F. Kaid Benfield on Project Row Houses

The following is an excerpt of Designed for the Future: 80 Practical Ideas for a Sustainable World by Jared Green, published by Princeton Architectural Press, 2015. Save 30% (plus free shipping in the U.S.) when you purchase Designed for the Future from papress.com. Enter promo code GREEN at checkout.




Revitalize old neighborhoods; they are inherently environmental.


Project Row Houses started with twenty-two abandoned shotgun houses on one-and-a-half blocks in a poor section of Houston. These are wood-frame houses in which the rooms are all lined up. You can walk straight through, since there are no hallways. About half of these houses were converted into revolving showcases for African American artists. Another set was converted into two-year residencies for young single moms to learn life and career skills in a campus-like environment. There are now some forty properties, including a new section of affordable duplexes designed with the assistance of Rice University’s School of Architecture.

The project was started by the artist Rick Lowe. The houses were low cost because they were abandoned. Lowe initially used volunteer labor. He eventually used the project as the base for a community development corporation, a nonprofit developer that can raise capital, which is how the project expanded to now cover six blocks.

Project Row Houses is inspirational. It happened because of one guy with an idea who had some creative, energetic friends and a vision for the future of his community. This project shows that with a good heart and fundamental concern for our fellow man, we can do incredible things. It shows the best of the human spirit.

The project is not environmental per se, but any project that revitalizes old neighborhoods in a sound way is inherently environmental because it recycles land, buildings, and infrastructure. It is antienvironmental to have gaping holes of abandoned property in our cities.

The project has since inspired others, like Watts House Project in Los Angeles, a project that renovates wood-frame houses in the shadow of the famous Watts Towers. Each renovation is a collaboration between the resident, an artist, and an architect.

F. Kaid Benfield is a blogger and author, and special counsel for urban solutions at the Natural Resources Defense Council.