Walking around Rice University feels a world away (rather than the few miles it actually is) from Houston's downtown. It has a classic campus feel and it copes with Houston's climate in a more common sense way than the rest of the city;
- Grand brick buildings bounded by shaded arcades
- Footpaths lined with tall trees to block the sun
- Wide open spaces to allow air flow
- Common areas that seem more like art in themselves rather than utilitarian buildings.
Old European, African, South American, Middle Eastern and Far Eastern cities with hot climates have naturally evolved to combat the oppression of the sun in the very same ways listed above. Houston's downtown has lacked arcades and streets shaded by trees despite the large spaces afforded by wide sidewalks. This is changing, however. The improvements on Discovery Green and Buffalo Bayou over the past few years are creating pockets of shade around the city and hopefully more will sprout up over time. There is a wealth of information on the Downtown District website.
I once asked one of the historians at George Ranch - what historical technologies have we lost that would have been valuable in today's city? He replied that the houses built by the first settlers in Houston were built for airflow. Open spaces between buildings and segmented houses that create a wind tunnel effect helped cool the people who lived there way before the use of air-conditioning.
So when the heat hits, I'd go for a stroll around the Rice University campus. A cold beer probably helps, too.