Hines Researchers Partner with City of Houston to Address Resiliency

EPA grant prepares resilience plans for Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens communities

Houston Skyline

University of Houston Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design professor Bruce Race, Ph.D., has teamed with the City of Houston Health Department to work with the community in developing an overall climate resilience strategy for the Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens. The City’s Vulnerable to Vibrant: Strategies to Achieve Climate Resiliency in an Environmental Justice Community proposal received $1 million from the EPA. The government-to-government grant program supports a multi-pronged approach to address climate resiliency, environmental vulnerability, and economic disadvantages experienced by the community.

Race, joined by assistant professors Mili Kyropoulou and Dalia Munenzon, will assist the City of Houston in engaging the community and preparing a neighborhood resilience plan focusing on stormwater and heat island mitigation. The community-based process takes place over a 12 to 18-month period and will inform pilot projects and action planning for larger, embedded infrastructure investments.

The challenge? Houston’s Fifth Ward and Kashmere Garden neighborhoods suffer extreme temperatures and flooding.

Houston’s urban heat island (UHI) temperatures are twice the national average, resulting in twice the energy bills. The median income household in Houston sees energy bills twice the percentage of household income as the national average. Race has mapped energy poverty in Harris County, and the map shows that the City’s wards have a high energy cost burden. These communities have lower household incomes and proportionally higher energy costs, with many living in older, poorly insulated homes without central air conditioning. In addition, these neighborhoods are in UHIs, adding to household energy bills and impacting health.

Census Tract 212400 is in Kashmere Gardens and demonstrates how the lack of investment in the public realm can make things hotter. This tract lacks vegetative cover (trees and landscaping). The community has 56.4% of the cover of Houston, and as a result, its surface temperatures average 109°F during the summer, ranging 12ºF hotter than rural areas surrounding the city.

Hemmed in by Buffalo Bayou, I-69, I-610, and the UPRR tracks, the community flooded during Hurricane Harvey. There are 1,367 structures in the existing 100-year flood zone in the Fifth Ward and 565 in Kashmere Gardens. The two neighborhoods have 27.7 miles of streets at risk of inundation during 100-year flood events.

Houston Public Works prepared a mitigation action plan after Hurricane Harvey. They budgeted $209 million for gray infrastructure projects to reduce the number of structures in 100-year flood-risk areas by 73% and roads at risk of flooding by 77%.

This new EPA grant funds the Hines College team’s work with the community to identify areas where green infrastructure stormwater solutions can complement traditional public works projects, beautify neighborhoods, and reduce UHI.