Houston’s Sunnyside and South Park neighborhoods’ strengths, concerns highlighted in survey

Despite challenges, the fundamental social structure in Houston’s Sunnyside and South Park neighborhoods is strong, as measured by civic participation, neighbors’ shared belief in helping one another and parents’ high expectations that their children will attend college, according to a new report from Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

Sunnyside, established in 1912, is the oldest historically African American community on Houston’s south side.

The neighborhood’s top concerns include crime and safety; structural characteristics of the neighborhood, such as dirty buildings and vacant lots; and housing concerns related to hurricane damage and leaks inside homes, the report’s authors found.

“Sunnyside and South Park Comprehensive Needs Assessment Data Report” was co-authored by Quianta Moore, fellow in child health policy at the Baker Institute; Rachel Kimbro, professor of sociology at Rice and founding director of the Urban Health Program at Rice’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research; and research partners at the Houston Area Urban League, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Interdisciplinary Research Leaders program, and Sunnyside and South Park leaders.

In a unique collaboration between the Baker Institute and its research and community partners, the “Sunnyside Strong” survey was conducted from October 2018 to February 2019 in the Sunnyside and South Park neighborhoods of Houston. (Because the researchers examined Sunnyside and South Park jointly, in the report they refer to both areas as “the neighborhood” or simply “Sunnyside.”)

Sunnyside, established in 1912, is the oldest historically African American community on Houston’s south side. It has a “rurban” style, with a mix of rural and urban structural characteristics. Small, tidy row homes are interspersed with large, empty lots where horses sometimes graze. “Gentrification has just begun in Sunnyside, which has a desirable, close-in location, and current residents are keen to revitalize the neighborhood but also keep its heritage intact,” the authors wrote.

To help their efforts, the survey was conducted to provide local leaders and policymakers with data about neighborhood concerns, well-being and strengths, the researchers said.

Specifically, the survey included a random sample of 417 households within eight randomly selected census block clusters in the neighborhood. The survey was conducted by community members who were trained in survey administration and research ethics.

The researchers found that residents were also concerned about the lack of accessible and safe transportation. Chronic health conditions were another concern, with more than one-third of residents reporting high blood pressure and one-fifth reporting arthritis and diabetes. Most residents, however, had a regular medical care provider, and most had some type of health insurance.

“While our survey reveals some significant worries and concerns of residents, it also shows the strong potential for neighborhood revitalization,” the authors wrote. “Sunnyside is, indeed, strong.”

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.