In Texas, Building More Livable Cities, One Grant at a Time

Roz Brown | Public News Service
Houston's Gulfton-Sharpstown neighborhood includes residents from more than 80 countries, including Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mexico and parts of Central America. Photo Credit: CY / Unsplash

Neighborhoods are known to be more livable when housing, transportation and public spaces harmonize with the community, and Houston’s most diverse neighborhood is moving in that direction.

The group Connect Community received grant money from AARP Texas last year to add shade structures, seating, trees and a mural along streets in Houston’s Gulfton area, considered the most diverse neighborhood in one of the country’s most diverse cities.

Anne Whitlock, Connect Community’s founding director, said quick-action projects are being implemented that emphasize needs of the 50-plus population.

“There’s precious little park space or gathering spaces for people,” she said, “either within their apartment complex or outside in the broader community.”

AARP Texas awarded money to six local organizations last year through its Community Challenge grants program, and is accepting applications for new projects through March 22. More information is online at

Lisa Rodriguez, manager of outreach and advocacy for AARP Texas, said San Antonio used grant money to beautify one of its historic districts, while North Houston created a multimedia art installation. She said many communities want to upgrade crosswalks or traffic signals for a better pedestrian experience.

“Do we need a walking plan? That’s a good idea – we could fund something like that in a neighborhood,” she said. “It could be in the scale of neighborhood, or the scale of a district of a city or a town – or perhaps the whole town or the whole city.”

Whitlock said Gulfton’s built environment isn’t pedestrian friendly, and that’s why Connect’s project is designed to create comfortable, accessible spaces where people can participate in activities and socialize to strengthen the overall community.

“We want to get some of these organizations out of their buildings and more into their complexes,” she said, “because it’s very unsafe to walk in the neighborhood, so we’re trying to bring place-making to them.”

The Texas grant program is part of AARP’s nationwide Livable Communities initiative, which supports the efforts of cities, towns, neighborhoods and rural areas to become great places to live.