Community centers can be more than just buildings with an adjacent park; the whole facility, inside and outside, can be a community place. This was the vision that emerged from a PPS-facilitated grassroots planning process that engaged a largely Latino neighborhood for the new Baker-Ripley Neighborhood Center being developed by Neighborhood Centers, Inc. in Houston.
Neighborhood Centers has a mission to bring resources, education and connection to emerging neighborhoods. The US Department of Education has recently recognized Gulfton, home of the Baker-Ripley Neighborhood Center, a 3.7 square mile neighborhood in southwest Houston, recently named a Promise Neighborhood as part of the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, a “White House-led interagency collaborative…, place-based strategy to support local communities in developing and obtaining the tools they need to revitalize neighborhoods of concentrated poverty into neighborhoods of opportunity.” The Department of Education has awarded a $500,000 Promise Neighborhood planning grant to Neighborhood Centers Inc. and its 12 partners.
The Center’s Grand Opening took place in September 2010 with a full day of free programs and celebrations. Dozens of local organizations had a hand in the festivities.
Today the Center has become a treasured and popular destination within the community. As this article puts it, the Neighborhood Center has become a “Center on the Periphery” of Houston. The vision for the Center placed significant emphasis on public spaces as an integral part of the facility, which also includes a library, day care center and incubator business center.
In collaboration with Concordia, LLC, Concordia LLC, a Community Centered Planning and Design firm, PPS developed a program for the public spaces and conceptual design based on the involvement and ideas of local residents and stakeholders.
In September 2007, PPS held a design workshop which identified the potential uses for public spaces in the complex. PPS and Concordia subsequently hosted two more meetings in Houston to engage community stakeholders in providing their input on the physical design as well as the programming for the center. In one workshop, groups were given base maps on the site upon which they could organize the different indoor and outdoor uses. Based on that input, PPS and Concordia divided the outdoor public spaces into three main zones: the park zone (with a playground and walking path), plaza zone for special events and programs, and a zone which includes a market for local entrepreneurs.
In addition to the programming and design guidelines developed in the meetings, a set of design themes were also developed. These guidelines included preservation of old growth trees and signage and information to make the center more user friendly. Finally, an emphasis was placed on opportunities to integrate art into the design of the spaces to celebrate the extensive talent of students and other local residents.
According to CBO Financial which helped finance the Center, “the Baker-Ripley Neighborhood Center’s design resembles that of a community village. It features a welcome center for traditional community center activities; an art building with studio space for local artists; a reunion hall for performances and group activities; a business center for retail incubation and a community credit union; and a community park which includes a garden, marketplace and picnic space for families.”
The neighborhood has embraced the Community Center and kids interviewed in this great video say the Center “…opens your mind to the world… you see different cultures.”
Today the Baker-Ripley Center is home to huge range of organizations, social services, and collaborators that come together to make the center a great community place including Houston Community College,Houston Food Bank, Community Health Choice, Family Services of Greater Houston, Children’s Museum of Houston, Pro Salud, Planned Parenthood, Watermill Express, ABC Dental, Alley Theater, Society of Performing Arts, Houston Grand Opera and many many others.
Other features include an outdoor marketplace where local entrepreneurs can sell their handmade goods, a Splash Park for children (above), Fondren Plaza and a playground built by Chevron employees, Alexander Community Park which will host free movie nights once a month and mosaic murals created by the Museum of Cultural Arts, Houston.