Placemaking in Waco Part 2: The Elm Ave Streetscape Project

By Tami Nutall Jefferson

Thirteen. Nineteen. Thirty. Those are the number of public posts that the Facebook post search function yielded for “Waco’s Juneteenth parade” for the years of 2016, 2017, and 2018, respectively. As Luann Jennings touched on the basics of placemaking in the first segment of this series, we are seeing firsthand the impact that organized and grassroots placemaking is having on the Elm Avenue district. Image is a big part of that. We are witnessing placemaking in action – live and in living color.

As with everything in life, there will always be two sides to the practice of placemaking. Whether you are on the “gung ho – let’s go” side or the “SOoMYB” (stay out of my backyard) side, I commend the City of Waco for proactively making a public forum available to the friends and neighbors of East Waco to voice their concerns and opinions about these projects as they move forward. The first of one of these forums took place on May 8th at the Multi-Purpose Center in East Waco at the Elm Ave Streetscape Project Public Meeting. The well-attended meeting included many familiar faces of Waco leadership, and importantly, many friends and neighbors who care about preserving while developing the East Waco neighborhood. Led by Community Liaison Chris McGowan of CMC Strategic, plans and action items were set forth for the impending upgrade of the Elm Avenue Corridor.

The City of Waco detailed their sidewalk and street improvement plans for the portion of Elm Avenue that runs from Martin Luther King Blvd. to Garrison Street. This stretch of improvements will launch the City’s physical efforts to extend downtown life into East Waco and connect both sides of the City with each other – bringing to life the 40-year ImagineWaco Plan. The initial plan is to improve the street crossings, create and enlarge sidewalks, enhance pedestrian, biker, and community safety, add accessible ramps where required, and ultimately add more vehicle lanes and on-street parking.

Feedback was also solicited to help design the cosmetic improvements of the project. These types of improvements are often make or break factors in the end acceptance and use of public spaces by us – the general public. Think of those times when developers laid beautifully, smooth stone surfacing – that slicks over when it rains. Or when developers build new street-fronting businesses with no or small windows in eye-burning colors. Or when city transportation officials removed bus sheds and street lamps on busy streets where the majority of neighbors utilize bus services – such as at the corner of Elm Avenue and East Church Street. To prevent these types of unwelcome or underutilized designs, the design and engineering teams presented participants with inspiration boards featuring several options of colors, street surfacing, and landscaping styles that they could vote on using their red (‘NO”) and green (“YES”) stickers. The project architect, RBDR Architects, would then take this feedback into account when laying out their landscape and architectural design and making material selections.

This initial $3.1 million dollar project, jointly funded by local TIF investment ($700,000) and grants from the State of Texas ($2.4 Million), is slated to begin in the winter of 2019 and finished by the spring of 2021.  Even with the completion of this, though, we are only at the very beginning stages of the work and the conversations. Expect several more public information meetings to occur along the way and many more chances to contribute your voice to the shaping of East Waco.

This project is a great start.  It’s exciting to imagine that the 2021 Juneteenth Parade and festivities might possibly be the most vibrant and well-attended parade of its kind across Texas, showcasing to the world just how well good design and community-centric placemaking efforts can bring life to main street cities and bridge gaps across cultures and communities.

Tami Nutall Jefferson is an older, non-traditional student with a professional real estate background. Tami begins her first academic year at Texas A&M University pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Urban Planning and Land Development while commuting between Waco and College Station. Her hope that every Wacoan – from all corners – can engage in and contribute to the growth and success of the city. You can connect with Tami at or on Facebook at

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.


League of Women Voters: Walk and Talk with LWV-Waco on July 14

By Rebecca McCumbers Flavin

While low voter turnout is a problem across the United States, Texas’ voter turnout rates are especially disappointing. According to statistics reported by the Texas Secretary of State, there are more than 15 million registered voters in the state of Texas, yet fewer than 3 million of these voters cast a ballot in the March 2018 Primary. The turnout was lousy for both major parties. In the Republican Party primary, just over ten percent of registered Texas Republicans voted, and approximately 7 percent of registered Texas Democrats voted. The Texas Secretary of State estimates that nearly twenty-four percent of the voting age population (VAP) in Texas is not registered to vote, which means that less than eight percent of Texas’ VAP voted in the March 2018 Primaries. With the local community’s help, the League of Women Voters of Waco hopes to improve these numbers for the general election this November.

In ALW blogs earlier this year we introduced our chapter, but in case you missed those, let us (re)introduce ourselves. The League of Women Voters (LWV) is a non-partisan organization that for nearly 100 years has advocated protecting the right to vote and encouraging the exercise of that vote. LWV pursues this mission by both lobbying elected officials and providing non-partisan voter education materials and programs for citizens. In Waco the LWV had an active local chapter for decades, and after a several year hiatus, the Waco chapter was reformed in 2017 as a League-at-Large under the auspices of the LWV-Texas. In the past year LWV-Waco has hosted several events, including a voter candidate forum for the March 2018 primary election and voter registration drives.

