The Gateway Planning Team offers an approach that is uniquely tailored to the existing context in the Fourth Ward. This effort builds on the existing assets of the neighborhood, previous planning efforts, and community involvement processes while identifying creative new ideas within a practical, implementation-based effort.
Successful neighborhoods and communities build on the tradition of great urbanism, and great urbanism is about designing for the poetry of community life. In order to achieve that, all great plans must balance predictability with flexibility. Predictability is important to achieve community goals, while flexibility is critical to accommodate changing market conditions. Experienced with unique backgrounds in urbanism, the Gateway Planning Team undertakes planning from the perspective that implementation must ultimately be achievable.
Houston’s Fourth Ward has the framework to build upon its African American history and cultural roots as “Freedmen’s Town”. With decreasing population, increased deterioration of existing residential buildings, gentrification, and a lack of convenience retail in the neighborhood, the Fourth Ward is currently in transition. The challenge to this planning initiative will be to build on the success of past efforts in affordable housing and neighborhood conservation to capture the appropriate new growth that downtown Houston and the neighboring Midtown are experiencing.
In implementing the vision for the Fourth Ward, one of the most critical aspects is to reinforce the existing assets of the neighborhoods with appropriate infill, convenience retail, live-work, and entertainment. The team’s economist, Jon Hockenyos, is a firm believer in placemaking as the key to future economic development, specifically downtown and neighborhood revitalization. A vibrant and attractive physical context creates the environment for bringing in new spending, leveraging existing visitors, and retaining as much local demand as possible. With the city owned Gillette Street site, the Fourth Ward has the unique opportunity to use this prime asset for leveraging much needed retail, professional offices, and mixed residential uses to create a neighborhood center. This will unleash great potential for economic growth.
Successful downtowns and neighborhoods thrive on vibrant, pedestrian-activated streets. Project Manager Scott Polikov’s role in co-chairing TxDOT’s Urban Thoroughfares Committee charged with revising state roadway design standards to better fit its urban context will be relevant to the Fourth Ward. In addition, team member Andrew Howard of Kimley-Horn was an author of the ITE/CNU Manual for Walkable Urban Thoroughfares. Our experience reinforces that neighborhood streets need to support the overall vision for the neighborhood as a vibrant, mixed-use, pedestrian friendly place. As the Fourth Ward evolves by adding new destinations, businesses, and more urban residential uses, today’s needs for retailing, parking, and urban services must all be met. Again, our partners Kimley-Horn offer extensive experience in Houston integrating parking and transportation into an urban context.
As a former city planner for Downtown Louisville, Kentucky and Southlake, Texas, Jay Narayana offers the necessary public sector implementation experience needed to integrate the vision into operation. Specifically, her experience in writing design guidelines and standards for Southlake Town Square and other mixed use ordinances will be valuable. Lead urban designer and architect Milosav Cekic’s experience with developing master plans for downtown redevelopment and new communities will be crucial for creating a vision for the neighborhood at a building and block level.
We understand the community processes and complexities that are inherent in every planning effort. Bringing together diverse set of interests while crafting visionary, but achievable outcomes are hallmarks of our work. Specifically, given the Fourth Ward’s cultural roots in the African American community, our partner, the Guess Group, will facilitate community involvement and stakeholder participation to ensure long-term success in addition to providing expertise in infill, mixed income housing. The Guess Group has been active in the Fourth Ward for over 10 years and has worked on numerous affordable housing and civic projects in the neighborhood. Their experience combined with community credibility will go a long way in creating stakeholder buy-in for implementation.
The fabric of the Fourth Ward consists of small blocks with a network of well-connected, intimate streets. The scale of the neighborhood is one to two stories with churches and schools that are integrated into the neighborhood fabric. Several key opportunities are creating the momentum for a holistic revitalization plan in the Fourth Ward. The existing Federal Reserve Bank and the potential for redevelopment of the city owned maintenance facility on Gillette Street can anchor the northern edge of this neighborhood. (insert image here CIMG2263 with the following caption: Intimate streets within the historic Freedmen’s Town neighborhood core with one and two story bungalows.)
