Community Development Block Grant
Success Stories

Houston, TX - Mayor Lee P. Brown

SPARK Parks

SPARK Parks are school parks that are open to the community and built with a combination of CDBG funds, school funds and private dollars. The program began in Houston in 1983 as a way to create more green space and provide critically needed neighborhood recreational areas. It now includes132 school parks - 98 of which were funded with CDBG funds - available to at least 75,000 children and their families each day.

The children of each school are involved in the design and upkeep of, and fund-raising for, their SPARK Park. Community involvement is a cornerstone of the SPARK program; officials believe that when the children and community feel a sense of ownership of the park, there is significantly less vandalism.

SPARK chooses 10 to 14 new schools every March. Once a school is chosen, information from neighborhood groups helps to determine the general style of development that will be used and the financial resources available or needed. Contributions from corporations and foundations and funds from local schools, Harris County and CDBG have made the projects possible. Approximately $50,000 to $75,000 of CDBG funds are used for each qualifying SPARK Park.

The principal of each participating school is asked to form a SPARK committee, decide on fundraisers to be held during the year, and start working with the committee to get ideas for their SPARK Park. The schools also are encouraged to secure the services of a volunteer architect; this saves about $3,500. If a volunteer architect cannot be found, SPARK hires one.

The only requirement established by the SPARK program is that the park plans include pedestrian access for community use after school and on weekends. The school, the committee and the architect develop the plans to meet the needs of the students and the neighborhood. A typical park consists of modular playground equipment, a walking track, trees, benches, picnic tables, and an outdoor classroom and public art component.

Construction plans are generally completed by the following January, final bids are received in the spring, and construction, it is hoped, is completed in the summer. Following park construction there is a tree-planting volunteer day at the school, organized by the SPARK tree-planting coordinator. Students, teachers, staff and community residents are recruited to plant the trees, and the school principal is responsible for watering them during the first year. The completed park is dedicated in the fall.

Contact: Lester Whiteing, Jr., Public Information Officer, Housing and Community Development Department, (713) 865-4234