For our next event, we are excited to team up with Waco Walks on Saturday, July 14 for a walk that will be part educational and part social. We will be strolling the border of one of Waco’s most interestingly-shaped voter precinct boundary lines, the “dog leg” border that separates voting precinct 8 from precincts 4 and 7. This “dog leg” also forms part of the boundary between McLennan County Commissioner Precincts 1 and 2. We chose this area for the walk not only based its shape, but also for its general walkability in terms of distance, sidewalk availability, and access to shade. On our walk, which will take us through downtown Waco along Austin and Franklin Avenues, we’ll chat about a number of topics, including the history of redistricting in the United States, how the redistricting process works in anticipation of the redistricting that will occur in the states after the 2020 U.S. Census, and how invisible political boundaries have tangible effects on our everyday lives.

Now, you may be asking yourself, “what does walking a voting precinct boundary line in the middle of the scorching hot Texas summer have to do with increasing voter turnout?” Great question. We would submit there are at least three connections.

The first connection is related to voter education, generally. According to a 2016 survey by the Pew Research Center, non-voters reported being less knowledgeable about politics than “consistent voters” (those who vote in both presidential and mid-term elections) and “drop-off voters” (those who vote in presidential elections but who tend to miss mid-term elections). Similarly, the survey found gaps in political knowledge between drop-off and consistent voters. In this and numerous other studies, there is a positive correlation between the level of political knowledge and voter turnout rates.

The second connection is related to learning about redistricting, specifically. In the U.S. there is a long history of legislators drawing district lines in an effort to protect their own political interests. When districts are gerrymandered to diminish the influence of an opposing political party or community of interest, by “cracking” (dividing voters in the opposing party across different districts to dilute their impact) or “packing” (concentrating voters in opposing party into a few districts so that they win there by overwhelming margins), this can have a negative impact on electoral competitiveness. Political scientists have found that voter turnout tends to be higher in areas where elections are more competitive. Moreover, increasingly sophisticated mapping software makes it easier for elected officials to effectively choose their voters during the redistricting process.

The final connection between walking and talking about voting is that while the act of casting a ballot takes place in the privacy of the voting booth, voter mobilization to increase turnout is necessarily social. If voters encourage nonvoters, for example, this could help foster a culture of voting in McLennan County. Whether you have never missed an election or never voted in an election, we hope you will come share your story with your neighbors during the walk.

So join us on Saturday, July 14 for Waco Walks! We will meet at the Waco-McLennan County Central Library at 1717 Austin Avenue at 8:00 AM. The walk will be less than two miles. Bring a bottle of water and sunblock. Dogs are welcome, but please be prepared to clean up after your pet. Our only ground rule for the walk is that in keeping with the LWV’s strict non-partisan stance, we ask you to leave political party or campaign materials at home. LWV does not support any political parties or candidates for office.

Rebecca McCumbers Flavin serves as Co-Communicator for LWV-Waco, leading the taskforce that focuses on voter registration and get out the vote activities. Dr. Flavin is also a Senior Lecturer in Political Science at Baylor University. To join or learn more about LWV, follow us on Facebook by searching for League of Women Voters of Waco, or contact the local chapter at


Business of Health: Pondering Innovation

By Glenn Robinson

When it comes to technology that makes our lives better, the trend has been smaller, faster, and better. When it comes to next generation medical procedures being rolled out nationwide, that trend has largely been mirrored.

Procedures that once took hours, now may take only minutes. Procedures that once involved long, unsightly incisions, are now being conducted with tiny tools that may only require an incision the size of a razor nick.

Perhaps nowhere have these advancements been more pronounced than in heart care and orthopedic medicine. Take, for example, procedures to repair or replace damaged valves in the heart. Ten years ago, these procedures often involved major invasive surgery, a week or more in the hospital, and months of recovery.

Today, many of the nation’s leading heart programs – including right here in Texas – offer solutions for certain valve problems that are so minimally invasive, qualified patients can leave the hospital in as little as one day and be fully recovered within a matter of weeks.

Similarly, major orthopedic procedures, particularly in the field of joint replacement, have come a long way since the turn of the century. Advances in pre-procedure imaging, artificial devices, and operational technique have led to artificial hips and knees that feel as good as the original with a fraction of the recovery time.

These and many other innovative procedures are creating better outcomes and giving more patients the opportunity to improve their quality of life. But how do scientific studies performed in labs turn into these actual medical treatments?

Translational medicine transforms basic scientific discoveries into innovative therapies for patients. This kind of research, often referred to as “bench to bedside,” seeks to implement evidence-based medicine safely, effectively, and as quickly as possible.

One of the most challenging aspects of translational medicine is gaining widespread adoption of new, evidence-based medical practices. It takes the complete commitment of an organization’s top management to recognize and reinforce the importance of this kind of research and its comprehensive, consistent application.

Many leading health care organizations are represented through research institutes, which facilitate translational medicine. These institutions focus on basic science, clinical trials, and healthcare quality-of-care research. They seek to understand the basis of a disease, identify potential treatments or preventive therapies, and enroll patients in research trials.

The institutes’ objectives are not only to make new scientific discoveries, but to implement research successes into community-based healthcare practices and then promote proven prevention and treatment strategies throughout the entire organization and greater healthcare community.

