Scenic Citizen: Barry Ward, Trees for Houston

“To make Houston a more livable, walkable city, a place where people want to move to or to visit, it’s just going to have to be greener and more beautiful and healthier. You can’t achieve that without trees,” Barry Ward, Executive Director of Trees for Houston, says. He is a tree expert, with a background in cultural resource preservation, who joined the non-profit organization as its executive director in 2008 to expand the green footprint across Houston. Working with many partners, Trees for Houston operates tree farms that enable the organization to install 30,000 trees annually across greater Houston. “Simply put, we’re really trying to provide a tree or trees to anyone who needs them at free or at low cost,” Barry says, “Our goal is that anyone that walks in off the street, we would love to be able to give that person a tree.”

Partnering with a wide array of nonprofit organizations, Trees for Houston works to relieve the financial burden of tree investment. “If there is a library or a school, or a soup kitchen or children’s home and they have to put in trees when they build their facilities, we don’t want them to bear that cost,” Ward says, “We want to take that cost because that’s our only mission.” This kind of cost savings can allow organizations to direct more of its resources directly to programming. “It doesn’t really matter to us what the scale is,” Ward says, “If it involves a tree and it’s for public benefit than we want to be involved.”

Beyond their beauty, trees also have health benefits. The leaves and bark act as natural filters, absorbing harmful pollutants and gases, producing cleaner air. Trees can also lower the temperature on a neighborhood street two to three degrees cooler than in a treeless neighborhood. Ward encourages developers to incorporate trees into all project designs. “Trees really need to be designed in because trees are large, and will negatively impact the built infrastructure if you don’t design them in. You don’t want to just throw them in after the fact.” Ward believes that people migrate to well-designed cities with thoughtful aspects, places where people can take a walk, ride a bike or recreate. “Perhaps the easiest way to achieve that is more green space,” he says.

Ward has seen greater interest from the public for more green projects, and Trees for Houston has been a central figure in many. The organization has donated thousands of trees for the transformative Bayou Greenways 2020 project, which has the ambitious vision to turn Houston into a green oasis by linking our waterways and linear parks with 150 miles of connected hike-and-bike trail to ensure that no Houstonian is ever more than five to 10-minutes from a trail or park system. In 2017, Trees for Houston contributed 410 trees to Scenic Houston’s Broadway/Hobby Corridor Redevelopment Project. Now complete, a fresh, attractive Broadway will provide a new  “Welcome to Houston” for visitors and create an improved sense of place for residents. Looking ahead, Trees for Houston shows no signs of slowing down. In 2019, Trees for Houston aims to contribute trees to 30-40 private and public schools and create an on-site tree farm for the Houston Botanic Garden. “We’re constantly working,” Barry says.

Learn more about Trees for Houston and its initiatives at www.treesforhouston.org.

Know a Scenic Citizen? Let us know by e-mailing info@scenichouston.org

Scenic Citizen: Dimitri Fetokakis, Adopt-An-Esplanade program

Visit Niko Niko’s in Montrose, order a Souvlaki sandwich, and situate yourself in the back-dining room; you will be sitting in Dimitri Fetokakis’ childhood home. He is the proprietor of the crowd-pleasing Niko Niko’s Greek & American Café, having taken over the family business at 25. He was heavily influenced by his parent’s altruistic nature, which engrained in him a solid sense of entrepreneurial responsibility. “When I took over Niko Niko’s, my parents were doing it before,” Dimitri says, “They were involved in the community, helping out in the community, they instilled that upon me, making sure we take care of the people that take care of us, and that you have an avenue to do something good.”

Since its origins in the 1970s, Niko Niko’s has attracted droves of Greek food fanatics. Once Dimitri became manager, he was irked by the poorly maintained public esplanade that faced his restaurant. Its bleak appearance was uninspired and a poor reflection of the colorful character of both the Montrose neighborhood and the restaurant. “I wanted to make it nice,” says Dimitri, equating the esplanade to someone’s front yard that greets customers into his home. True to his word, he tasked himself to gather the essential paperwork needed to begin the adopt-an-esplanade process.

