Sunday, August 17, 2008

Why Corpus Christi?

Austin is Texas' most progressive city. It is our state capitol and hotbed for greenbuilding. Austin is a liberal town straddling I-35, the veritable division between conservative, populist West Texans and conservative, Deep South-traditional East Texans. Many of the larger native plant growers are located in Austin. University of Texas recently acquired the Wildflower Center (aka Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, National Wildflower Research Center, etc.) The university has committed to continuing Lady Bird's mission to beautify the world using local native plants, but they have also enlarged their scope to promote sustainability in general. They have also added a sustainability institute, if you will, to add a sort-of green element to various degree programs, including landscape architecture. (Way to go!)

So, as we also broaden our scope to promote sustainability throughout Texas, why would we not choose Austin as our next market? In a way, we are already there. In 2005 we designed and installed a 1-acre project located in Lockhart, about 35 miles southeast of Austin. Schroeder Park represents various grasses and perennials native to the southern tip of the Blackland Prairie. We also incorporated native species into an existing landscape for Benchmark Insurance in San Marcos, just 28 miles south of Austin. For now, however, we will focus on online designs for prospective clients in the Austin area.

Corpus Christi might seem an out-of-left-field choice. I mean, certainly there are larger markets where our message might be more readily received. Houston, San Antonio, and especially chronically drought-stricken El Paso would seem more lucrative. To be sure, Corpus Christi is a smaller city. And historically speaking, Corpus has not been considered progressive or earth-friendly, exactly. But there are so many changes going on (all over the state, really), after much observation and analysis, it just makes sense to take the Native Dave message to the Coastal Bend.

Developments inspired by the new urbanism of Seaside, Florida, (where we lived and worked 2002-03) are springing up all along the coast. Cinnamon Shore and Newport Beach, just outside of Corpus Christi and near Port Aransas, strive to invite indoors the natural beauty outdoors. One of the architects of these communities, Mark Schnell (, consulted with us to propose a native plant palette. Although many non-native species eventually were chosen in lieu of the natives, we are encouraged that sustainable development is finally popping up on the Texas Coast. As in other parts of our state, lack of access to native plants and landscape professionals with knowledge of native plants, continue to keep sustainable development out of the mainstream. A good number of the homes in these Seaside-esque communities are being purchased by people in Austin, where native plants and sustainability are mainstream.

Padre Island National Seashore is located in Corpus Christi (and nowhere near the spring break haven of South Padre Island, by the way.) If you have the desire, and a four-wheel drive vehicle, you can drive up to 60 miles along this mostly wild and undeveloped barrier island. Sea Oats (Uniola paniculata), Woolly Stemodia (Stemodia tomentosa), and Native Purslane (Portulaca spp.) are just a few of the indigenous plant species found on The Island. There are also coyotes, deer and scores of bird species, too. Incidentally, this area of Texas ranks #1 in the US in terms of diversity of bird species -- some residents, some migrants. Ask any bird aficianado about Rockport or Bird Island Basin.

South Texas Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, formerly the Corpus Christi Botanical Gardens, has committed itself to "conserving, preserving, displaying, and interpreting native and adapted flora and fauna of South Texas for area residents and visitors alike." The Gardens have joined forces with Texas State Aquarium to promote conservation and environmental education. Michael Womack, executive director of the botanical gardens, summed it up best: "What we do on the land affects the sea."

Indeed, what we do in our landscapes affects all of our waterways, from White Rock Creek in Plano to the Trinity River Basin to the Gulf of Mexico, and beyond. Many green-minded folks are purchasing vacation homes near Corpus Christi. Tourism depends on conservation and preservation of Nature, including sources of food and shelter for native and migratory birds. Native plants and sustainable initiatives are beginning to emerge, not just in the centers for education, but among mainstream folks, like you and me. Only a couple of landscape professionals in Corpus Christi have knowledge of and experience with native plants, and locating the plants is still inconvenient. The time is right to conserve, preserve, restore and celebrate the Coastal Bend of Texas.

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