August Scenic Citizen: Jonathan Day

For nearly four decades, Scenic Houston board member, Jonathan Day, has been the driving force behind many of Houston’s change-making, scenic initiatives. Jonathan’s 45-year long legal career, coupled with his leadership in the community, makes his recognition as August’s Scenic Citizen more than fitting.

During his tenure as Houston’s City Attorney, Jonathan developed the legislation that established Metropolitan Transit Authority (METRO), the only major urban transit system in the nation that bans

advertising on its vehicles and shelters. Jonathan was also influential in creating the Houston Parks Board and the Cultural Arts Council. He shaped the development of many of the city’s arts landmarks: Alley Theater, The Contemporary Arts Museum, Lawndale Arts Center, and Wortham Theater. Additionally, Jonathan chaired the capital campaign to rebuild Ripley House in the East End.

It is Jonathan’s scenic vision that has kept him at the forefront of issues that impact Houston’s visual character.  From the visual blight of billboards to graffiti to attention-getting devices, Jonathan has lent his expertise and leadership to address Houston’s public image nuances. With Jonathan at the helm, Scenic Houston has successfully advocated for the removal of nearly 900 billboards, championed the adoption of a City of Houston ordinance banning attention-getting devices, and successfully transformed the 2-mile long Broadway corridor connecting Hobby Airport to I-45.

Jonathan’s most recent scenic accomplish comes after a three-year-long advocacy effort. On July 29, 2020, Houston City Council adopted an ordinance establishing an Airport Corridor District, a designation for freeways between Houston’s airports and central business district as corridors where new business signage must adhere to specific height and size restrictions. Additionally, the sign code amendments more clearly define the differences between abandoned and neglected signs, which will significantly improve enforcement and, ultimately, the visual characters of these corridors.  Not only with the adoption improve Houston’s image, but will simultaneously enhance the character of the communities that border these travel ways.

It is thanks to Jonathan that Houston can once again celebrate a scenic victory.  Houston is indeed a more scenic city, thanks to Jonathan Day.

Scenic Houston plan for more appealing airport corridors wins approval

HOUSTON – Going to and from Houston airports will be a more visually appealing experience under changes to the Houston sign code proposed by Scenic Houston and approved by Houston City Council today. The plan designates the freeways between Houston’s airports and central business district as Airport Corridor Districts where new business signage – excluding billboards – must adhere to specific height and size restrictions.

“This goal was three years in the making and represents common ground between the development community, the commercial property owners who pay for the signs and other stakeholders,” said Scenic Houston Chair Marlene Gafrick. “We get just one opportunity to make a positive first impression. These changes will spur removal of clutter and blight, providing welcoming and more attractive entryways into the city from Hobby, IAH and Ellington Airports. They will also reduce driver distractions.”

In addition to creating the Airport Corridor Districts, the sign code amendments will allow sign owners to upgrade to LED lighting and also define the differences between truly abandoned and neglected signs and signage with market value that may not be in use today, but is being properly maintained for future use. Regulation of both abandoned signs and signage not in use will be significantly improved as a result of these amendments.

“We view this as part of a long-term effort to bring greater focus on the importance of maintaining the look of our freeways, which often lead to a negative impression of our great city,” said Scenic Houston Board Member Emeritus Jonathan Day, special counsel for Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP. “Scenic Houston led the effort to improve Broadway leading to Hobby Airport. We are now turning our attention toward enhancing the Pease Street entrance to downtown from I-45 and the Harris County Toll Road Authority’s downtown Hardy Street connection. Each project gets us closer to a more visually attractive Houston for residents and visitors alike.”

Numerous groups – Houston First, the Houston Restaurant Association, the Hotel and Lodging Association of Greater Houston, Houston Apartment Association, Houston Building Owners & Managers Association, Houston Real Estate Council, Institute of Real Estate Management Houston, Houston Commercial Real Estate Association, Commercial Real Estate Development Association, Houston Chapter, the East End District, the North Houston District, the Transportation Advocacy Group, the North Houston Association, the Hobby Area District, the East Aldine District and the East Downtown Management District – supported the changes.

“The end result is one that is endorsed by all of these organizations,” said Houston Real Estate Council member Philip Schneidau, president and CEO of Woodbranch Management, Inc. “They like the distinction between abandoned signs and signs not in use and feel very comfortable with what has been approved by City Council.”

