Downtown Houston is contained within the loop made by I-45, I-10, and U.S. 59 as they crisscross north and south of Buffalo Bayou. The Allen brothers' townsite of 1836 lies within this 1,173-acre precinct, as do its nineteenth-century extensions. Despite the dramatic skyline of shaped and shimmering office towers lined up along I-45, most of which were built during the 1974– 1982 energy and real estate boom that followed the Arab oil embargo, downtown has vast stretches of city blocks given over to surface parking. Although many of the blanks were filled in during the 1990s and in the twenty-first century's first decade, downtown still seems open-ended, even compared with the centers of San Antonio and Dallas. Massive public infrastructure investment in Houston from the 1990s and the conversion of historic commercial buildings to residential use meant that as the Main Street retail district faded rapidly after 1982 with the collapse of the 1970s–1980s boom, new uses have been found to attract Houstonians back to the center of their city. Yet the flat, open landscape of the Gulf Coastal Plain can still be experienced just as forcefully in downtown Houston as on the open road.
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