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HISTORICAL – Keep Houston Beautiful


Mural produced by the KHB’s Graffiti Hurts program to involve youth in rectifying graffiti with cooperative art projects, photo undated.

Mural produced by the KHB’s Graffiti Hurts program to involve youth in rectifying graffiti with cooperative art projects, photo undated.

A city ordinance passed under Mayor Jim McConn in 1977 created the Houston Clean City Commission. By 1979, the Commission’s Clean Houston program formed as a nonprofit organization funded by the private sector. Operating as the d.b.a. for the Commission, Keep Houston Beautiful (KHB) became the local affiliate of Keep America Beautiful to promote a mission of education, personal responsibility and community collaboration for a clean and beautiful Houston.

Teaching urban environmental awareness was an early part of KHB’s mission. KHB developed and distributed guidelines for recycling, composting and planting for beautification in public and private places. Workshop topics included strategies to stop illegal dumping and organize neighborhood cleanup campaigns. KHB offered ideas for classroom activities to Houston teachers at in-service training sessions. For example, the Junior Composter activity guide help students explore the characteristics of soil and the role of composting in soil enhancement.

Sponsoring events such as the Little Kids’ Litter Party helped children learn the role of personal responsibility in littering and trash disposal. In 1996, children ages 3 to 5 participated in a Clean Houston event jointly sponsored by the Houston International Festival. Children enjoyed music, instruction on avoiding being a Litter Bug and the antics of cartoon characters. A truly collaborative event, the Litter Party drew support from schools, City of Houston departments, television stations and corporations. As a litter-free event, the party promoted positive waste handling of participants and sponsors at the event.

KHB’s cleanup campaigns led to beautified neighborhoods and civic pride. Keep Houston Beautiful Day, celebrated each spring, promotes citywide cleanup efforts, organized around collaborative effort, distribution of prize premiums, and celebrity participation. In 2003, cleanup sites included Kashmere Gardens, Gessner/Braeswood, and Huntington Village in Alief, among others.

From its beginnings more than 30 years ago, KHB worked to raise awareness on the premise that enhancing Houston’s environment creates measurable economic impact for all segments of the Houston area. Civic beautification, as encouraged by KHB, is about pretty trees and flowers but also the development of personal and community responsibility in the maintenance of a clean, healthy and successful city.

Keep Houston Beautiful Records in the Houston History Archives will be available fir public viewing by the end of May 2016.

 

Little Kids’ Litter Party at the Houston International Festival, 1996.

Little Kids’ Litter Party at the Houston International Festival, 1996.

 

Keep Houston Beautiful Day, South Union Civic Club, 2006.

Keep Houston Beautiful Day, South Union Civic Club, 2006.

 

Author Dr. Teresa (Terry) Tomkins-Walsh is historian and archivist for the Houston History Archives with the Center for Public History at the University of Houston. Located in Special Collections at the UH Libraries, the Archives collects historical documents on the growth and development of Houston with particular concentrations in energy, environmental and ethnic history. Contact her at tomkinswalsh@uh.edu.
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