In Houston, solar panels have been installed to power up parking meters, for customizable mobile workspaces designed for disaster relief and for the shopping convenience of common sense consumers at IKEA.
But that's not nearly as refreshing as the project that's gearing up to break ground this month in the Fifth Ward on Lyons Avenue between Pannell and Capron streets.
Underwritten by Reliant, Houston's first solar-powered splash pad will add educational fun to a community in the midst of a transformation. Eighteen solar panels perched atop a 2,340-square-foot metal web of open air canopies will form a water park with net zero energy consumption, where 6,600 kilowatt hours generated annually are expected to provide the required electricity to keep children smiling in the water while parents unwind at one of the shaded park benches and picnic tables.
The 15,000 square-foot site, which previously accommodated three single family homes, is the first of a series of projects aimed at providing the community with gathering spaces. As the only pocket park along 22 blocks between Interstate 59 and Lockwood on Lyons Avenue, the Fifth Ward's main thoroughfare, it addresses issues of the area's changing demographics.
"The average age used to be 60-plus, but now the average age is 32. As we anticipate continued growth, we need to support families with young children."
"In the last 20 years, I've seen the residents change from a primarily African American to a mix including the Hispanic community," says Kathy Flanagan Payton, president & CEO of the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation. "The average age used to be 60-plus, but now the average age is 32.
"As we anticipate continued growth, we need to support families with young children."
Adjacent to the splash park is the Fifth Ward Jam, a bungalow turned into a performance art space by Dan Havel and Dean Ruck, funded by the Houston Arts Alliance. But this community's most popular public spot offered entertainment and facilities for adults but little for young children.
"Arts, entertainment and education have a strong history here in the Fifth Ward, and this park celebrates that," Payton says. "We found it necessary to expand the park's amenities to create a destination where math, science, arts and entertainment meet, a place where children and adults can learn about sustainability — which is not a primary focus in areas like the Fifth Ward — and have a good time while doing so."
Payton is passionate about enriching life along Lyons Avenue. She says she was the first baby ever born at St. Elizabeth's Hospital. After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin, she was compelled to make a difference in an area where she belonged. It's her personal mission.
"It's not every day you get an opportunity like this to bring joy to a child's life while inspiring and educating the community about the possibilities of solar power."
"It's not every day you get an opportunity like this to bring joy to a child's life while inspiring and educating the community about the possibilities of solar power, but that is exactly what we are doing with this project," Jason Few, president of Reliant and executive vice president and chief customer officer for NRG Energy, Reliant's parent company, said in a statement.
Few is referring to the various site-specific learning modules planned for the recreation zone. These educational components will explain the process of harvesting solar power.
The system is operated through a central command unit underground and a water filtering system that maintains the stream, ensuring it's clean and cool.
The solar-powered splash pad is part of the Lyons Avenue Renaissance, a gentrification project of the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation that's targeted early October, when volunteers are wanted to support Houston Habitat for Humanity and build new affordable housing, as the time to establish urban gardens and revive 100 neighborhood blocks.