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Development Divide

Development Divide: Long-Time Residents Of Houston’s East End Fear Loss Of Latino Culture

As the historic neighborhood turns into a walkable, connected community, not everyone likes how the changes are being implemented.



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The Esplanade
The Esplanade on Navigation Boulevard

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In 2012, ground was broken for the signature project of the East End revitalization plan: The Esplanade on Navigation Boulevard.


Patrick Ezzell, with the Greater East End Management District, said one of the things that kept coming up at community meetings was what would be done with Navigation Boulevard.

“It used to be this active place with retail and restaurants and things going on,” Ezzell said in 2012. “They basically said they’d like to see Navigation become again like ‘el corazon de la comunidad’ — the heart of the community.” 

The Esplanade opened in 2013 — a grassy median-turned pedestrian park, just across from the Original Ninfa’s restaurant. It serves as a venue for farmers markets and street festivals, like last month’s East End Street Fest.

It features faux wood benches, artistic bike racks, picnic tables shaded by some large trees, and a sculptured anchor, representing the area’s connection with the Houston Ship Channel.

But while the management district is promoting the new Navigation Boulevard as “el corazon de la comunidad,” not everyone in the community thinks that’s working out.

“You’re not putting any culture in what you’re building,” said Juan Hernandez, co-owner of Dona Maria Mexican Café.


He and his wife Anna have often complained about the design of the Esplanade and other architectural changes in the area.

“This is where some of the community feels that a lot of the Hispanic culture that has been (the) Second Ward or this area, the East End, is being taken away and replaced by something that’s just very contemporary,” Anna Hernandez said. 

Specifically, she said the colors on the Esplanade are bland, nothing like the bright colors used in Mexican culture. She also said there is barely any Spanish used, and there is more emphasis on ship channel themes than Latino culture.

Guadalupe Plaza Park on Runnels Street is another example of the conflict between the management district and a vocal group of residents and business owners.

After the park was demolished in 2014, some East End residents held a news conference with the League of United Latin American Citizens. They said the park’s new design doesn’t include any Hispanic architecture.

Why does that matter?

Yolanda Black Navarro, East End resident and president of the Navigation Area Business Association

“People come into this area because it is a Hispanic area,” Anna Hernandez said. “You have rows of Mexican restaurants. They come here for the culture, not just to play in the park.”

Yolanda Black Navarro seconds that. The long-time East End resident and president of the nonprofit Navigation Area Business Association said there is a lack of communication from the management district.

“We’re not saying we don’t want these things. What we’re trying to say is, let’s communicate better,” Navarro said. “Let’s make sure that the influence of those that worked so hard to make the quote  ‘the Second Ward’ what it is…that we have to be a little more considerate.”

Anna Hernandez said while there may have been many public meetings about the changes in the neighborhood, the input residents have had is limited.

“One of the things, of course, they did inform us, change was coming — the sidewalks, the Esplanade,” she said. “But they never let us have any input as to the décor, as to how to pick the benches, the design. You know, that was something that they did. And then when we finally started realizing, you know, wait a minute — that’s when the culture was starting to get lost.”

But the people at the Greater East End Management District say they don’t know what else to do to make sure everyone gets to have a say in the area’s improvement.

Editor’s note: This story has been changed from its original version for clarity.