooding and lost opportunities. We thought bayous weren't that important. Now we've changed our minds about that. And now, we could use a little help in putting things back together.

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Rest In Peace: Nekst, Houston's Most Successful Graffiti Artist

Photos by Marco Torres

To be successful in this crazy world, a person needs to have talent and determination. Some individuals exhibit natural talent, but are limited by their lack of drive. Others are blessed with a sense of purpose and a strong work ethic, but lack the talent that is required to achieve those goals. To have both is a gift that is reserved for only the most special examples of humanity.

And now, one of those special ones has passed on.

His name was Nekst. He was the most successful Houston artist that most outside of the graffiti world have never heard of. His style was bold. "My work has always been about scale and visibility," he once stated in an interview. For each of his pieces, his choice of structure, colors, size and location was always meticulously planned, legible and in high traffic areas.

In the graffiti world, there is a status pyramid. At the bottom you have the Toys, beginners to graffiti who have not yet earned respect nor established their art or name beyond a fundamental/amateur level. At the top, you have the Kings, who have established themselves as the best of the best through years of hard work, determination, talent and aligning themselves with other great graffiti writers.

Nekst was an All-City King. Everywhere he went, he did it big and owned the city with his graffiti. He started here in Houston. His crew here is/was DTS (Def Threats). He went on to New York City, but also hit New Orleans, San Francisco, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami and many other great cities along the way. He became part of the MSK crew (Mad Society Kings), which includes some of the best and most notorious graffiti artists in the world. He began writing his name as Next in 1996, then evolved to Nekst.

Perhaps his best and most traditionally artistic work was done during a six-month detention in a Dallas-area prison, during which he drew dozens of touching and contemplative portraits of his fellow prison inmates with simple pencil and paper.

We offer our condolences to his family and crew. May he forever rest in peace.

"At this point I just tell people I'm from America. I've lived in and painted in every region in this country. I've been writing graffiti for 18 years and have always been significant to every city I've lived in. I try to make sure that what I make is as large as possible and always legible. I feel like you aren't succeeding if you arent making civilians want to start painting. " - Nekst

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Greenpeace Makes Foray into Fashion with Detox Fashion Campaign

When you think of Greenpeace, fashion may not be the first thing to come to mind. Climate change, Arctic drilling, and whaling are its most visible campaigns, but its Detox campaign is focused on exposing "links between textile manufacturing facilities causing toxic water pollution in China, and many of the world's top clothing brands."

Detox is relatively new, having launched in July 2011. Their campaign video, done in a quasi-anime style, opens with a classic movie trailer opening line voice-over:

"They lived in a world where image had become everything!"

The 90-second video goes on to illustrate how fashion manipulates us ("Purple is the new yellow! Fabulous!") into a constant stream of consumerism that ignores--or remains willfully ignorant of -- the environmental toll manufacturing these fashionable goods takes on the planet. The video's description reads, in part:

They say you can tell next season's hottest trend by looking at the colour of the rivers in Mexico and China. That's because global fashion brands like Calvin Klein, GAP and Victoria's Secret are using hazardous chemicals and dyes to make our clothes. These chemicals poison our rivers, and traces of these hazardous chemicals also end up remaining in many of the garments people buy.

So let's take a look at the Detox campaign, and what it means for us as consumers.

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Last Summer's Drought, Still Killing Trees: Help Out Sam Houston National Forest

Photo by Renee Guerdrum
Just imagine if someone had been sleeping in the hammock.
Okay, so this tree, with its lovely green canopy, looked like it had handily survived last summer's Texas drought. But just this week, it popped out of the ground in its Montrose backyard and took out a hammock as it crashed down to the patio.

Same thing holds for a lot of trees in the Sam Houston National Forest, Art Attack just found out. The reason huge portions of the national park remain closed to the hiking, bicycling, running public is because no one knows what other trees might topple over or when they might do it.

"We're still losing trees in the forest. It's a combination of stress factors. Especially your hardwoods. They'll get stressed one year and not able to recover. So it looks like they're going to survive but they actually are in that end-of-life phase because of this stress," said Dr. David Clipson, executive director of the Friends of the National Forest and Grassland in Texas, a nonprofit.

And, in fact, there's something you can do on Labor Day. A BMW promotion entitled "X1 Restore the Outdoors" offers you the chance to Facebook "like" a photo of the company's new X1 model parked in the Sam Houston forest, and for every like, BMW donates $1 to the Friends.

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