Helping Houston

12 Simple Ways to Help Houston Become a Better City

An everyday guide to voting better, helping the homeless, beautifying the city, and improving the environment.

By Morgan Kinney July 20, 2018 Published in the August 2018 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Image: Caspar Wain

How to: Vote Better

  • Keep the political conversation going year-round: “Don’t keep civic engagement walled off—it’s part of the broad scope of life,” says Linda Cohn, president of the League of Women Voters’ Houston Chapter. “When you go to the workplace or even the doctor, have a stack of voter-registration applications to leave on a table.”
  • Skip Google and check out “On the site, we reproduce candidates’ autobiographies and their unedited answers to select policy questions, so you can read through these candidate responses side-by-side,” Cohn says.
  • Turn Election Day into a holiday: “Some people make a party of it. It should be an event—make it special. Then it becomes part of your family’s tradition.”

Image: Caspar Wain

How to: Help the Homeless

  • Find volunteer opportunities via “You can match your comfort level and interest with the 100-plus member organizations’ needs,” says Marilyn Brown, president and CEO of the Houston Coalition for the Homeless. “They’re all in one page.”
  • Support affordable housing in your neighborhood: “The need was critical before Harvey hit, so now, I don’t even know how to describe it other than DEFCON 1—whatever’s the worst,” she says. “Any new housing project inevitably runs into NIMBY issues and prejudice that we all need to push back on.”
  • Refrain from donating to panhandlers: “Our good intentions are better served by volunteering at our partner agencies,” Brown says. “Handing someone a dollar helps them manage their homelessness for one more day instead of ultimately getting them to an agency that can help them end it forever.”

Image: Caspar Wain

How to: Beautify Houston

  • Leave a mark: “Planting trees and painting murals within your neighborhood instills a part of yourself in the community,” says Amy Reed, executive director of Keep Houston Beautiful. “That’s now your home, not just where you live.”
  • Adopt-A-Drain: The new city program allows folks to adopt any of the city’s roughly 115,000 storm drains, so long as they promise to clear them of debris at least four times per year. “If we had all of those cleaned on a regular basis,” Reed says, “imagine what grossness we wouldn’t be putting in the water system and what flooding problems we wouldn’t be dealing with on a regular rainy day.”
  • Recycle: Nobody pretends Houston makes it easy—especially with glass—but the effort banishes litter from streets and landfills. “It’s not always convenient to do good work. Recycling really, truly does make a difference.”

Image: Caspar Wain

How to: Improve the Environment

  • Make low-emission diet choices: “The low-hanging fruit is maintaining a plant-based diet,” says Elizabeth Spike, chair of the Sierra Club’s Houston branch. “Eat less meat, eat smaller portions, and compost what you don’t finish eating.”
  • Try biking or riding the METRO: “Stepping out from behind the wheel is a great way to get exercise and have a different perspective on your city,” Spike says. “When you’re not in traffic, you might actually stop and talk to people.”
  • Decline straws and single-use plastic or Styrofoam to-go containers that end up in oceans and landfills: “I love to go out to eat, and I enjoy take-out, but I hate the plastic,” she says. “Instead of mounting an angry campaign to the CEO of Starbucks, I say, let’s present this from the consumer perspective and show servers and managers this is something we care about.”
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