A city like no other, Houston is comprised of 88 distinct Superneighborhoods, each with its own character and historical significance. Now, vivid scenes from these neighborhoods are emerging in a fresh tableau across the city as artists render colorful murals portraying the things that symbolize what makes each patch of town unique.
These murals are not, however, the supersized versions that occupy the side of a building. They are instead transforming some of the drabbest of objects — the ubiquitous electrical box — into cabinet-sized montages and works of civic art.
One of the first of these murals was unveiled Oct. 1, when a group of East Houston residents gathered to conduct a ribbon cutting ceremony for the community’s first electrical box mural.
This brightly colored mural depicting a red train highlighted not only that community’s history, but also gave a nod to its economic and cowboy culture that remains prevalent today. The art project is a small but significant step toward realizing Mayor Sylvester Turner’s vision regarding resiliency efforts for local neighborhoods.
Hurricane Harvey in 2017 demonstrated how climate-related disasters affect all aspects of neighborhoods, including public services and infrastructure, housing, social infrastructure, and transportation. In February 2020, Turner released Resilient Houston, a comprehensive framework to help mitigate flooding risk and improve climate resources throughout the city.
East Houston was chosen along with the Edgebrook and Independence Heights communities to take part in Neighborhood Resilience Planning, a pilot program which seeks the best means to improve recovery efforts against the impacts of future climate related shocks and stressors.
Because three different neighborhoods are involved in the pilot program, the NRP consists of three separate plans specific to each neighborhood’s needs.
Marcus Tucker, a program coordinator with the Planning and Development Department, said Independence Heights, East Houston and Edgebrook historically have not received the same level of public and private investment as other Houston neighborhoods.
As a result, these communities experience a multitude of challenges, including reoccurring flood damage, gentrification, increased heat severity and winter related vulnerabilities, aging infrastructure, solid waste hazards, and reduced economic opportunity, among others, Tucker said.
“The NRP effort intends to equip communities in preparing for and recovering from, shocks and stressors. Additionally, resilient communities know and understand existing resources available to maintain and improve the overall quality of life in their neighborhood,” he said.
Currently, each NRP community plan is being developed simultaneously. The first half of the plan includes a lot of preliminary research and analysis, and the second half consists of drafting projects and concepts alongside a robust public engagement network.
Tucker said the three neighborhoods were selected to participate in this program due to the severity of flood damage from Hurricane Harvey, vulnerability to climate and multiple hazards, geographic and watershed diversity, and presence of an active civic organization that could support the program.
The neighborhoods also have dedicated community advocates and champions, he added. “Some neighborhood advocates were more structured in their efforts to improve their community, and other community leaders emerged through the Neighborhood Resilience Planning process,” Tucker said.
The Planning and Development Department is responsible for managing the consultant hired by the city to develop the NRPs. The team conducts research and analysis, develops concepts, holds regular committee meetings, and coordinates public engagement activities.
“Planning staff reviews all work products and facilitates committee and public meetings in coordination with the consulting team,” Tucker said.
Tucker said a key takeaway for readers is to be reminded that although the effects of climate related disasters are widespread in Houston, not all neighborhoods can recover and rebuild as easily.
“It is important for readers to understand that Neighborhood Resilience Planning is not just about planning and engineering for the future,” he said. “This planning effort recognizes the existing inherent resiliency of these communities and strengthens them with strategies that will reduce the impact of future climate related threats.”