Architects brainstorm plans to improve health, neighborhoods

Guests took a seat at one of four workshop tables with sprawled aerial maps to discuss new visions for Houston’s neighborhoods Saturday morning at the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture.A panel of professional architects from organizations and different cities joined ideas at the third biennial Collaborative Community Design Initiative to create methods to improve Houston’s neighborhoods. | Tuhin Dey/The Daily Cougar

The UH School of Architecture housed the third biennial Collaborative Community Design Initiative to analyze possible developments and solutions for the community. The CCDI, a program of the UH Community Design Resource Center, aims to bridge gaps and build partnerships between the University, local communities and professionals through urban planning and designing of sustainable, holistic neighborhoods.

CCDI project director and architecture professor Susan Rogers explained one of her goals in improving low and moderate income communities across Houston.

“We’re influencing decision making, and that’s what we were hoping to do,” Rogers said.

Every two years, the CCDI researches and strategizes new development projects for different neighborhoods. For their third installment of the program, “Hearts,” the CCDI plans to re-envision four neighborhoods: Greater Fifth Ward, Denver Harbor, Magnolia Park and Sunnyside.

The Collaborative Community Design Initiative started in 2009. Each year, the CCDI focuses on four different Houston neighborhoods and the needed improvements. | Tuhin Dey/The Daily CougarProject researching includes a full survey of the areas’ history, demographic, education and disease. The CCDI is not only offering a plan to clean up Houston’s historic neighborhoods but also aiming to change people’s health through architecture and urban design. Assistant researcher at the CDRC Claudia Ponce was a discussion leader and added to Rogers’ enthusiasm.

“We bring together the community and find a way to make a community healthier by design,” Ponce said.

Through funding from the Center for Disease Control and a new partnership with the Houston Department of Health and Human Services, CCDI has attracted a larger audience to create a tank of ideas.

A key concern was what makes a healthy community, which included ways to break from conventional restrictions of housing.

Ideas included grocers with fresh produce, green spaces, public activities, revamped local schools, infrastructure, recreational sites, libraries, arts and culture, bike and pedestrian lanes and clinics and several others. Carra Moroni from the HDHHS talked about the role of collaboration in effecting change in public health.

“It’s not just the role of the health department to solve public health issues,” Moroni said. “It’s a collaborative effort that includes other entities as well. A community that is livable is a community that is healthy.”

UH architecture alumna Melvalean Mclemore considered the meetings as more than only a strategizing process.

“It’s about promoting interest in the community,” Mclemore said. “It’s a round-table-like experience.”

CCDI also offers students, professionals and community members the opportunity to put their skills to work and to bring about visible changes. Health Chair for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Texas Carol Moore appreciated the sincerity of the people involved.

“They’re really wanting to make a difference; they really care,” Moore said. “There is only one word for this: excellent.”

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