November 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

Scenic Citizen – ULI – Houston

Scenic Houston is proud to name the Urban Land Institute – Houston as this month’s Scenic Citizen.

Working through its membership of real estate and land use professionals, ULI-Houston encourages and rewards best practices in urban development.

“Our members strive to create beautiful spaces that have great visual appeal, plus make economic sense and have proof in value,” says David Kim, Executive Director of ULI-Houston.

Through networking, continuing education, and annual awards the organization has helped foster a professional appreciation for the value of good placemaking in Houston.

At ULI-Houston’s Leadership Luncheons members learn of emerging trends and new ideas. Some recent forward-thinking topics include tackling parking requirements with beauty and designing communities specifically for creative types. Attendees often spark creative discussions themselves as the luncheons provide a venue for dialogue among citizens, the city and developers.

Beyond education, ULI-Houston recognizes best practices through its Development of Distinction Awards recognizing open space, not-for-profit, and for-profit projects. By highlighting compelling developments, the organization seeks to reinforce the value of good design and encourage more projects of similar quality.

For example, David hopes engaging public spaces will become a more common focus for developers in Houston. He currently oversees the Houston District Council of the ULI organization where he executes strategies to strengthen ULI’s brand at a local level. ULI-Houston is the local arm of the Urban Land Institute, the national organization dedicated to “leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide.”

Both Scenic Houston and ULI-Houston are devoted to enhancing the quality of life for all Houstonians. As Houston’s development landscape evolves, ULI-Houston will rely on the expertise of its members to keep smart planning and thinking in its creative process. “Our development community does a good job responding to customer demand,” David says, “They respond to the growing change of population. They want people to be happy and use their spaces.”

Scenic Citizen: Radom Capital

Steve Radom, Managing Principal, Radom Capital

Honest materials bind the framework for Heights Mercantile, a low-rise mixed-use development that’s home to eclectic dining, office, and retail spaces in the historic Heights neighborhood.

What makes the materials like exposed steel, corrugated metal panels, and cross braces honest is that they all reference the metal warehouse previously on the site and reveal how a building is constructed.

“We were very careful about not trying to completely erase the history of this site, but instead embrace it and create this really beautiful contrast of something that is weathered and old with something that is pretty new,” Steve Radom, Managing Principal of Radom Capital, says.

Born in Los Angeles, Steve Radom and his family relocated to Houston while he was in high school. His father’s commercial real estate business introduced Steve to the dynamic industry at an early age, exposing him both inter loop and suburban properties. After Steve received his master’s degree in accounting from the University of Texas, he rejoined the family business for seven years, a period that shaped his aspirations to develop thoughtful projects that would serve as community pillars. “I was very passionate about exploring green spaces in the ways that Houstonians typically don’t,” Steve says. In 2014, he turned this passion into Radom Capital, the local real estate development and investment firm that built Heights Mercantile.

Repurposed spaces can contribute to the preservation of a city’s history, and Radom Capital is committed to creating projects that help retain Houston’s history and character.

“The idea we put in place with the Heights Mercantile project was to contrast the past and present and have it to where you’re not quite sure what was there before or what’s brand new, let that line blur a little bit in a playful way,” Steve says, “I think people love things that have soul and character.”

Heights Mercantile is the latest in a string of repurposed projects the Radom firm has revitalized. Their catalog includes the reimagining of a 1955 Heights washeteria converted to a locally sourced popsicle shop, and the 1930s Star Engraving Company on Allen Parkway restored “surgically” to its original glory. The projects are architecturally unique, existing in bustling pockets of Houston that only need a modern twist. “Unless you’re willing to commit to new construction that creates a really unique space,” Steve says, “Then you’re just inherently not going to have the same texture, vibe, and character that you had in something older.” 

To be mindful of the Heights Mercantile site, Radom Capital retained the existing pathways and driveways to keep the setting mostly original. Next, they activated the block of 7th street between Heights Boulevard and Yale Street with a confluence of pedestrian-friendly elements. The project is anchored next to Donovan Park with a popular hike and bike trail. It includes wide interconnected sidewalks dressed in attractive landscaping to encourage walkability, and ample outdoor seating among umbrellas and trees to create inviting gathering spaces.  

If developers can find the charms in a building’s imperfect qualities, Steve says, builders can tell a more compelling story. To tell its own narrative, the firm selects projects that are rich in a community’s history; spaces that enhance rather than overtake the character of Houston.

Steve is an eternal optimist, choosing to produce bespoke projects rather than cookie-cutter development. Like the metal warehouse that stood before Heights Mercantile was established, the firm will continue to revive recollections from the past.

“It’s a cool feeling when you see people enjoy your spaces,” Steve says.

Click here to learn more about Radom Capital.

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

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