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.

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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

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.