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August 5th, 2006:

Guest post: Garnet Coleman

You may have noticed Houston’s freeways looking a lot greener and a lot less menacing the past few years. The recently completed section of the Southwest Freeway from Shepherd to Downtown now has a lush landscaping along its walls. Keep driving towards downtown on 59 towards I-45 and you’ll see the once empty plots of grass that divided the freeway now full of trees and shrubs. Along the Katy Freeway, you’ll see five-point Texas stars in newly constructed columns trimmed with gold border.

These improvements didn’t happen by accident; they were developed by the Green Ribbon Project, the only comprehensive and sustainable freeway beautification program in the United States, a program which I created in the mid 1990s. (Greg Wythe kindly gave me credit for the program when new landscaping premiered on 288, but I did more than just bring it to Houston; I brought it to Texas).

I got the idea for the Green Ribbon project driving in California and Georgia a few years ago. My wife’s parents used to live in LA, and anyone who’s ever taken the long drive west on I-10 knows what a pleasant shock it is to come out of hundreds of miles of Arizona desert landscape into Los Angeles’ verdant freeways. I had the same experience driving through Atlanta, which has equally well landscaped freeways. As I was driving into LA one weekend to visit my wife’s parents, I thought to myself, “If California and Georgia can build freeways which are integrated with the urban landscape rather than just big concrete blocks dropped on top of it, why not Texas?”

So I called some engineers I knew at the Texas Department of Transportation and asked them if Texas could start improving its freeways the way California and Georgia had. They said we could, and a committee was formed to develop specs for how TxDOT would build freeways from then on. That committee ended up becoming the Green Ribbon Project.

The Green Ribbon Project is more than just planting a few trees; it’s a comprehensive and sustainable program for Texas that will grow proportionally with Texas’ freeways. A few years after the Green Ribbon Project started, I strengthened the program by inserting a rider into the appropriations bill which required that one-half to one percent of all new state highway construction funds be spent on aesthetic, artistic and landscaping improvements. So if a new freeway costs a billion dollars, then at least five million has to spent on aesthetic improvements.

And those funds are transferable too; if there are more funds than necessary to install improvements, those funds can go to other freeways within the same TxDOT district. If there are significant maintenance costs for improvements, groups like Scenic Houston, Trees for Houston, and many of the management districts in Houston can maintain trees or shrubs after TxDOT has installed them. As I noted in a speech at TxDOT in 2001, the Green Ribbon project won accolades from the American Planning Association for both its comprehensive and sustainable nature in building more aesthetically pleasing freeways.

Protecting the environment should be a priority for our state government, and the Green Ribbon Project works to mitigate the effects of pollution in Texas’ cities. Trees, of course, take in carbon dioxide, which is a good thing, and the self-sustaining nature of the program means that as our freeways grow, our beautification and landscaping efforts grow with it. Additionally, reducing planes of exposed concrete with more trees along our freeways can reduce the urban heat island effect as well.

Making our freeways and cities more aesthetically pleasing is a good thing in itself. At Westheimer and the West Loop, concrete forms in the freeways (which, incidentally, require minimal maintenance cost), or the new overpasses on the recently completed section of the Southwest freeway, match the “public mood” of the architecture in the area. That kind of work can instill a sense of civic pride; the reality is that people are just happier about their city when it looks better. Green Ribbon 2, which is currently in the works, plans to work on how TxDOT can install architectural improvements and public art (like this art along I-45) along our freeways. I’m proud of my work on the Green Ribbon Project, both as an environmentalist and as a citizen who thinks our public and urban landscape can be just as beautiful as the natural landscape of Texas.

Garnet Coleman
State Representative
House District 147

Reports from Harrell’s “Band of Brothers” press conference

Eye on Williamson has two reports from Thursday’s press conference by Mary Beth Harrell in which she and six fellow Democratic Congressional candidates, all of whom are military veterans, respond to scurrilous charges made against her by John Carter. There’s video and a podcast as well, so check it out.

Camp Wellstone

From the inbox:

Camp Wellstone is coming to Houston August 18-20!
Camp Wellstone is coming to Houston, Texas for the first time! Register today for Camp Wellstone Houston on the weekend of August 18-20, 2006. Click here to register!

Camp Wellstone is a training program that teaches progressives how to win on issues and elect good candidates. We use a distinctive approach to politics, based on Paul Wellstone’s success at integrating grassroots organizing, electoral organizing, progressive public policy and ethical leadership.

The training is highly interactive, combining exercises, lectures, and simulations over the course of 2.5 days. Camp runs Friday from 2:30pm-9:00pm, Saturday from 9:00am-6:00pm, and Sunday from 9:00am-3:00pm. We keep you busy the whole time! The exact location of the camp will be announced in the coming weeks.

Camp Wellstone is divided into three tracks:

Candidate track. This is for people who have made the decision to run for office.
Campaign track. This track focuses on how to be an effective staff or volunteer member of a winning progressive campaign.
Citizen activist track. For people interested in citizen lobbying, issue advocacy, and community organizing, this track provides skills in how to win on issues.
For more information about Camp Wellstone or to see which track is right for you, click here.

Camp Wellstone fills very quickly. If you are interested, sign up online by following the link above or visit www.wellstone.org

The cost is $75 or just $35 for students, low-income, or unemployed participants. We are not able to guarantee your space for the the camp unless payment is received 2 weeks prior to the starting date. Camp participants are responsible for their own accommodations.

If you have questions about the training, contact Cietta Kiandoli: [email protected] or 202-419-3077.

Click here to sign-up for Camp Wellstone