My Montrose: Montrose Boulevard Conservancy’s Allen Ueckert
Montrose Boulevard Conservancy’s Allen Ueckert took some time to chat about the district’s shared vision of a walkable Montrose, ways of engaging the community, efforts to renew Bell Park, and the need for collaboration between neighborhood organizations.
Below he shares his passionate vision of a vibrant neighborhood where businesses thrive and Houstonians want to live.
People in the community are sometimes confused about all of the different entities working in the Montrose — MMD, MDBA, MBC! How do you explain it all to people?
One of the great things about living in Montrose is that there is a strong sense of community activism both from residents and businesses. These organizations demonstrate the community’s desire to provide focus to issues that neighbors are passionate about as a larger collective body. While the acronyms can be a bit confusing, the organizations are quite distinct. MDBA provides a forum for businesses in Montrose to come together and network, Neartown Association is the umbrella organization of almost 20 active civic clubs in Montrose and MBC’s focus is specifically Montrose Boulevard and how we can engage the community and other groups in transforming this corridor into a landscaped, pedestrian friendly focal point of Montrose.
The MMD is the fabric that links all of these organizations together as leaders of these groups are all represented on the MMD Board.
It is very important that these organization cross collaborate in order to share ideas, input, feedback and speak as one voice. Again, the MMD does a great job at bringing representatives from these groups together to ensure that the vision for Montrose is a common one.
How is MMD helping achieve MBC’s goals ?
Montrose Boulevard is the main artery through the neighborhood that links Buffalo Bayou and Hermann Park. There is no other boulevard in Houston that embodies the uniqueness that one gets when they drive or bike down Montrose. Like the MBC, the MMD recognizes the importance of this great boulevard and early on when it was first formed, made supporting the maintenance and beautification efforts that MBC had initiated for the Boulevard a priority.
I also have the great pleasure of serving as President of the Municipal Area Museum Association (MAMA) which is the civic club within the MMD boundaries just south of US 59. A group comprising both residences and businesses in MAMA identified the need to provide some much needed rehabilitation to Bell Park which is a great city park on Montrose Boulevard, just south of the US 59 bridge. This group commissioned a design for new beds and irrigation system, engaged the Houston Park’s Board and set on a course to raise nearly $31,000 to fund the project. MAMA presented their plan to the MMD and asked for a grant to help with the efforts. MMD provided a grant of $8000 in support of MAMA’s efforts for Bell Park.
To date, MAMA has raised over half of the funds needed to complete the project. Bell Park is the only city park on Montrose Boulevard and is a key link between the businesses that line Montrose to the north and the Museums and Hermann Park to the south. The efforts by MAMA are clearly in line with the objectives of MBC in making Montrose Boulevard a walkable and beautiful corridor.
We would like to ask for the continued support from both businesses and residents to raise the funds needed to begin work on the park. If you would like to contribute, you can make a contribution to the Bell Park efforts through the Houston Park’s Board website at www.houstonparksboard.org via the Donations link, selecting Bell Park as the target for the donation. Making a contribution through the HPB results in the donation being tax deductible.
How has the MBC plan changed since being first introduced in 2007?
MBC’s original scope back in 2007 was simply to beautify the esplanades on Montrose. This included the installation of an irrigation system, trimming the oak trees and including sustainable landscaping on both ends of the esplanade at Westheimer and West Dallas. The longer term vision of MBC is to re-install the esplanades that were originally on Montrose between Westheimer and Bissonnet. As we began to engage stakeholders along Montrose Boulevard, we quickly realized that our vision could be impacted by a host of different projects that would include or touch Montrose Boulevard, such as the proposed University Line. As a result, our scope broadened to include pedestrian friendly sidewalks and lighting, accessibility and linking our objectives to other groups and projects that may impact MBC. As the MMD takes shape, it has been key to align MBC’s vision with that of the MMD goals and objectives.
What are some of the major achievements of MBC?
MBC has adopted all of the Montrose Boulevard esplanades to ensure development along the boulevard is kept consistent. Additionally, MBC in partnership with the MMD provides for esplanade maintenance, including periodic mulchings and regular trash pick-up. One of the greatest accomplishments of MBC has been to engage stakeholders that are impacted by the Boulevard, including Buffalo Bayou Partnership, Hermann Park and businesses in between that see the benefit in a pedestrian friendly corridor. Montrose Boulevard is a “connector” that links both parks from the north and south, St. Thomas in the center and thriving businesses throughout. It’s very important that our plan consider these stakeholders and how best we can connect neighbors, customers, and visitors to these destination points.
