Street Scene

Ann Lents Accepts 2011 Scenic Visionary Award From Scenic Houston

Below are Ann Lents’ remarks to the attendees of Scenic Houston’s Annual Benefit Dinner held in September of 2011:

Ann Lents
President of Scenic Houston, Claudia Williamson (L) presents Scenic Visionary Award to Ann Lents at Scenic Houston's Annual Benefit dinner held at the Houston Country Club, September 27, 2011.

“You know, I’ve been lucky all my life.

Lucky to be born in Houston, where Dave and I have found so many  really stalwart friends.  Hard to imagine, but some of my Brownie troop and kindergarten class are here.  Thank you guys.  Thank all of you.  And thank you especially, Louis and Barbara—I know how hard you’ve worked to get this crowd here.

Beyond lucky to find David, who is no slouch on the scenic front himself.  I’m still in awe of his getting 80% of our neighbors to agree to toughen up our deed restrictions.

I’ve never been luckier than I am tonight, though.  Because the truth is, I’ve never done one thing by myself or one thing without a team of leaders who I could listen to and learn from.  So I’m darned lucky to be standing here.

I was lucky early on to meet Kay Crooker and Terry Hershey– gracious and for’midable women who showed me that decisions are made by those who show up.   And, that you have to show up over and over and over again.

I’ve been lucky to work with Ed Wulfe, and Charles McMahen, and Dick Weekley, who know more about getting things done than anyone  and who have really led the Quality of Life Coalition, along with the rest of the steering committee members, who’ve stuck with these issues for 10 years.

And, we all know that the real decisions are made by elected officials, so all of us are lucky to have had people like Bill White and Annise Parker in office—they’ve led great changes for our city.

You know, Houston has always done private space so well!  We have wonderful homes and architecturally distinguished buildings and wonderful private developments and master planned neighborhoods.  Historically, we haven’t done so well on public spaces.  Whether they are streets with shady sidewalks, or bike trails along bayous, or parks, or plazas,  it’s all public space.   Trees, signage, graffiti, parks, bayou trails, public art…these are all about the same thing…Quality public space.   Sometimes we chop these things up so much that we forget how many of us there are who care about this issue.   When we get together, we can do a lot.

So, to me,  it’s  all about public space.

You know, some people think having streets and parks and bayous that are green and attractive is a small thing.

They’re wrong.  These places are  where we come together as Houstonians and feel like part of a community.  It’s where we create a community to live in, not just a place to make money and leave.  It’s where we take pride in our city and in who we are together.  It’s where it doesn’t matter what part of town you come from or what your background is. Places like Discovery Green and Hermann Park and the trails on Buffalo Bayou are showing us how much great public space can add to our lives.

Great cities aren’t great because of their individual buildings.  Great cities are great because of their streets and parks, their public spaces.   It’s public space that defines who we are as a city, and it either makes people want to be part of this town … or not.

Young people get it.   They want to belong, and they want cities where there’s something good to belong to.

Educated young people are incredibly mobile.  That’s why the quality of our public space matters so much to our economic future.   Educational attainment drives 58% of a city’s per capita income.  Attracting and retaining talent has to be one of our top priorities.

It’s not just economics, though.  Public space you can be proud of matters  for more important reasons.   A few years ago Theola Petteway and I were in Chicago, in a pretty grim neighborhood.  The City though had planted trees all down both sides of the streets.  Theola and I talked, and we realized that those trees said something important:  we care about this neighborhood, we care about these people.   These people are worth it.  It’s the way these spaces impact people’s lives that really matters.

Most of us in this room probably already live on good looking streets.  But in the next few years we’re going to have an opportunity to bring that to a lot of the city.

ReBuild Houston (you remember that drainage fee we voted for) is going to remake a lot of drainage and a lot of streets over the next 20 years.  If we focus now and plan now, we can make sure that what we build is something to be proud of, that it’s functional, that it’s cost effective, that  it’s green and attractive.

We can have detention areas that keep homes from flooding when it rains and act as parks when it doesn’t.

We can have attractive, shady streets that suit the neighborhoods they’re in and work as well for people walking as for cars.

I know Scenic Houston is going all in to help that happen.

I’m really lucky to be here when, under Mayor Parker’s leadership, we can have so much impact on Houstonians’ lives for years to come.

Thank all of you for being here to support Scenic Houston  and thank you Scenic Houston so much. “