By Christina Autry

The first thing that many visitors to Houston notice is the absolute necessity of having a car. As our city continues to rapidly expand, our reliance on cars has played a huge part in shaping our living spaces. Fortunately, it is possible to convert the “concrete jungle” into greener, more pleasant areas that allow Houstonians to enjoy a less car-centric environment.

The Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) and TxDOT recognize the need to rethink our development strategy. These organizations collaborate and provide funding for local governmental groups, such as the International District, to design Livable Center studies. H-GAC defines Livable Centers as “places where people can live, work, and play with less reliance on their cars.”

With the ultimate goal of Livable Centers being “to encourage a complementary mix of land uses that are designed to be walkable, connected, and accessible by multiple modes of transportation,” H-GAC accepts applications from organizations around the city who are reimagining their neighborhoods. “EADO (East Downtown) was the first Livable Center in the Houston area,” says Natali Hurtado, Deputy Executive Director of the International Management District (IMD). “IMD is striving to revitalize our area, and make it more attractive to businesses and residents,” says Hurtado.

The International District has partnered with H-GAC with plans to increase the desirability of the area. Natali Hurtado and Tony Allender, Urban Planning & Economic Development Specialist at Hawes Hill continue to work closely with Anita Hollman, H-GAC representative, among many community stakeholders, to plan Livable Centers projects according to the needs and character of the International District. These projects are intended to “transform

[the district] into a destination that embraces its international characteristics.” The distinct identity of the International District will be heightened through the Livable Center projects, supported by a contribution of $200,000 from HGAC and $51,500 from the International District.

On August 23rd, at Youngblood Intermediate School (8410 Dairy View Lane) from 6:00-9:00 PM, the International District will publicly showcase one of these project ideas: popup greenspaces. This family-oriented event will demonstrate how portions of current parking lots can be repurposed to contain cost-effective turf, greenery, and seating. The school parking lot will host a model greenspace, food truck, seating, and live music. This concept is something that can be easily replicated by business owners around the district. District residents and business owners are highly encouraged to attend the event and engage in discussion and feedback regarding the initiative. A kid-friendly movie will be shown at the SPARK community garden across the street from the school.

Transforming underutilized parking areas into aesthetically pleasing, usable areas for pedestrians will have a positive effect on the businesses surrounding the parking lots. “These large parking lots don’t always have to be used just for parking,” says Hurtado. “And if they do need the parking spaces, the turf and materials can be easily removed, and replaced later.” Increased foot traffic due to the attractiveness of the greenspace will benefit businesses participating in the beautification of their properties.

Other exciting Livable Center projects in the discussion and design phase include a redesign of the International District’s intersections at Beltway 8. These district entrances, such as those at Bellaire, Beechnut, and Bissonnet, could potentially be enhanced with murals and decorative signage, proudly announcing the boundaries of the district and welcoming visitors.

An outdoor food hall, created in collaboration with Alief ISD could be in the works as well, making use of shipping containers painted with murals, seating, and ways for Alief culinary students to get involved. This idea will be further developed once the initial study is complete on August 30th.

Livable Centers provides an opportunity for the International District to beautify, while fostering stronger connections between neighbors and business owners, and enhancing the pride we have in our community. Because the input of our residents and stakeholders is crucial to this transformation, we hope to see you on August 23rd!

IMD & HCAG Livable Centers Study Community Meeting, August 2019