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What would convince you to move to Downtown Houston? What would need to change in order for you to find urban living in Downtown Houston enticing?

Plan Downtown committees and participants are exploring possible answers to this question. The third pillar of this strategic initiative focuses on how Downtown Houston can serve as the standard of urban livability. Specifically, how it can:

  • provide a holistic set of services that build community for residents, workers, and visitors;
  • grow a residential population to make a Downtown that’s vibrant at all hours; and
  • support strong neighboring communities that complement Downtown and each other.

To delve deeper into this subject, Plan Downtown interviewed Xavier Peña, the vice president of finance and general counsel of the Houston Endowment and chairman of the Downtown Redevelopment Authority:

Q: Why is planning so important?

A: Planning gives an opportunity for people to come together and share ideas to understand what’s important individually and collectively. It enables us to think through how individual ideas can form a great plan that everyone can buy into.

Q: How would you describe living in Downtown Houston?

A: Residents enjoy a great urban lifestyle in Downtown Houston with options for entertainment, a thriving restaurant scene, green space, and sports facilities. We have a lot more choices for living in Downtown Houston, more than we had 5 years ago. Those choices enhance people’s idea of how they visualize living in the city.

Q: Why would someone want to move into the city?

A: There’s a real interest in walkability. There aren’t other parts of Houston with so many amenities — restaurants, entertainment, access to the arts and sports — in a walkable environment.

Q: What’s missing in order to attract more people to live in Downtown Houston?

A: We’ve made great strides in terms of amenities in Downtown, but I think we can always have more retail.

We can also enhance our workforce housing by making it more affordable to those in certain income brackets. Statistics show that the average residential property in Downtown is geared toward someone who earns approximately $100,000 annually. There are many more people that work Downtown that don’t fall in that category. Thinking about that segment of the population is extremely important as we move into the future.

Q: How would you accommodate that population?

A: We need to think what that means for developers and what incentives we can offer so that this type of housing has a place in Downtown Houston. It’s complicated, but it’s essential.

Q: What steps can Downtown take to connect and strengthen neighboring communities?

A: There are natural barriers that exist between Downtown Houston and other surrounding areas. The Pierce Elevated divides Downtown and Midtown. The George R. Brown Convention Center and I-69 are barriers between Downtown and EaDo. There’s a perception that there’s a lack of access to those areas, and we counteract that by doing a lot with the streets that connect those areas to bring those communities together.

That can be accomplished, for example, by bringing awareness to Greenlink and through increased transportation.

Q: How we can make downtown safer?

A: We’ve learned that when you activate street level activity, you create a safer environment for all. As we think through adding retail, restaurants, and other types of entertainment options, we need to think about how to also add public areas so more people feel included to be outside. Safety, and a feeling of safety, will follow.

Q: How can Downtown Houston enhance healthy activities and active living?

A: When we enhance our green spaces, active living follows — weather it be hanging out at a park or going on a walk. People are eager for that type of activity, we just need to provide areas that will accommodate it.

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