Any plan for the redevelopment of the Fourth Ward and the Gillette Street city site should, at a minimum, create a neighborhood center with much needed convenience retail, professional office, and mixed residential uses. In addition, the plan should reestablish an appropriate scale for infill within the core of the neighborhood. Several blocks of the neighborhood core have been compromised with inappropriate scale and character of infill. (insert image here CIMB 2273 and add this caption: Image of inappropriately scaled and designed residential in the vicinity of the Fourth Ward) Historic preservation and neighborhood conservation issues should be a critical consideration in establishing appropriate scale and character of infill. Improving pedestrian linkages along key east-west streets such as Dallas and Andrews and connecting public parks and civic locations should be prioritized. Our preliminary analysis of the neighborhood and design concepts for the Gillette Street site demonstrate our preliminary understanding of the issues opportunities.
(insert image CIMG 2237 here with the following caption: Image of Founder’s Cemetery, an important historic asset of the neighborhood).
Preliminary Development Concept for the Gillette Street site showing retail/mixed use along Dallas Street, transitioning to live-work/professional office to the north and mixed income residential adjoining the park.
Map of the Fourth Ward TIRZ showing the linkage opportunities along Dallas, Gillette, Cushing, and Gray Streets. This map also identifies distinct character areas within the neighborhood that can inform the development of a master plan with appropriately scaled and designed buildings and uses.
Project Work Plan
Similar to other planning and revitalization projects we have undertaken in Duncanville, McKinney, and Owensboro, we recommend using a project steering committee to provide overall guidance throughout the process with smaller work groups to work through more detailed issues. With the project Steering Committee, we would identify key stakeholders early in the process and hold stakeholder group meetings to gather as much information up front on the issues affecting the Fourth Ward. This will, together with a comprehensive assessment of existing conditions, help us identify the key considerations and challenges going into a design workshop. The design workshop will be used to create a physical master plan for the either Fourth Ward TIRZ and develop concepts for the Gillette Street property by integrating stakeholder input, prior planning efforts, and preliminary assessment of the real estate market. During the workshop, structured public participation opportunities will be made available that will help the design team to use this input and feedback contemporaneously. The resulting physical master plan will meld land use, urban design, transit, transportation, civic spaces, destinations and districts, and linkages within the neighborhood and to adjoining neighborhoods and downtown.
This physical master plan will provide the framework for detailed recommendations on parking, pedestrian amenities and linkages, civic space design, historic preservation, affordable housing, and development standards needed including design standards. In addition, the physical master plan will help identify public and private catalyst projects needed to jump start the redevelopment of the Fourth Ward. Estimates of probable costs for public infrastructure, including parking will then help identify feasible financial options for funding them. Evaluating the potential for and providing innovative new infill development and redevelopment will provide the basis for assessing the public capacity to undertake infrastructure improvements. Project priorities and phasing will then be established followed by recommended changes to the TIRZ capital program and other sources of funding. A development program, design and performance criteria will be developed for the Gillette Street property and the team will develop a draft RFQ for the redevelopment of the site. Finally, the team will support the formal adoption of the plan and implementation tools through the TIRZ Board and other city boards and commissions as necessary.
A detailed Task List together with the Project Schedule and Budget are included in Section b. of this proposal.
The Fourth Ward community is currently home to a broad range of incomes and racial/ethnic backgrounds. The area targeted for this plan is economically disadvantaged and underserved. Because of this environment, it lends itself to many of the ills associated with inner city impoverished neighborhoods. There is no lack of interest from inhabitants in the area to participate in the revitalization of their neighborhood, but there is a lack of synergy and commitment to accomplish this goal. Citizen participation must be paramount and eagerly pursued if the revitalization is to be completely successful.
Because of the high number of churches in the area, it will be easy to reach citizens for their participation in the planning of the neighborhood revitalization. If leveraged properly, the religious community can take a lead role in organizing and delivering participants to neighborhood meetings and rallies for the benefit of the Fourth Ward community. Because the Fourth Ward has a unique historical presence in Houston, it will be necessary to include not only residents of the neighborhood, but also community-wide stakeholder groups such as historical societies, preservationists, and other civic champions.
Finally, as with any redevelopment plan that would impact a historic neighborhood, the plan cannot be realized without the full participation of government, including local, state, and national representation.