Schneidau and Tommy Friedlander, also of HREC and a partner at RPI Holdings, Ltd., led the industry task force that worked side-by-side with Scenic Houston and the City to craft the ordinance changes.

The revisions do not have any impact on billboards and will not require businesses to remove or change any existing signage that does not currently conform.

About Scenic Houston
Scenic Houston is a chapter of Scenic Texas, Inc., a 501(c)(3) organization and an affiliate of Scenic America. Scenic Houston’s mission is to enhance the scenic character of the spaces where we live, work and visit.

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June Scenic Citizen: Danny Perkins, Hobby Area District

Danny Perkins with Mayor Sylvester Turner at the Broadway/Hobby Corridor Redevelopment Project ribbon cutting.

We are excited to celebrate Danny Perkins as Scenic Houston’s Scenic Citizen for June. His passion for and commitment to redeveloping the Broadway/Hobby Corridor in 2017 is the perfect example of how one person can make a huge difference in our collective scenic experience.

Danny is chairman of the Hobby Area Management District and was Scenic Houston’s partner on the 2017 completion of the Broadway/Hobby Corridor Redevelopment Project. The project has been an enormous success story not only for the Hobby District but for all Houstonians who take pride in our city. The “Gateway to Houston,” or the thoroughfare to and from Hobby Airport on Broadway, was completely transformed. The finished product accomplished multiple objectives, but primarily it considerably upgraded the condition of the roads, improved walkability in the pedestrian areas, and added lush landscaping to enhance the scenic quality of the esplanades and shared public spaces.

Because Danny’s home and business was located in the Hobby District for many years, he knew the area needed a major facelift, but says that the inspiration primarily came from a not-so-flattering article written after the 2004 Super Bowl in Houston. The author of the article said that driving along Broadway to Hobby Airport was like “driving in a 3rd world country.” 

That article stuck with Danny, then the chairman of the Hobby Area Chamber of Commerce. He knew that the Chamber wouldn’t be able to fund the real changes that needed to happen to make Broadway a more scenic, safe thoroughfare to the airport, so he took on the enormous task of creating what is now the Hobby Area Management District.

It all started with a meeting with state Rep. Garnet Coleman, who agreed to sponsor a bill to create the district. Danny spent an enormous amount of time in front of civic and legislative committees. The bill passed the Senate and House and went to Governor Rick Perry’s desk to sign. There were only 3 management districts approved during that session and the Hobby District was one.

Between 2008 and 2014, the Management District formed and conducted multiple community assessments. Then in 2013, Houston was awarded its third Super Bowl. Danny wasn’t about to let his district suffer the same image problem it did in 2004 and he took his case to Mayor Annise Parker. The project had been on the city’s capital improvement projects list for years but had never been funded. Mayor Parker agreed to fund the majority of the project, and Scenic Houston played a role in the beautification efforts of the reconstructed street, sidewalk and greenspace area. The project took 2 years to complete. Just in time for the Super Bowl, the “Gateway to Houston” was transformed into a beautifully landscaped, safe and appealing shared public space that transformed visitors’ first impression of our city.

Danny, the owner of ESC Polytech Consultants, has accomplished many professional goals but says that the Broadway/Hobby Redevelopment Project gives him the most pride. The economic boost that the project gave the district can be seen as you drive to and from Hobby. Businesses improved, more businesses moved in and many reinvested in their facilities. It has also created a new sense of place and pride for the citizens of the Hobby District. “The Broadway Redevelopment Project became infectious. It’s like a domino effect. Now you see residents building new homes or improving their current properties more than ever before,” says Danny.

Seeing his district changed in such a positive way brings him great joy. “I don’t see anything that I can do to top that”.

Thank you to Danny Perkins, Scenic Houston’s June Scenic Citizen for making such an impactful scenic change for all Houstonians and demonstrating that any citizen has the ability to make positive changes in the scenic character of our city.

Scenic Citizen: Robby Robinson, Clean & Green Program

The Clean & Green team uses a specially designed “BioVac” to clean up floating waste building up on Buffalo Bayou and its tributaries.

Buffalo Bayou is one of Houston’s richest natural resource and a dynamic hub for recreational activities for residents and visitors alike. Keeping this community gem clean from debris and accessible to all is no small feat. Robby Robinson, head of Buffalo Bayou Partnership’s Clean & Green Program, our November Scenic Citizen, is the unsung hero charged with leading this comprehensive maintenance and management program that utilizes hundreds of community service workers to collect and remove trash and debris from the Bayou and its tributaries—preventing it from flowing into Port Houston and on to Galveston Bay.

