Port Arthur, Texas—ninety miles east of Houston—is the Gulf Coast’s version of Detroit, yet it is somehow more haunting. It is devastated, littered with abandoned buildings and overgrown lots—but simultaneously you can smell the money, the billions of dollars of petroleum based products that are transformed in the city’s refineries and slink through the miles of pipelines, it is a horrible, hazardous smell. The dollars, though, leave the smell behind and just move through, bypassing the city entirely like a great loop road. The money is followed by the workers employed at the refineries that congest the streets out of town at the end of their shifts. It is a point where great wealth and abject poverty collide.
West Port Arthur is the community where this is collision is most clear. Tank farms and stacks frame the views, pipelines mark the edge of a neighborhood park, and the shadow traces of former industries pock mark the ground. It is a place where it is hard to imagine change, even though evidence of a once-thriving neighborhood remains in place—the shells of the former Houston Avenue and Procter Street clubs where you can almost still hear the blues and the recently demolished taxi stand, where you can imagine a previous era when elegant and smartly-dressed couples hailed a cab for an evening on the town. The strength of the community today lies mostly in the people that call West Port Arthur home, and it is from this strength that the strategies for the West Port Arthur: SEED project emerged. ”SEEDS” are programs that begin small and grow into comprehensive and sustainable change in the community. For us, to SEED, is to address the social, economic, and environmental challenges and provide both pragmatic and visionary solutions.