Cooperation can smooth neighborhood tensions
As the races for city office heat up, virtually every candidate is telling us that they will encourage growth and jobs through business and residential development and that they will also preserve the character of established neighborhoods. Missing are the details about how to resolve the apparent conflict between future growth and neighborhood preservation. The answer is for residential and commercial neighbors to act as neighbors should, and for elected officials to encourage and implement cooperative agreement when and where it exists.
The Ashby high-rise project brought into fine focus conflicts between established neighborhoods and business and residential development in our growing city. On the one hand, development that allows increased density of population promises to create walkable neighborhoods close to employment, shopping and entertainment centers. It also promises to ease the delivery of city services, provide desperately needed jobs and improve our struggling tax base. On the other hand, few people appreciate the shadow of a high rise on their yard, increased traffic congestion or crime that increased density can also create if not accompanied by things like public transit, parking, sidewalks and street lights. Finding constructive ways to address these foreseeable needs is not only possible but absolutely essential if we are to chart a neighborly path toward a healthy and livable city.
As Houston becomes more densely populated and developed, there must be mutual respect and even trust between those who grow our city and those who live in our neighborhoods. Working with the Super Neighborhood Council for Washington Avenue, a street that has recently become one of the city's hottest destinations for art, dining and entertainment, I have found that there can be more agreement between neighborhoods, business owners and developers than one might think.
In fact, I have found that many of our concerns are not with each other but with City Hall.
Like others throughout the city, we worry about inadequate public transit, impassable sidewalks and insufficient parking. We wonder why the city has not granted our joint requests for inexpensive improvements such as cab stands at strategic corners and signs that limit parking only during peak travel times. We can't understand why neighborhoods seeking to participate in the residential permit parking program are being forced to wait for the city to complete expensive and time-consuming traffic studies to prove what is so very obvious — we have an acute parking problem. Nor can we understand why those in the planning and public works departments have never met those in the police department who tell us that relief for the literally thousands of parking and noise complaints now coming from our area of town can't be managed through law enforcement alone.
In search of solutions to our immediate issues, I have found that neighborhoods, business owners and developers can work together when there is a recognized need, good will and open dialogue. Surprising to many, I have even found common cause with Houstonians for Responsible Growth (HRG), an advocacy group for leaders in development and real estate who are working to improve deed restrictions and address other issues. HRG not only agrees wholeheartedly that the city should grant the requests that my Super Neighborhood Council has made for improvements aimed at preserving peace in our neighborhoods and between our residential and commercial communities, but also has expressed willingness to initiate a joint effort to develop a cooperative agreement for solutions to issues of broader concern like mass transit, affordable housing and historic preservation.
Some of our elected officials already understand the importance of cooperative agreement and work tirelessly on a daily basis to achieve and implement it expeditiously when and where it exists. However, if Houston is to balance the need for growth with the need to preserve neighborhoods, all of our elected officials must not only search for but also find ways to achieve and implement cooperative agreement between all parties. With the right leadership and the right attitude, it can be done.
West is secretary of the Old Sixth Ward Neighborhood Association and president of the Washington Avenue Coalition-Memorial Park Super Neighborhood (SN 22).