How Do We Improve Our Neighborhood? (A Guide)
When you see something big that needs to be made better in Cottage Grove, it's hard to know where to start. Especially when, like me, you moved into the heart of Houston from a place where all the HOA was concerned about was the height of your grass, and pretty much everything was fine. Here, we don't have HOAs - at least not in most areas of the neighborhood! And while we love where we live, there are definitely things that can and need to be improved.
So when there are problems like bad drainage or roads in poor condition, how do we fix it? When there are security or safety problems, how do we deal with it? When our park isn't as good as it should be, what do we do? There are 2 main answers to these questions:
We need to understand how to change things and who we need to engage
We need to band together to make that happen
Let's start with #1 - there are many levels and levers of government that we must work with in a meaningful way to create change. But first, who are they and what do they do? Here's a quick rundown, largest to smallest:
You may not think your senators and national representatives matter on a neighborhood level, but they do! Remember when the I-45 expansion got stopped? That was at a national level. Since we live right next to I-10, not only does that freeway impact us daily, but it also could really mess up our neighborhood should it be expanded. So we need to make sure our US senators and reps know our concerns so they can advocate for us! Getting local funds from the infrastructure bill that recently passed is an important example.
US Representative: Second Congressional District (currently Dan Crenshaw) - about to be the Seventh for 2022 elections, because all the districts got redrawn - we'll vote to decide!
US Senators: 2 for all of Texas (Currently John Cornyn and Ted Cruz)
This is where the action really is with I-10. We care a lot about forming relationships with our state representative and senator, and they can help us out when TxDOT wants to take out part of our park to make new freeway lanes (they want to do this and are still trying to make it happen). But also, TxDOT is a state agency!
TxDOT handles Hempstead Highway, I-10, and the I-10 feeder that dead ends at Cohn. They are very powerful and impact us a ton. We need to work to keep their plans consistent with what we want for our neighborhood. They can also do great projects, like building a bridge over I-10 to connect us to Memorial Park. But we need to work with them in all cases to make sure we have a voice in these projects!
State Senator: Texas Senate District 15 (Currently John Whitmire)
State Representative: Texas House District 134 (Currently Ann Johnson)
We often don't think of county government, because 1) it's really unclear how it works or what they do and 2) they mainly focus their efforts on unincorporated areas of Harris County (like outside the actual City of Houston). But, they can help us. They manage and improve roads, parks, public health, and even some aspects of early childhood education. They don't give us much right now, but they could! And we pay a LOT of taxes to the county.
Precinct 4 is our new precinct after the maps were redrawn, so be sure to vote this year!
There are a lot of facets to city government, but the main thing you need to know is who represents you on City Council. We rely on the Department Public Works for infrastructure, Houston Police and Fire Departments for safety, the Parks Department for Cottage Grove Park, and so many more. 311 is the way we can report acute issues, but the bigger and longer term issues need advocacy from our City Council Member.
City Council: District C (Currently Council Member Abbie Kamin)
Houston Fire Department: Station 11 on TC Jester
Houston Police Department: Central Division
The group that advocates for the best interests of Cottage Grove is a 501(c)3 nonprofit called the Cottage Grove Civic Association. If you haven't heard of us and live in Cottage, Grove, consider joining us as a member! The Civic Association is not a HOA - instead, its job is be a representative voice for the neighborhood to the City, County, State, and other government entities. Because the Civic Association is made up of community members, we spend a lot of time trying to understand the issues that impact our neighborhood. The biggest 4 needs we have identified are infrastructure, parks, security, and community engagement, and each of these is a committee on which you can volunteer if you are a member and a resident.
Super Neighborhood 22 is made up of several Civic Associations in our area - it reports to the City of Houston's Department of Neighborhoods and also advocates on our behalf. Because this is a group of Civic Associations working that often have common interests, our voice can be heard more prominently - power in numbers! The Civic Association leadership participates in monthly Super Neighborhood 22 meetings.
There are a lot of other organizations that directly impact Cottage Grove that aren't government. Two of the most important are:
Tax Income Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ): TIRZ 5 is also called Memorial Heights. This is a special entity that uses local tax dollars and reinvests them. Cottage Grove is not in a TIRZ, but we are adjacent to this one. We can't join because they are at their cap of residential areas that can join, and it's very hard to create our own. But TIRZ 5 does great things in our area, like the future extension of the Heights Hike & Bike Trail into our area.
Houston Galveston Area Council (HGAC): This is the entity that sets the transportation plan for the whole Houston/Galveston area. TxDOT has to get their plans approved and put into the 10-year HGAC plan. We work with our City Council member to be sure our interests are represented on this plan.
Finally - How Do We Make Change Happen?
Hopefully you've learned a lot about how all of this works - but how do we actually make things better for our neighborhood? We work together. We band together as a Civic Association and figure out what our concerns are and prioritize them. Then, we figure out who needs to be involved at what level of government (for example, lobbying City officials to fix our streets). We strategize, we plan, and we try to get it done collaboratively.
If you live in Cottage Grove, please consider joining the Civic Association to make a difference in our community. If we work together, we can make change happen. If we are a bunch of individual voices, it's not nearly as effective as if our voice is loud and unified. Consider joining today!