Activities & Organizations City News

Proposals and projects by Architecture students show promise

For the last two years, UH’s Community Design Resource Center has worked alongside the City of Houston’s Department of Health as a part of a growing movement that aims to improve the city’s living standards. The issues at hand are being tackled by UH architects so communities will be better equipped to combat chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease and stroke. Easing access to nutritious fresh foods is another key goal.

In the past, Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture students and the CDRC have helped address problems in other Houston communities with the first project design initiative, Corridors, aimed at the once-thriving communities of Greater Heights, Greater Third Ward, Harrisburg and Independence Heights. Corridors aimed to utilize these areas’ opportunities and surrounding environments to enrich the community, rather than simply be used as throughways for traffic.

Islands, the second design initiative aimed at changing and connecting “islands” (lands that have only singular uses and users) in an effort to combat the piece-by-piece development that occurs due to lack of planning and short-sightedness, causing fragmented communities and driving as the only reasonable option. The communities that were assisted in helping to combat inefficient building and sprawl were Alief, Golfcrest-Bellfort-Reveille and Greenspoint. The sum of solutions proposed were additional bikeways for Alief (including a Bike Share Station), pedestrian bridges across Sims Bayou for the Golfcrest/Bellfort/Reveille area and new parks for Greenspoint.

As of last year, the third design initiative began with a focus on maximizing efficiency of the current urban design, as well as community residents’ health.

“We looked at things like connectivity — sidewalks and how people get to the bus stop or grocery store,” said Community Design Resource Director Center Susan Rogers. “Other things we looked at included possible linkages within neighborhoods, opportunities to develop walkways along utility easements and other areas of land. Our team also identified opportunities for sharing public facilities.”

The communities that are a target of this initiative include Denver Harbor, Fifth Ward, Magnolia Park and Sunnyside.

De Zavala Park was is the site of one the initiative’s projects in Zona de Juego (Play Zone), a 600-foot sidewalk graphic that is the heart of Magnolia Park, a predominately Hispanic neighborhood. Magnolia Park is a low income neighborhood with a median household income of almost $28,000. It is also a hotbed for elevated health risks such as heart disease, and houses nearly double the city-wide occurrence of diabetes.

Zona de Juego is the result of the collaboration between the Community Design Resource Center and the City of Houston in an effort to combat the high health risks that this community faces. Zona De Juego provides an area that encourages active play and learning about local history.

An excerpt from the project summary from Zona de Juego reads, “… while it was understood that painted sidewalks would not be the panacea for neighborhood revitalization, the introduction of such extensive zones of color nevertheless had a transformative effect on the community.”

Additionally, project “Miles” in Denver Harbor Park is another venture which has painted mile markers along a walking trail to promote active living among residents.

This year’s project, as well as “Corridors” and “Islands” have all been funded by a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts as well as partnering with the Houston Department of Health and Human Services’ Community Transformation Initiative. The latter is a nationwide movement from the Center of Disease Control that invests in healthier communities. The CDC gave Texas a state-wide grant of $10 million in 2012 towards reducing chronic disease and improving livability standards.

The Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture’s Atrium an exhibit will showcase “Hearts”, which showcases findings of the design projects in identifying health determinants that can be impacted by urban design. The exhibit opened on July 17 and will be on display through August.

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