Anyone familiar with my writing and work knows I am all in on revitalization, when it’s done sensitively and with inclusion. Nothing has been worse for our environment in the last several decades than the decay and disinvestment of our inner cities and accompanying suburban sprawl. Strengthening the places we have before building new ones is critical to environmental recovery, and in my opinion doing so is inherently green whether or not we are able to add explicitly green features.
As I noted earlier this week in reviewing Chuck Marohn’s new book on Strong Towns, strengthening what we have is critical to economic recovery, too.
While I have an increasing number of favorite examples of distressed neighborhoods being restored and strengthened - and that in itself is great news - none is more imaginative and inspiring than Houston’s amazing Project Row Houses. I first discovered PRH four years ago, though the project was established back in 1993, on the site of 22 abandoned shotgun houses (circa 1930) in Houston’s Third Ward. (Shotgun houses are narrow one-story dwellings without halls.) Artist and PRH founder Rick Lowe began with the rehabilitation of ten of the twenty-two houses so that they could become home to rotating installations and exhibits of African-American community art, photography, and literary projects.
Adjacent to the houses dedicated to art are seven more that were then rehabilitated to become the home of The Young Mothers Program, which provides transitional housing and structured services for young mothers and their children. And, in 2003, the Row House Community Development Corporation was formed as a sister organization to Project Row Houses, in order to develop additional, architecturally compatible housing for low-to-moderate income residents, along with public spaces and facilities to preserve and protect the historic character of the Third Ward.
Today, according to the Project Row Houses website, the campus has grown from the original block and a half to six blocks, and from 22 houses to 40 properties; these now include twelve artist exhibition and/or residency spaces, the seven houses for young mothers, office spaces, a community gallery, a park, and additional low-income residential and commercial spaces. From the site:
“PRH is founded on the principle that art - and the community it creates - can be the foundation for revitalizing depressed inner-city neighborhoods. This principle was is in part based on the philosophy of German artist Joseph Beuys (1921 – 1986) who coined the phrase “social sculpture,” which transformed the idea of sculpture as an art form into a social activity. Thus, the mission of Project Row Houses is to create community through the celebration of art, African American history and culture.
“PRH has established programs that encompass arts and culture, neighborhood revitalization, low-income housing, education, historic preservation, and community service.”
Filmmaker Andrew Garrison produced an excellent documentary about Project Row Houses in 2007. It’s called Third Ward TX. Here’s a short clip that will make all the descriptions come alive:
Full Story: Community art or community development? Yes and yes, in Houston’s inspiring Project Row Houses
Source: NRDC Switchboard, September 20, 2012