Five days a week, eight hours a day, the Clean & Green team directs and works alongside land-based crews of community service workers to remove mounds of litter plaguing Buffalo Bayou’s 52-mile stretch. Floating garbage like basketballs, shopping carts, and construction materials are pulled from the water. The biggest cleaning headache? A constant stream of discarded plastic bags.

Heavy rain and big floods exacerbate the problem. Highwater events make it easy for plastic bags to become tangled up to 20-feet high in the bayou’s trees. When the water recedes, the bags are left painfully twisted in branches at unreachable heights. “The plastic bags are an absolute pain to get loose,” Robby says, so the team has specially made tools to tear the bags away. In any given month, the Clean & Green team collects approximately 90 cubic yards of plastic bags – that’s equivalent to more than 7 full commercial garbage trucks.

The floating waste is an eyesore that degrades the water quality and natural beauty of our complex and dynamic bayou system. As Scenic Houston enhances the visual character of Houston’s public spaces, the Clean & Green Program pays special attention our intricate watersheds. Together, both organizations are making Houston a better place to live, work, and visit. Robby envisions a day the Clean & Green Program runs out of trash to pick up, but until then, “there’s always something to do,” he says.

E-mail us if you know a Scenic Citizen in your area.

October Scenic Citizen: Amy Reed, Keep Houston Beautiful

For more than a decade, Amy Reed followed a passion-filled path to become the Executive Director of Keep Houston Beautiful (KHB). Amy’s dream became a reality in 2018, and she now spearheads the organization’s efforts to empower Houstonians to create a cleaner, safer, and healthier city. Our October Scenic Citizen highlights Amy’s leadership and steadfast dedication to enhance the scenic character for all 637 square miles of Houston.

Amy manages this enormous task by carefully selecting projects that satisfy KHB’s three core focus areas: beautification, litter reduction, and recycling education. “By enhancing the aesthetics of a community, we build economic vitality,” Amy says, “The fact that it looks pretty, that’s the cherry on top.” Volunteers and interns provide extra hands, and an active social media presence captures their tireless work.

Keep Houston Beautiful’s periodic litter cleanups can fill 30+ trash bags, which improves the quality of life and health for all Houstonians.

On any given day, Amy and her team arm themselves with gloves, trash bags, and picks to dedicate a few hours toward periodic litter cleanups. A hunt for trash can fill 30+ bags which helps keep Houston’s public spaces clean and attractive while improving the quality of life and health for Houstonians.

KHB furthers its education efforts through its annual conference held in June. The event connects hundreds of statewide like-minded organizations and affiliates that benefit from networking, exposure, and helpful info that inspires new ways to push their own mission forward back home. Speakers touch on subjects such as litter mitigation, community engagement, and professional development.

With its large urban sprawl, Houston provides KHB with never-ending opportunities. Amy’s calendar is full of appointments at the Mayor’s office, presentations for civic groups, and public engagement appearances. “There’s power in numbers,” Amy says of her network with comparable organizations. She sits on the board of directors for Keep Texas Beautiful and several committees for Keep America Beautiful. By fostering these relationships, KHB can carry out its mission with a supportive network at its side.

“That’s why we align so well with Scenic Houston,” Amy says, “We both have missions that work to make Houston a better place to live, work, and visit.”

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

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.

August Scenic Citizen: Elia & Noah Quiles, Mini Murals project

Houstonians are proud of the city’s incredibly diverse culture, world-class attractions, and its eclectic art scene. The Mini Murals project, created by Elia and Noah Quiles, is adding to Houston’s unique identity. Driving through the city, one of the 200+ traffic signal boxes turned public art has undoubtedly caught your eye. The metal structure of traffic signal boxes provides the perfect canvas for evocative, artistic community expression. The Quiles’ creative approach to introducing art in the pedestrian realm qualifies them to be our August Scenic Citizens.

The Quiles’, founders of UP Art Studio, proposed the Mini Murals concept to city council members, Houston Public Works, and the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs in 2016. The project’s mission to encourage “civic pride through civic art” was met with collective praise, lauded for its brimming potential to create tremendous visual impact across Houston one traffic box at a time.