The City of Houston’s Adopt-An-Esplanade program is designed for interested parties to revitalize public street medians to enhance their visual appeal. Adopters take on the responsibility of creating aesthetically appealing spaces, including design, plantings, watering, mowing, waste removal and long-term upkeep. Through the Adopt-An-Esplanade program, the city fosters a clear focus on neighborhood beautification. While the design and myriad of responsibilities will vary from one esplanade to the next, appropriate steps are encouraged: choosing a manageable project, meeting with an adopt-an-esplanade coordinator, and securing a local landscape architect. Dimitri recommends that adopters install an irrigation system to support year-round watering.

“We fixed it all up,” Dimitri says, referring to the initial teamwork involved in the esplanade’s makeover. “We installed the irrigation system, the electricity, and then we gave it back to the city. They take care of the water, we take care of everything else.” Day-to-day, Dimitri and a maintenance team are engaged with the detailing and fine tuning of the esplanade. Seasonal flowers blossom and fade, trees are trimmed and pruned, the irrigation system keeps the landscape quenched, and when Christmas approaches, festive lights signify the holidays are near. The hefty list of to-dos and continued involvement to sustain a manageable and aesthetically pleasing landscape might appear burdensome, but Dimitri thinks otherwise. “It’s not a burden at all because it’s something nice. It depends on how you look at it. It is expensive, but it’s in front of your door, it’s like your front lawn, so for me it’s not a burden.”

Your front lawn, or esplanade in this case, can be emblematic of its adopter and the community. “You make your neighborhood fun and you add character,” Dimitri says, “It’s a big deal. There are famous neighborhoods all over the world and it is stuff like this that makes them different.”

Dimitri hopes he can inspire others with the meticulous attention he puts into his esplanade. Dimitri is optimistic that neighboring businesses on the Montrose strip will follow suit, joining forces to adopt and enhance their own sections of the esplanade. Well-maintained esplanades are full of potential to boost economic redevelopment, while offering a pleasant display of community effort and pride. “l think it’s special to have nice surroundings around your restaurant and your business,” Dimitri says, “I think it’s important. It’s going to take some money out of your pocket, but your neighborhood and your sidewalk are going to be pretty.”

Click here to learn more about the City of Houston’s Adopt-An-Esplanade Program, and to read the step-by-step beautification and planting guide.

Know a Scenic Citizen? Let us know by e-mailing info@scenichouston.org

Scenic Texas announces 2018 Scenic City Certifications

This month, 13 Texas cities earned certified Scenic City status for demonstrating strong municipal infrastructure standards, through a rigorous assessment process developed by Scenic Texas, Keep Texas Beautiful and 14 other Program Partner organizations.

The Scenic City Certification Program offers cities an objective review of existing municipal infrastructure standards as they relate to public roadways and public spaces. The evaluation compares these standards to the Scenic City model devised by the 16 Program Partners. Assessment is points based, and every city applicant receives a detailed, scored evaluation.Official certification can be earned by cities that score in the upper range of points and verify threshold standards for landscaping, tree planting and sign regulation. The ascending levels of Certification are Recognized, Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. Certification is valid for five years, after which cities may re-apply to retain or increase their status.

Each of our organizations supports vibrant communities, so partnering to form the Scenic City Certification Program made sense. And it’s notable that many Scenic Cities boast active KTB affiliate chapters. Cities with strong scenic standards by and large are resilient, distinctive cities known for a strong sense of civic pride.

Anne Culver, Scenic City President

This year, four cities earned first-time certification, while nine re-certified or upgraded an existing certification status:

Platinum

 Bee Cave

*McKinney

*Rockwall

​Gold

*Fort Worth

 Silver

*Corinth

*Little Elm

*Pharr

Prosper

West University Place

Bronze

*Duncanville

Manor

Recognized

 *Nacogdoches

*Seabrook

 A reception to present these 13 municipalities with their Scenic City Certification awards will be held on October 11th in Fort Worth, during the Texas Municipal League’s Annual Conference week.

“Keep Texas Beautiful and Scenic Texas are natural partners,” said Scenic Texas President Anne Culver. “Each of our organizations supports vibrant communities, so partnering to form the Scenic City Certification Program made sense. And it’s notable that many Scenic Cities boast active KTB affiliate chapters. Cities with strong scenic standards by and large are resilient, distinctive cities known for a strong sense of civic pride.”

The Scenic City Certification Program was inaugurated in 2010. To date, the total number of cities across Texas that have earned certification is 75. The next Scenic City Certification application process opens January 1, 2019. To review more information on the Program standards and application, visit www.sceniccitycertification.org.