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complete the community: designing tactically for urban renewal


The ability to improve quality of life through design — especially in local communities — is one of the most rewarding aspects of our work, and when this type of opportunity arose recently, our Houston team was eager and excited to participate.

As part of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s “Complete Communities” initiative, which aims to revitalize five under-resourced communities, a team from our Houston office recently explored the potential for urban renewal through tactical urbanism.

Organized by the City of Houston and Houston AIA, the “Complete the Community” urban design competition included opportunities to submit design solutions to enhance Houston’s Gulfton neighborhood through tactical urbanism design interventions.

A seven-person team from TBG Houston participated in the event, exploring opportunities to elevate this overlooked community and generate positive momentum for community enhancement.

The TBG team solicited input from the Better Block organization, which has expertise in facilitating urban renewal through temporary solutions, and developed a three-pronged approach to generate excitement, interest and lasting change in this southwest Houston community.

Step one focused on improving access to the area by reconfiguring the right-of-way along Sands Point Drive and High Star Drive to create a more pedestrian-oriented environment. In order to provide a safer, more welcoming pedestrian experience, the effort would include temporarily restriping the roadways, introducing street trees, and using planting to buffer the sidewalk from parking and traffic.

After improving access, the second phase would prioritize activation through tactical urbanism strategies. Approaches included a monthly market with pop-up stalls and activity zones, live music, food trucks, and simple yet fun pavement painting. The market would help promote community interaction that could spread throughout the Gulfton neighborhood, and the market stalls could be created through simple sheets of plywood and easily obtainable online plans.

Finally, the third phase focused on adoption and beginning to make the changes permanent. Building on the monthly markets’ energy, enduring change could be attained by permanently reconstructing Sands Point Drive and High Star Drive, expanding the painting patterns, and a building a permanent public park, all of which would provide a hub for social interaction and help catalyze quality development throughout the larger Gulfton community.

The competition provided many benefits for our Houston team: the opportunity to explore tactical urbanism approaches and expand our knowledge base in this realm, the ability to connect with Better Block and learn from their tremendous insights, and the chance to better understand the Gulfton community — while exploring opportunities for urban renewal locally through the power of design.