September Scenic Citizen: the Houston Department of Transformation

The Houston Department of Transformation, a volunteer group of Near Northside residents, are taking action to improve the aesthetic and safety of their neighborhood. Residents are addressing vehicular speeding, improving pedestrian access, and enhancing the community with beautification projects. For our September Scenic Citizen, we are proud to recognize this body of dedicated volunteers committed to improving their community.

In 2017, AVENUE – a nonprofit that invests in people and places that promote vibrant, inclusive neighborhoods and strengthen the city of Houston – granted registration and travel to eight Near Northside residents to attend a NeighborWorks conference in Los Angeles. At the conference, the group devised a strategy to tackle street and pedestrian issues prevalent at three high-traffic intersections and were awarded a $2,000 grant to bring their plan to life. The group used the grant funds to form the Houston Department of Transformation.

Back home, the presence of an organized civic group sparked tremendous community engagement. With participation from residents, the Department installed crosswalks and traffic alerts to indicate nearby schools. Bike Houston partnered with the group to install a pop-up bike lane that led Commissioner Rodney Ellis to invest in the growth of bikeway facilities in the area. Even more,  Salvation Army volunteers assisted with litter clean-up and mowing overgrown lots. “The Department became so much more than we ever imagined from the support we received,” Shirley Ronquillo, a Department team member says. “I think that is where we began to see the power of our group.”

The Department’s initiatives have even expanded to embrace young community residents. The installation of Little Free Libraries in Spark Parks around Near Northside promotes literacy and invites local writers to showcase their work. A grant from East Aldine Management District funded the creation of a series of videos featuring young community members to identify community issues and offer solutions. Videos were presented to elected officials to shine a light on community needs. The Department hopes that exposing the youth to leadership qualities early on will keep the Near Northside’s future in good hands.

In its brief existence, the Department has gained name recognition among community members. As Scenic Houston advances its mission to enhance the visual character of the city’s public spaces across Houston, the Houston Department of Transformation is demonstrating those principles in its own backyard. “The Near Northside is our home. It is our neighborhood. We need to take care of it,” Shirley says.