Study critical of quality of life in Houston

January 21, 2010 8:39:14 AM PST
Houston has a lot of room for improvement when it comes to raising the quality of life for city residents. That's according to a new report released Wednesday. We found Lauren Kees exercising in west Houston, but she doesn't even live there.

"I live in Richmond," she told us.

She's willing to drive from Richmond to west Houston to exercise.

"Are there no parks in Richmond?" we asked her.

"No, not really," she said. "The closest would probably be in Sugar Land."

She already knows what experts said Wednesday, that Houston doesn't have enough green space.

"There could be more," she said.

In the report by the Center for Houston's Future, park experts show that as the Houston region expanded, green space shrank.

"We have some places that are fairly fat in parks and rich in parks and some places a little short," said study participant Robert Rayburn.

The national standard is that we all should live within a quarter mile of a park, close enough to walk. And while 91 percent of The Woodlands lives that close, just 24 percent of the rest of Montgomery County does, 30 percent in Harris County and 35 percent in Fort Bend County. And the report shows it's not getting much better for parks or just undeveloped tree-covered land.

Looking at tree cover, whch is important to improve air quality and health, the study shows since 2000 the Houston region lost almost 700 square miles of tree cover.

But there are signs of hope.

"Now, we're beginning to see reasons for developers to want to preserve land, because it is an attraction," said Rayburn.

Study authors suggest green space is becoming more marketable and may make a turnaround.

"I think that's one of the appeals of places like Austin or Seattle, that there is a lot of green space. It helps keep people healthy," said Rayburn.

The study also found that air quality in Houston is still among the worst in the nation. But significant progress has been made during the past 10 years, despite a growing population, more cars being driven and higher industrial production.

That said, the center's study also says more research needs to be done on the possible link between carcinogens and cancer among children. The study specifically mentions a three-year-old study by the University of Texas that found children who live within two miles of the Houston Ship Channel have a 56 percent higher risk of getting leukemia than children who live more than 10 miles from the ship channel.