The Progress-Index: For struggling neighborhoods, "social sculpture" proves a cure

Full article by Sarah Vogelsong


In 1993, the historic and predominantly African-American Third Ward of Houston, Texas, was facing a host of problems that would not be unfamiliar to Petersburg today: a glut of poor housing, a lack of investment, violence and, with the crack cocaine epidemic surging, drugs.

Within that neighborhood, a block and a half of 22 shotgun-style houses was identified by community leaders as the worst of the worst and was targeted for demolition.

Initially, local artist Rick Lowe agreed with them — but as he spent more time in the area, his views began to shift. He started to notice the people who lived there and the subtle architectural details of the houses, the way in which they reminded him of the murals of Hampton University-educated John Biggers, a major figure in the African American art community.