Volunteers Work to Transform Historic Houston Neighborhood

Along Lyons Avenue, cars honk their horns in support as volunteers spread dirt and frame up a vegetable bed that's going to be part of a community garden. One of the volunteers is Courtney Brinegar. She's used to working with clients at an architectural firm, but she says inner-city projects like these are the future of design.

"A lot of our clients and projects are oriented toward the more high-end, fancy high-rise towers, but this is the chunk of where a lot of the work is, and where design could really make an impact."

But the garden is about more than just aesthetics. There aren't a lot of places to buy fresh food in the neighborhood, and planners are envisioning an abundant garden that provides fruits and vegetables. Fifth Ward businesswoman Alicia Shealey owns the lot where the garden is being planted. Along with providing healthy food for underserved residents, Shealey also hopes the garden is a place to grow ideas.

"You might find small business owners hanging out here. And if you provide a place for community engagement, I think that amount of support, you just never know how an idea that somebody else might have, or a connection that somebody else might have, that might be able to help you, and vice versa."

Located northeast of downtown, the Fifth Ward was a vibrant neighborhood that developed in the early 1900's. It was home to many prominent African-American Houstonians. But like many inner-city neighborhoods, the Fifth Ward saw a period of decline starting in the 1960's. Decades later, the neighborhood faces many challenges.

"We need better access to education, quality education, and we're working on that, as well as job training obviously, better access to health care."

That's Michael Emerson with the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation. Standing in front of a bungalow that was getting a new paint job, Emerson envisions a dynamic future.

"This is just a place of vitality and energy, and what I forsee is that this will be a new sort of urban neighborhood, the kind that's for everybody, that's diverse economically, racially, ethnically. It's going to be a new Houston."

Along with community gardens, home renovations, and efforts to clean up one hundred lots, plans are also in the works for the redevelopment of the Fifth Ward's DeLuxe Theatre into a performing arts center.

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