Though geographically adjacent, the Fifth Ward and East End communities, one historically African-American, the other Latino, developed independently of one another. The Fifth Ward / Buffalo Bayou / East End Livable Centers study grew out of connections that developed in 2013 at the American Leadership Forum (ALF) in Houston. 2013 represented the first Community Development class of the ALF and was comprised of leaders from Fifth Ward and East End. This interaction developed into a commitment to work together. As a class project, the fellows pursued a grant to conduct a livable centers study by the Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC). The training and experiences that were shared through the ALF strengthened the commitments to the belief that Fifth Ward and East End can do better by working together.
The purpose of the Fifth Ward / Buffalo Bayou / East End Livable Centers was to facilitate the creation of sustainable, viable, mixed-use, and mixed-income environments. The primary stakeholders are the Fifth Ward Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (18) and Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation, Greater East End Management District, and the Buffalo Bayou Partnership. Community members who were engaged throughout the planning process stressed the need to preserve the character, history, and natural amenities for existing residents. Located east of downtown Houston, the study area was bounded by Lyons Avenue, Capitol Street, Lockwood Avenue,; and Waco, Bringhurst, Hirsh and York Streets. Buffalo Bayou flows through the center of the study area and is edged by declining industrial uses. This Livable Centers study presents a unique opportunity to connect two historically divided communities.
The study engaged area residents and workers, government agencies, businesses, and institutions in developing recommendations, which were organized within six action-oriented themes: House, Eat, Create, Play, Connect, and Build.
Housing in the study area is likely to increase in demand and value due to its proximity to downtown and access to amenities, such as the METRORail East Line, Harrisburg- Sunset Hike & Bike Trail, and Buffalo Bayou Hike & Bike Trail. The HOUSE recommendations seek to create a housing strategy that ensures that as residential redevelopment occurs, these neighborhoods include a variety of housing types; that housing remains affordable; and the overall character of the neighborhood is preserved.
Access to food is a major health concern, an opportunity for economic development and the most desired amenity in the study area. Many community members have taken matters into their own hands, and are growing food, which should be encouraged as an asset and, until the community’s spending power can support a full-service grocery store, a necessity. The EAT recommendations seek to increase access to healthy foods by exploring immediate and long-term grocery store models, supporting food production within the study area, and ensuring affordable access to fresh, local produce.
The Fifth and Second Wards neighborhoods have industrious histories and emerging creative energies that can be supported to enhance these assets and mobilize individuals. The CREATE recommendations seek to support existing creative energy by providing tools that encourage entrepreneurship, and the development of skills that may establish strong industries and job creation, including makerspaces and business incubators.
The open spaces in the study area are significant to neighborhood identity and culture, providing common grounds for the community. Some of the spaces are in better shape than others, and community members have spoken out about what types of amenities they’d like to see added. The PLAY recommendations seek to provide amenities within neighborhoods and along Buffalo Bayou, including parks and trails that increase physical activity, social interaction, improve access to destinations, and provide a cultural and community destination in itself.
There have been significant transportation investments in the study area, particularly in trails and light rail. However, gaps in infrastructure and the availability of destinations make it difficult to get around. The CONNECT recommendations seek to improve accessibility by eliminating major pedestrian and bicycle barriers, and creating a street network connecting north and south of Buffalo Bayou.
The big opportunity for “building” is redeveloping the large Buffalo Bayou-fronting industrial properties. There is great potential to conserve public access and enjoyment of Houston’s most iconic natural asset. The BUILD recommendation seeks to transform the character of this segment of Buffalo Bayou to create a unifying amenity for the Fifth Ward and East End that includes a mix of uses: residential, commercial, parks and open space, and civic uses.
Each stakeholder has a role in the implementation on the Plan, which was identified by the study team. Other stakeholders and partners will be necessary, as well, including City of Houston,Houston Parks Board, Texas Department of Transportation, Houston-Galveston Area Council, and Harris County.
Moving forward, the stakeholders will form an Implementation Task Force populated with representatives of the major implementation partners and community representatives in order to work together towards short, medium and long term goals.
The Fifth Ward / Buffalo Bayou / East End Livable Center Plan represents a unique collaboration between neighborhoods who have not traditionally seen themselves as natural allies. The project used a strong public engagement approach that utilized a strong consensus building approach to build connections between residents across languages and cultures. The plan framework creates interdependent improvement opportunities meant to develop leverage public, private and non-profit investments towards a desired community vision and allows the community a voice in how the major redevelopment of industrial land will provide the community quality of life benefits.
Location: Houston, TX
Scale: 1.8 Square Miles
Client: Houston-Galveston Area Council
Sub-Consultants: McCann Adams Studio, Marsh Darcy Partners, Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, and The Working Partner.