Space for Everyone: How a Diverse Community is Coming Together

Home to 55,000 people, Gulfton/Sharpstown in Houston, Texas is the most diverse neighborhood in one of the country’s most diverse cities. The community is made up of people representing a myriad of nationalities, ethnicities and religions. Almost nine in 10 residents speak a language other than English at home.

Despite their differences, residents here have similar needs and are facing similar struggles. Unemployment rates in the community are some of the lowest in the city, yet median income is also one of the lowest, meaning residents are stuck working jobs that do not offer an upwardly mobile pathway. Forty-six percent of residents do not have a high school diploma. Solving for these realities is critical to halting the cycle of generational poverty.

Purpose Built Communities’ Network Member Connect Community is working to develop a cohesive sense of community so that the shared needs of all can be addressed.

Like many dense urban neighborhoods, acquiring land for parks, recreation areas or shared community resources can be a challenge, but those assets are sorely needed. Connect’s impact zone population density is five times greater than any other neighborhood in Houston—almost 18,000 people per square mile. The resourceful residents, partners and Connect Community team is leveraging their diversity to find creative solutions and turn ideas into action. By adding investments to private assets in exchange for public access, they are creating new spaces for people to interact and acclimate to American culture.

  • St. Luke’s United Methodist Church offered up a field on their campus which is used by KIPP CONNECT for physical education classes and sports team practices during the day, and by the YMCA and others for soccer and other activities after school. The neighborhood is home to 19 schools within a two-mile radius, including a mix of traditional and charter public schools, each with their own unique culture. St. Luke’s hosts an annual Community Fall Festival, which is convened by Connect Community, to nurture cross-school and cross-cultural relationships among the many students and families of the neighborhood.
  • A local KIPP high school has a new gymnasium, auditorium and cafeteria and, with additional investment by the YMCA and Connect Community, the entire community has a new place to gather—the HUB. In a community tight on space, this incremental investment now provides access to language classes, job training, sports leagues and summer camps. Looking ahead, a Phase II is planned adjacent to the HUB and will include: a full-size YMCA; a storefront Legacy Community Health clinic; a Teen Hub; community rental space and more.
  • Connect Community helped improve a field at the YES Prep Gulfton school by identifying and leveraging resources to turn a threadbare patch of dirt into an artificial turf field built to withstand the thirteen hours of daily programming, including YMCA sports and community use after school hours.
  • Following the tragic death of a young child who was struck by a car in an intersection shared by five schools, a parklet including a tree planted in his name and a street mural were recently dedicated in his honor, serving as another example of how residents here are converting unused spaces into common ground—places to meet new friends, to pause and reflect, and to empower one another into shared action on issues of importance to the neighborhood such as public safety.
  • Beyond building community through shared physical spaces, Connect Community is launching a virtual community space through its new website which will be accessible in multiple languages and feature a portal specifically designed for neighborhood residents with limited English proficiency to find and share events and community news.

This purposeful attention to culturally relevant, abundant and welcoming spaces is one of the hallmarks of Connect Community’s work, and their stakeholders are responding in turn. With over 1300 attendees last year, students are eager to bring their families and meet new friends at the Fall Festival, the recreation fields are in constant rotation with a variety of activities and residents are forming new bonds and becoming more involved in defining a vibrant future for themselves and their neighbors.