Over the years, Elia and Noah have developed tight relationships with community stakeholders. Elected officials, management districts, and neighborhood associations sponsor Mini Murals from start to completion, choosing the traffic box location and final design. The projects invite local and visiting artists of varying techniques to bring the murals to life. These eye-catching visuals enhance Houston’s streets, sidewalks, and public spaces. Three years into the program, the project’s colorful portfolio includes a music-themed design sponsored by the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra to a wide-eyed robot monitoring Dallas at Crawford sponsored by Houston First, among many other neighborhood murals.

Mini Murals are simple and cost-effective. They illustrate defining community events, add to a neighborhood’s unique identity, and visually bridge Houston’s public spaces through creative storytelling. Two years ago, Scenic Houston dramatically improved the appearance and conditions of one of Houston’s main airport corridors – Broadway Street. On that same corridor, a William P. Hobby Airport Mini Mural overlooks Broadway at Belfort. Where Scenic Houston brought infrastructure and aesthetic improvements, Mini Murals added an artistic touch. These individual projects stem from two organizations driven to strengthen and sustain a solid and welcoming city image. “When someone comes across one of our Mini Murals, I hope it brightens their day,” said Elia.

Contact UP Art Studio if you or your organization is interested in sponsoring a Mini Mural.

Scenic Houston Appoints Claudia Williamson as Interim President/CEO

The nonprofit also welcomes Kristi Gollwitzer, P.E., as Director of Special Projects

 

Claudia Williamson has been named Interim President and CEO of the nonprofit Scenic Houston. She previously served on the Scenic Houston board and was Board Chairman from 2010-2014.

Scenic Houston announced the appointment of Claudia Williamson as Interim President and CEO, effective immediately. Williamson, a long-time Scenic Houston board member and former Board Chair from 2010 – 2014, will lead day-to-day operations, working closely with the board of directors to move the nonprofit forward with all current programs and initiatives. A search for a permanent president and CEO will be conducted by the Scenic Houston board in the coming months.

Williamson comes to Scenic Houston following the departure of Scenic Houston President and CEO Anne Culver who led the organization since 2008. Also joining the staff is Kristi Gollwitzer, P.E., who will serve as Director of Special Projects under Williamson.

“Claudia Williamson is the perfect choice to guide Scenic Houston during this transition period,” says Derrick Mitchell, Chairman of the Board of Scenic Houston. “She led the organization through an unprecedented period of growth during her term as board chair, including oversight of a strategic planning process, publication of our first Streetscape Resource Guide and the execution of the successful ‘Campaign for a More Scenic Houston.’ Her vision, business acumen and management skills will be invaluable as we continue our mission to enhance the scenic character of the spaces where we live, work and visit.”

Mitchell notes that “although we will miss Anne dearly, we are fortunate to have a solid Scenic Houston staff she assembled. The addition of Kristi Gollitzer in the new position of Director of Special Projects will greatly add to the depth of our organization as we expand our footprint in Houston and seek additional working partnerships in the community.”

Professionally, Williamson has served as Director of Business Development for a national architectural and engineering firm and as Director of Government Relations for a national civil engineering company, both headquartered in Houston. Currently, Williamson serves as ambassador for the UH William P. Hobby School of Public Affairs and is an instructor in the Hobby School’s Texas Certified Public Manager (CPM) Program.

“I am honored to serve Scenic Houston in this capacity,” Williamson says. “I love Scenic Houston’s mission and I look forward to supporting the staff and board as they continue their tireless efforts to enhance Houston’s streetscapes and public spaces.”

Kristi Gollwitzer has been named Scenic Houston’s new Director of Projects. She will be responsible for moving the organization’s plans and projects from concept to completion.

As Director of Special Projects, Gollwitzer will help drive streetscape and public space enhancement initiatives from concept to completion – making this role critical for Scenic Houston’s future. The position entails collaborating with an array of public and private partners to move these plans forward and to deliver projects on time and on budget, including capital improvement projects.

Gollwitzer, a professional engineer, comes to Scenic Houston from Walter P. Moore where she was Principal and Market Sector Leader for the firm’s higher education practice, holding both business development and project management responsibilities. These included several significant educational, civic and cultural projects, such as the George R. Brown Convention Center renovation, Rice University Music and Performing Arts Center, University of Houston Student Center Transformation, The Gordy at Stages Repertory Theatre and St. Anne Catholic Community Commons and Garage. Gollwitzer is an active community volunteer, including serving on the board of Rice Design Alliance.

