Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis Launches Unique “Park-Smart Precinct One” Project

ABOVE: Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis

This past Monday, November 13th, Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis announced the “Park-Smart Precinct One” project – a unique plan to advance equitable access to quality parks and green spaces to improve community health and well-being, build social connections and resilience, and expand environmental safeguards after Hurricane Harvey.

The “Park-Smart Precinct One” project will assess existing parks and trails, identify key barriers to using them, and pinpoint green-space gaps. Team members will cultivate deep, diverse community engagement to create a community-based vision for increasing access to parks and trails, and they will use sophisticated Geographic Information System (GIS) modeling to identify the most effective places to invest in parks and green infrastructure, particularly in vulnerable and underserved areas.

High-quality green spaces such as parks, gardens, and trails can improve residents’ quality of life by offering a fun and safe outdoor experience, increasing community cohesion, providing mental and physical health benefits, improving local air and water quality, and mitigating climate impacts such as flooding and rising temperatures.

“I’ve toured Precinct One and our parks and trails by bike, car and foot – before and after Harvey,” said Commissioner Rodney Ellis. “As a result, I’ve gained a unique perspective on the importance of creating equitable access to quality parks and green spaces for all people and communities in Precinct One.”

Commissioner Ellis announced the 18-month project after the first meeting of the Park-Smart steering committee, a diverse panel of dedicated community leaders and local experts who will help develop priorities, vision, and strategies—and foster deep community engagement.

Scheduled to be completed in early 2019, the project will initially focus on community engagement efforts, including steering committee meetings, community workshops, speak-out events, interviews and a precinct-wide telephone poll.

“Parks should not be considered amenities, they’re necessary. Parks connect our communities, support healthy lifestyles, and provide green spaces with both environmental and cultural benefits,” said Commissioner Ellis. “Park-Smart will bring to life opportunities and ideas that will enhance the lives of our neighborhoods, friends, and families for years to come. I also hope we will inspire others to take on similar efforts to improve park and trail equity.”

Park-Smart Precinct One is a collaboration of Harris County Precinct One, The Trust for Public Land and the Houston Parks Board, and is partially funded by a generous grant from the Houston Endowment. It will build on existing green infrastructure efforts by Precinct One and other entities such as the City of Houston’s Bike Plan and the Houston Parks Board’s Bayou Greenways 2020 initiative and Beyond the Bayous planning efforts.

Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis announces the Park-Smart Precinct One project

It also marks the first time The Trust for Public Land has been able to bring together its community-based park planning, Climate-Smart Cities, Healthy Communities, Creative Placemaking, and Center for City Parks Excellence programs into one project.

Precinct One has a diverse population of 1.1 million people and spans 375 square miles, an area larger than New York City. It is the educational and cultural hub of the city and is home to the renowned Texas Medical Center, Houston’s major universities, the Museum District, and the region’s top sports teams, including the 2017 World Series Champion Houston Astros.

Precinct One’s urban and rural communities face a range of environmental challenges, particularly post-Harvey. The historic flooding devastated many communities and exposed the region’s vulnerability to severe storms, but it also highlighted Precinct One’s community spirit and ingenuity.

While the primary goal of the project is to enhance and expand access to high-quality parks and trails, the Park-Smart Precinct One team also will identify ways to integrate arts and culture into the process of developing green spaces, cultivating community engagement, and stewarding future public spaces.

Ultimately, all this process will help Precinct One identify the places where parks and trails can do the most to increase environmental resilience and improve the health of vulnerable and underserved communities.

The next phase will involve park and trail evaluations, green infrastructure assessment, and an active transportation study. Project leaders also will develop a web-based decision-support tool that Precinct One can use to identify the places where parks and trails can do the most to increase environmental resilience and improve the health of vulnerable communities. Several community workshops are scheduled in December throughout the Precinct.