Group Says Improving Houston’s Life Quality Key For Children’s Future

Jun. 4, 2014Houston Public Media

Every year, Children at Risk invites experts from different fields to present ideas about how to solve some problems kids will likely be facing in the near future. They call it the “Future of Our Children Conference.”

Bob Sanborn, the organization’s president, said this year’s goal was to look at some concepts that might be turned into public policy.

“Looking at how our streets are and how kids can be safer on our streets and have a higher quality of life,” he said, “or looking at simple things, like, how do we make sure that pre-K is something that can work for our kids, so we have fewer drop-outs and more kids going to college. When we talk about ending poverty, it’s really all about making sure kids get through school. It’s the quickest and cheapest way to end poverty.”

Invited speakers included Brian Greene, president of the Houston Food Bank – he talked about food insecurity; Angelo Giardino with the Baylor College of Medicine, who spoke about access to affordable healthcare, and Jay Blazek Crossley with Houston Tomorrow.

Crossley’s group aims to improve the quality of life in Houston.

“The basics is, I want my children, I want the children of Houston to have a healthy life, to have healthy options for getting around and for eating,” Crossley said. “And so, quality of life means that you can live a good life and that we as a region can make policy decisions to go in that direction.”

One concept the group is advocating is “complete streets,” which means designing streets in a way that they are safe and comfortable for all users, not just motorists.

“Generally, what we have done in Houston is design streets for cars and not really for humans,” Crossley said. “And so, ‘complete streets’ is to design streets for humans, including sidewalks and bike lanes or even just designing the street in a way that the people in the cars will unconsciously drive a little slower.”

Houston Mayor Annise Parker actually signed an executive order last year embracing the “complete streets” standard.

It’s part of a growing effort to make Houston more attractive to families and young professionals, who, researchers say, are more concerned with quality of life issues than were previous generations. Just this week, the Greater Houston Partnership launched an image campaign that touts Houston’s quality of life.

But Crossley said there’s still a lot of work to do in that area.

“I mean I love Houston, but it’s one of the most dangerous cities to be in as a pedestrian. It’s one of the most dangerous places to be in in a car,” he said. “You know, every two days, three Houstonians die on our roads. So, that’s not… you know, you can’t pretend away that that’s a quality of life issue that it’s dangerous to be using the transportation system.”

Crossley says Houston should take Portland, Oregon, as a model when it comes to safe streets and a city connected by greenways.