Do you feel any momentum from the community with all the talk of bike lanes and parking ordinances?
Absolutely. I’ve lived in Montrose over ten years and can recall when the idea of bike lanes was seen as more of a novelty than a viable transportation solution. Montrose is already one of the most densely populated areas in Houston and is showing no signs of regressing. As a result, people are beginning to see the importance of having the option to bike ride to work and within the neighborhood they live and play.
How do B-Cycle and bike lanes figure into the MBC mission?
B-cycles are just another part of the collective transportation solution. It provides a transportation alternative to visitors and those that live in the neighborhood that otherwise wouldn’t get the full appreciation of a neighborhood such as Montrose by sitting in a car. There are so many possibilities for B-Cycle stations throughout Montrose. Lower Westheimer, Elenor Tinsely Park and Bell Park are all possibilities that come to mind as future B-cycle stations.
Do you see specific ways for MMD and MBC to work towards the goal together?
Both MMD and MBC share a common vision of a vibrant neighborhood where businesses thrive and Houstonians want to live. In achieving these goals, both organizations advocate common sense transportation solutions that promote walkability, encourage alternative transportation options and seek to ensure that the necessary infrastructure is in place that promotes this vision. We have to be able set policies and standards and ensure that development that is done without the thought of the impact of the larger neighborhood is discouraged. We can redo all the sidewalks to make Montrose a more pedestrian friendly neighborhood, but if a utility pole is allowed to be placed in the center of the sidewalk without any input from the neighborhood, this becomes another permanent barrier to achieving our vision.*
*The City of Houston has made it very easy to report these types of issues via the new 3-1-1 mobile app!
What is your favorite place to walk in Montrose — do you have a favorite circuit to walk?
I have many. When I lived in North Montrose, I would take advantage of the hike and bike trails at Eleanor Tinsley Park and then would often make my way to the lower end of West Gray to Barnaby’s for dinner. Now that I’ve moved to the other end of Montrose, I take advantage of being close to Hermann Park, the Museums, the restaurants just north of the bridge and my new favorite, Black Hole Coffee House on Graustark and Castle Court.
What makes Montrose more apt to become ‘walkable’ than other parts of Houston?
Montrose has a unique character unlike any other part of Houston that is best appreciated on foot. The density coupled with first rate restaurants, bars, shops, museums and a mix of historic neighborhoods and contemporary architecture entice people to get out an explore Montrose.
What makes Montrose special for you?
The people. Montrose is a melting pot of cultures that is intertwined with a strong civic mindset. People that live and work in Montrose love this neighborhood which is demonstrated through organizational activism and the belief that a collective voice is better than a single voice.
What does your Montrose look like?
My Montrose looks very similar to what it looks like today. The vision MBC has for Montrose Boulevard is not to sanitize or create a cookie cutter landscape project, but rather enhance the unique character that already exist, making the street and sidewalks accessible, well lit and inviting. Above all, we want to ensure that Montrose Boulevard continues to the main connector through the neighborhood, linking all of the great neighborhoods, parks and businesses together.
Tell us your favorite places for books, coffees, music, art, nature, life!
There are so many! We are very spoiled! Westheimer has some of the finest restaurants in the country, all within walking distance of one another. The bar scene continues to evolve in a great way. It’s really encouraging to see these businesses garner the national attention they so rightfully deserve. Inversion coffee, the Black Hole and of course a favorite of mine for many many years, Empire Café are all places I love to hang out and have a coffee. I’m also really excited about the plans for Bell Park as this is a wonderful neighborhood amenity along Montrose that is accessible to everyone and will shine brighter with fresh landscaping and new beds. I would encourage everyone to support this project as it is the sort of grassroots effort that both residents and businesses can make contributions toward that result in a long term amenity for all to enjoy!
If you would like to make a contribution to the Bell Park revitalization, you may do so via the Houston Park’s Board website at www.houstonparksboard.org . Once you are on the ‘Donations’ link, select ‘Bell Park’.