Scenic Houston is a chapter of Scenic Texas, Inc., a 501(c)(3) organization and an affiliate of Scenic America. Scenic Houston’s mission is to enhance the scenic character of the spaces where we live, work and visit. The 20th annual Scenic Houston Dinner is scheduled for Oct. 23 at Houston Country Club.

Scenic Citizen – MetroNational

In 1959, the early stages of Memorial City on Houston’s west side began to take shape. Joseph Johnson, the founder of the real estate development company MetroNational, saw potential to transform 200 acres of underutilized land off Gessner Road into a “city within a city.” Now, 60 years later, Memorial City is a prime west side business center and thriving pedestrian hub including a hospital, shopping center, LEED-certified residential and facilities and office buildings, and many top-notch amenities. With its dedication to building best-of-class environments, Scenic Houston is proud to recognize MetroNational as a Scenic Citizen.

Throughout Memorial City’s campus, an array of enhancements improves the pedestrian experience. Color-defining sidewalks provide clear access points and connections to attractions. Comprehensive, on-brand wayfinding signage helps motorists and pedestrians navigate the large site. “We’re trying to build an area where all the uses are supportive of one another,” Marlene Gafrick, MetroNational’s Director of Planning, says. “We think about people and how they walk and get around, where we put the sidewalks in to make sure that Memorial City is easily navigable.”

Marlene joined MetroNational five years ago. Previously, she was Director of Planning for the city of Houston. Her land development and public policy expertise are a perfect fit for MetroNational’s vision. Marlene also serves on the Board of Directors of Scenic Houston, where she is a long-standing member of its Streetscape Committee, which devised and published the Streetscape Resource Guide. Her Scenic Houston involvement provides Marlene another platform to promote best standards for quality streetscape development, in addition to the superlative examples that MetroNational puts in place.

A current MetroNational project is to activate 18 acres on the northwest corner of Gessner and I-10 into an additional pedestrian-oriented environment. Wide sidewalks and bicycle lanes encourage walkability and cycling, and a concrete detention pond was transformed into a park setting to add the benefit of greenspace.  To further strengthen the city’s identity, MetroNational buried overhead utility lines along Gessner to reduce aerial clutter. “Getting rid of the overhead powerlines eliminated that visual blight and made the walking experience so much nicer,” Marlene says. “It makes a tremendous visual impact on the street.”

Like Scenic Houston, MetroNational and Marlene recognize that public spaces can provide tremendous value and enhance communities. MetroNational is committed to continued development first-class environments with inviting social spaces, thoughtful design, and vibrant streetscapes that enhance their developments. “We don’t do quick investment for the short term,“ Marlene says. “We do projects well and with good quality.”

Tell us more by e-mailing: info@scenichouston.org

Scenic Citizen: University of Houston, Perspectives art project

This month’s Scenic Citizen recognizes the Perspectives beautification art project displayed at the busy I-45/Cullen underpass near the University of Houston (UH). Designed by students in the Graphic Design program, the Perspectives mural depicts the history and character of four neighboring communities.

GONZO247, a Houston graffiti artist, collaborated with the students to produce a design that would communicate a vivid story to the public. The students presented the concept to a committee of stakeholders interested in boosting the underpass’s visual appeal, including the East Downtown Management District, the Texas Department of Transportation, and Sherwin Williams, which donated all 55 gallons of paint for the project. With the UH students as his assistants, GONZO247 installed the mural across the 22 columns of the underpass.

Brushstrokes of orange imitate EaDo’s Dynamo Stadium; a red beehive pattern represents the UH community; a blue circular pattern echoes the soulful musical background of Third Ward; and Eastwood is portrayed with a structured green pattern inspired by its history as one of Houston’s first master-planned subdivisions. Additionally, LED lighting was installed to illuminate the underpass at night, resulting in a safer, pedestrian-friendly environment.

Through deliberate color choices and dynamic storytelling, Perspectives illustrates the rich history and character of the neighboring communities. GONZO247 sees the mural as a perfect example of how art can enhance the visual character of a public space. “I see Houston starting to become known for its murals and public art,” he said. “Perspectives fits perfectly by adding to the visual landscape of the city.”

Scenic Houston is impressed with the collaborative efforts involved in this project.  With Perspectives, the mural demonstrates how art can enhance the visual character of Houston one brushstroke at a time.

Know a Scenic Citizen? Tell us more by e-mailing info@scenichouston.org