District 68

District 68 is located in the heart of southwest Houston, Texas and is one of the busiest districts of the Houston Fire Department. It is home to fire stations 51, 82, 73, and 68; Fire Station 68 serves as headquarters for the district. District 68 was originally established in 1976 but was relocated to District 82 in 1998 due to a district re-alignment. In 2006, District 68 was reformed with its current configuration.

District 68’s territory covers the most densely populated area of the city of Houston. Southwest Houston has a population density of approximately 9000 people per square mile, the same that of Baltimore or Washington D.C. This is triple the city of Houston’s average of 3000 people per square mile. There is a full gambit of residential, commercial, and industrial development, along with one of the busiest, and most deadly, freeways running right through the middle of the district. There are both single-family residential neighborhoods, as well as numerous low-rise and mid-rise multi-family residential complexes. Commercial properties range from big-box style retail to some of Houston’s largest car dealerships. District 68 is home to multiple high-rise commercial and residential buildings (HFD Guidelines identify any building 7 stories or 75 feet in height as a high-rise structure), along with twice as many mid-rise commercial and residential properties. District 68 also has multiple light-industrial parks, as well as a heavy-industrial chemical plant.

District 68 is home to some of Houston’s most desirable inner-city residential neighborhoods as well. Subdivisions such as Sharpstown Proper, Braeburn Valley, Brae Acres, and Maplewood West, which were once the victims of  the oil-bust recession of the early 1980’s, have now seen a resurgence in diverse young couples looking to live closer in the city versus the long drive of the suburbs. Home prices have skyrocketed to a point that these neighborhoods have once again drawn a distinct line at where the “middle-class” starts. For all these desirable areas however, District 68 is also home to some of the most dangerous, most impoverished neighborhoods, in the city of Houston.

Maps of HFD Fire District 68’s Primary Run Area

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click image to enlarge

Somewhat unique to the south, and especially Houston, is the ability for cities to grow in all directions. This ability to grow outward, more commonly known as “sprawl”, fueled by the oil boom of the 1970’s, created a need for immediate housing for young single professionals. Most of these young professionals had just graduated from college and were looking to enter the booming oil field and emerging technology sector. Because there was a housing shortage at the time, developers saw the opportunity to make a quick return on their investment by building large-scale apartment complexes. These were built all over the city, but the most were built on Houston’s southwest side.

Neighborhoods like Clubcreek, Westwood, and Forum Park were created over night as large apartment complexes were built in fields where nothing once stood. These complexes were the place to see and be seen all throughout the mid to late 1970’s. Unfortunately this would all change with the oil bust in the early 1980’s. Almost as fast as these apartment complexes had been built, they were nearly abandoned. Apartment managers had no choice but to lower the rent in an effort to fill its occupancies.

Fast forward to present day, and the apartments that were once grandiose and home to the young “up and coming” professional, are now run-down, dilapidated, and home to either the poor, displaced, illegal, and even criminal. Because so many of these complexes are month-to-month rentals, there is little “pride in ownership” to be found like what is commonly found in residential subdivisions where deed restrictions and neighborhood associations keep affairs in check.

Unlike the other high-crime areas of Houston, the southwest side is unique in that it is also the most densely populated area of the city. This density comes from its apartment complexes. In other parts of the city, it is not uncommon for gang members to establish whole neighborhoods, subdivisions, or stretches of a street as their territory. On the southwest side however, gangs control apartment complexes instead of neighborhoods.

Maps of Apartment Complexes in Southwest Houston

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click image to enlarge