Houston Community Colors Creative Protest in Bid to Save Historic Montrose Oaks from Sidewalk Project

Houston Community Colors Creative Protest in Bid to Save Historic Montrose Oaks from Sidewalk ProjectSource: Google Street View
Alyssa Ford
Published on February 12, 2024

Montrose locals have taken a creative stand in the battle to save their neighborhood's mature oak trees, which are under threat due to a sidewalk expansion project. Protestors wrapped the trees in colorful yarn graffiti, a form of street art that has historical roots in the area. The community's outcry comes in response to plans by the Montrose Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) to remove approximately 60 trees, including several that are protected by city ordinance, as part of a street improvement initiative aimed at drainage issues and pedestrian safety, according to the Houston Chronicle.

The project's first phase, set to upgrade a corridor from Buffalo Bayou to Clay Street, has sparked a division among residents. Some, such as parent Jose Gorman look forward to the changes, telling the Houston Chronicle, "I support the plan. I feel like we’re getting more trees and better trees, and safer ways for people — pedestrians and cyclists — to move around."

Yet, others fear the loss will irreparably harm the neighborhood's character and environmental health. Over 4,500 individuals have signed a petition against the project, and residents like Dr. Stephen Cook have voiced their concerns, stating in an interview with CHRON, "The number one way I could think of to make an area more desirable, more walkable, more pedestrian-friendly, would be to preserve the canopy that we have."

TIRZ officials have defended the project, stating they plan to replace each removed tree with two new ones that will be planted in locations better suited to their growth. Joe Webb, chair of TIRZ, emphasized that the project is a comprehensive solution to a variety of community needs. However, many residents, such as Jonna Hitchcock, organizer of the Save Montrose Live Oaks group, remain skeptical of the replacements. "It's not sustainable to plant baby trees with no irrigation in this time of climate change," Hitchcock told Houston Public Media.

Despite TIRZ's claims of extensive community outreach and modifications to the project based on public feedback, protesters continue to argue that the initiatives are inadequate and that the loss of old-growth oaks cannot be justified by the planting of new trees. As Sarah Frazier, a resident, passionately told the Houston Chronicle, "The trees that we have on Montrose Boulevard, they may not look pristine, but they are survivors. They’ve been through the hurricanes, they have been through the drought."