UH architecture students aim to improve local communities

When you hear the phrase “quality of life”, what comes to mind? For some, it means access to affordable and fresh food. For others, it’s neighborhoods that provide an opportunity to utilize alternative modes of transportation. For UH architecture students working on the Collaborative Community Design Initiative, it means all of these – and more.

What is the Collaborative Community Design Initiative?

How much time do you spend thinking about how your community can be healthier? Houston is a fast-paced city that seldom offers us a chance to reflect upon how our communities can be more interconnected and environmentally sustainable.

The CCDI is a project by the UH Community Design Resource Center. CDRC director Susan Rogers and UH architecture students have worked with city officials and community members to propose ways to advance sustainable communities in Houston. The first initiative, Corridors, focused on the Greater Heights, Harrisburg, Third Ward and Independence Heights. Islands focused on Alief, Golfcrest-Bellfort-Reveille, Mid-West and Greenspoint. So where would the next points of focus be?

The Hearts initiative

Hearts isn’t just a card game or something you doodle in class. It’s the CCDI’s latest initiative that focuses on the relationship between the built environment and health. Rogers and CDRC students examined Sunnyside, Magnolia Park, Denver Harbor and Fifth Ward. So what does the exhibit entail?

opening

Attendees at the Hearts exhibit opening ranged from former UH students to city representatives.

“It has two parts. The first part is an introduction to the bigger conditions that Houstonians are faced with. 48 percent of Houstonians feel at risk of not being able to buy food or pay rent.

“Economic opportunity is directly related to the health of people who live in a neighborhood. How do our communities shape our opportunities to live healthy lives? The number one priority is being wiser and smarter about public resources,” said Rogers.

Zona de Juego and taking a holistic approach

In 2013, Rogers and students started developing a plan to revitalize DeZavala Park in the Magnolia Park neighborhood. With help from the Houston Department of Health and Human Services, community leaders, and a little paint, Zona de Juego became a reality. Not only is the 600-foot play zone educational, it gives kids a chance to be actively engaged with their community.

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Zona de Juego is featured on the Center for Active Design’s website: http://centerforactivedesign.org/zonadejuego

“We tried to look at these neighborhoods comprehensively. This includes the demographic conditions, physical conditions and the existence (or lack thereof) of sidewalks and parks,” said Rogers. “Then, we developed a set of strategies that are specifically related to health.

“How do we grow a food network in neighborhoods with little access to fresh and affordable food? We looked at connecting community gardens to schools and corner stores.”

Benefits to students and more information

Students worked closely with Professor Susan Rogers to think about sustainable design solutions.

Students worked closely with Professor Susan Rogers to think about sustainable design solutions.

The CCDI gives architecture students an opportunity to see how the built environment isn’t just a matter of design. Structural aspects of the community have a direct impact on how people live their lives.

The exhibit is open for public viewing through August inside the College of Architecture’s atrium. Want to help out with future CDRC projects? You can support research and the visions of UH architecture students by donating.

-Nicole Blanton

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