Galveston's Post-Hurricane Clean Slate

In the wake of the Hurricane Ike, the city is radically rebuilding its affordable housing to make it greener and more diverse 

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Three years ago, Hurricane Ike wiped out much of Galveston, Texas, including over 500 affordable homes administered by the city’s Housing Authority. Faced with the task of starting over, the Authority began to rethink how it might improve upon its old public housing model.

With the help of McCormack Baron Salazar, a prominent national developer of economically integrated city neighborhoods, and Urban Strategies, a planning and management firm specializing in inclusive urban redevelopment, the city has produced a project called Working Together for Galveston. The project’s vision statement is a model of learning from the past to create a more resilient, sustainable, and inclusive future:

Working Together for Galveston is about a vision for the future of Galveston. It’s about integrating the potential of the future with the richness of the past. It’s about honoring the past through historically contextual architecture. It’s about acknowledging the potential for storms and building to a level and quality that mitigates damage. It’s about learning from previous failed housing experiments and creating viable communities for everyone. It’s about stewarding natural resources of today through energy efficiency and sustainable development practices. It’s about aligning the resources and human services that help residents be successful, and move up the economic ladder. It’s about defining the future of Galveston through a consensus-based, community planning process that engages residents and stakeholders in building the kind of neighborhoods they want to live in.

Through the process, the city expects to create not so much "public housing" as most of us have come to know the concept but, rather, mixed-income, mixed-use neighborhoods that will be built in phases and connect residents to economic opportunity. Lofty aspirations, perhaps, but ones that Galveston gives every indication of pursuing the right way.  

Part of those aspirations include achieving certification under LEED for Neighborhood Development and thus qualifying for a nine percent tax credit administered by the state of Texas. The team certainly has experience in designing and building to green standards: McCormack Baron Salazar was the first developer worldwide to complete two LEED-ND-certified projects. The firm has also completed or made substantial progress on seven projects that adhere to the Green Communities criteria developed by Enterprise Community Partners. 

NRDC worked intensively on the creation of both LEED-ND and Green Communities. The former rewards the superior environmental performance of green projects that have great, transit-accessible locations and walkability; the latter is particularly strong with respect to green building standards.

The likely first phase of the complex Galveston undertaking will be called Cedar Terrace. The development team expects to achieve green performance on this site by reducing energy, water usage and waste compared to industry standards; restoring streets, connecting to nearby neighborhoods, and taking advantage of walkable transit service; using healthy indoor materials; restoring park space; and lowering residents’ utility bills.

Cedar Terrace will attempt to achieve LEED-ND certification, and the developer’s preliminary worksheet anticipates a perfect score under the rating system for “mixed-income diverse communities” and a near-perfect score for "preferred locations," which rewards sites with an abundance of existing street infrastructure.  Cedar Terrace is also aiming for maximum credit under the system for placing housing near jobs, for brownfield redevelopment, for street trees, and for community involvement.  It also hopes to earn credit points for energy- and water-efficient buildings.  On two other sites, the Housing Authority will design and build to LEED-ND standards.

Commendably, the team will be working with a Community Task Force, comprising residents and community stakeholders, on the development and implementation of the rebuilding plan.  Even better, there is also a commitment to hiring construction workers from among public housing residents, and to assisting job training and placement for the future.  There is much more detail on the website for Working Together for Galveston.

It’s certainly a great start.

This post originally appeared on the NRDC's Switchboard blog.

About the Author

  • Kaid Benfield is the director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and co-founder of Smart Growth America. More
    Kaid Benfield is the director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and co-founder of Smart Growth America. He is the author or co-author of Once There Were Greenfields (NRDC 1999), Solving Sprawl (Island Press 2001), Smart Growth In a Changing World (APA Planners Press 2007), and Green Community (APA Planners Press 2009). In 2009, Kaid was voted one of the "top urban thinkers" on Planetizen.com, and he was named one of "the most influential people in sustainable planning and development" in 2010 by the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. He blogs at NRDC's Switchboard.