The World in the City: In Our Shoes

May 16-18, 2014

What does it mean to put yourself in someone else’s shoes? "The World in the City: In Our Shoes,” a short film with ten stories from Houston's periphery, tried to tentatively answer this question. The film was recently screened at the "Banlieue is Beautiful" event and exhibit at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, France. The film captures and celebrates the richness and beauty of the everyday places of the city, and the people on the ground who are actively engaged in transforming these places.

Thai Xuan Village:  “Any sidewalk between any two buildings leads into a valley of microfarms crammed with herbs and vegetables that would confound most American botanists.  Entire front yards are given over to choy greens.  Mature papaya trees dangle green fruit overhead, and vines sagging with wrinkled or spiky melons climb trellises up second-story balconies.  Perfumed night jasmine stretches for light alongside trees heavy with satsumas, limes and calamondins.  Where the soil ends, Vietnamese mints and peppers sprout out of anything that will contain roots...“

-Josh Harkinson, Houston Press

Plant It Forward Farm: In far southwest Houston, planted neatly in a utility easement, tucked under high voltage power lines, and sandwiched between gated apartment complexes, a bayou and busy streets, is a farm. The three-acre farm is cultivated by refugees re-settling in Houston from Ghana and the Congo.  Plant It Forward, the non-profit who started the farm, explains the issue clearly: first there is a huge market for local produce, second Houston has vacant land everywhere, and finally there are refugees, mainly with only farming experience, who need work. The organization projects that an acre of land can earn from $20,000 to $60,000 annually. 

Swaminarayan Mandir: Tucked between apartment complexes off of Brand Lane in the suburban city of Stafford is BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. The first traditional Hindu Mandir of its kind in North America, the temple is constructed from over 33,000 pieces of stone hand-carved from Italian marble and Turkish limestone by craftsmen in India and shipped to Texas. Upon arriving at this sacred space the intricate carvings of deities, dancers, musicians, elephants, horses, flowers and geometric designs fill your vision, you have magically left the flat prairie of Texas and arrived somewhere else, the only clue of your whereabouts is the occasional glimpse of western apartments and power lines through the domes.

St. Cloud.jpg

St. Cloud: The St. Cloud apartments are in the center of one of Houston’s densest, poorest, and most diverse neighborhoods—Gulfton. But Gulfton is not in the inner city, it is on the periphery—and St. Cloud is not the projects, it is a simple 1970s garden apartment complex—one of nearly 50 similar complexes in a three-square mile area that combined total 15,000 units. St. Cloud is home to mostly ethnic Nepalese refugees from Bhutan. Men gather in the courtyard to play the traditional board game carrom, children play freely, mothers chat on chairs moved outside to supervise, and pickling jars and container gardens dot adjacent balconies and carports. It is an oasis.