These institutes have been responsible for creating several novel therapies right here in Texas and have attracted millions in grants from U.S. and international government agencies to support important research efforts –  turning laboratory research into new standards of care for the entire industry.

Another new trend in the world of research is the use of artificial intelligence, or A-I. A-I can solve complex problems that exceed human capabilities. Through its ability to access vast troves of data, A-I algorithms can both exceed the knowledge of experts, and augment the abilities of non-experts.

A-I already is disrupting transportation, marketing, and financial services, among other sectors of the economy. In healthcare, this technology is gaining momentum and has the potential to significantly alter the industry not only by developing new treatment options, but also by streamlining back office operations.

As care providers look to better engage patients and improve efficiency, many are turning to artificial intelligence to help them succeed. A-I powered medical assistants can book appointments, remind patients to take their pills, monitor a patient’s health status, and perform other time-intensive tasks.

A survey of health consumers found 55 percent are willing to engage with A-I and robots for healthcare needs. At a recent South by Southwest conference, Mark Rolston of Argo Design said artificial intelligence and virtual reality will be important parts of healthcare’s future.

Likewise, Oscar Salazar, of the app Pager, said that A-I gives nurses “superpowers.” He predicts that A-I increasingly will take over decision-making for healthcare triage and diagnosis, dramatically changing the roles of healthcare professionals.

Don’t expect your doctor to be going away anytime soon though. Like many technologies, A-I works best when paired with smart, capable people.

 This report, and other episodes, are available at


Glenn Robinson is the President of Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Hillcrest. He has over 30-years of experience in hospital and health care management, and currently serves on several Boards associated with the Texas Hospital Association and the American Hospital Association. In addition, Glenn is Past-Chair and an active member of the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, and serves on the Prosper Waco Board.







Trails & Trials: Racing with Gratitude

(This post is a part of a regular series “Trails & Trials,” a monthly adventure series inspiring others to experience the physical, mental, and social benefits of cycling, running or swimming in Central Texas. For more posts in this series, click here: Trails and Trials.  – ALW)

By Brandi Grissom Swicegood

No matter how fit you are, how hard you trained or how mentally prepared you think you are, some race days just don’t come together the way you imagined. How do you keep it together mentally and stay positive enough to push to the finish, when your goals fade from reality?

Justin Siegel, an athlete coached by Natasha van der Merwe, Director of Team Programs for Bicycle World, Texas, had an outstanding race in Pflugerville, but just a week earlier at Ironman Boulder, the day unfolded much differently than he expected. It was his third full Ironman race, and he was hoping for a personal best time. It didn’t happen.

Despite the challenges of a brutally hot day, Justin said the race was his best Ironman yet. How could that be?

Justin learned the most valuable racing lesson: It’s not about the numbers on the clock; it’s about the gratitude in your heart.

Q: Why’d you choose to race Ironman Boulder?

A: Boulder’s amazing scenery, coupled with the altitude and hills, put it on my short list from the beginning. The decision to race it this year was pretty last minute. I signed up a week before the race. Originally, I had planned to support my friend who was racing. But after a disappointing race at Ironman Texas a few weeks earlier, I was eager to take a second crack at it.

Q: What was your training like for Boulder and how was it different from your previous races?

A: Since I was coming right off a big build for Ironman Texas, I tried to focus on a few of the things that I felt were missing in my preparation for Ironman Texas. First, I forgot that racing and training are two different things, so I raced a few sprints. Second, since it was so cool this spring I did a lot more of my training outdoors to acclimate to the heat. Third, I worked on my nutrition plan.

Q: What were your goals going into Boulder?

A: My No. 1 goal was to race with gratitude and enjoy the experience. My second goal was to finish. My third was to set a personal record. My fourth was to nail my nutrition, in particular on the run. I got three out of the four.

Q: At what point did you realize the day wasn’t going to go according to your plan?

A: The day was absurdly hot. It hit 90 before 11 a.m., so I knew from the start it was going to be brutal. During the second loop of the bike, I saw people walking their bikes, which is something I’d never seen before. Others were passed out on the side of the road. At that point, I told myself I was going to make whatever adjustments I had to make to finish. My bike time was a bit slower than I’d hoped, but I was OK with it considering the heat, headwinds, altitude and hills.  Five or six miles into the run, I managed to start hitting a pace that would set me up for a PR. But around mile eight or nine, I realized it wasn’t going to cool off anytime soon. I walked for a bit with a pro who was too wiped out to run. At that point, I realized I was not going to PR. In fact, I realized I probably wouldn’t finish if I forced myself to run much more. It was time to focus on finishing and enjoying the opportunity to be out there racing in such epic conditions.

Q: How did you deal with that realization mentally?

A: For a relatively brief moment, I was really disappointed that I wasn’t going to hit all my goals. While it was easy to point to the conditions, the reality is that some people had fantastic races that day. That wasn’t going to be me if I defined a great race by time. I bounced back because in my heart I knew that I’d given my all, executed my race plan, and I remembered that my top two goals were to be grateful and to finish. Those things are what I focused on until the end. I thanked every volunteer at every aid station. I soaked up the amazing scenery. I helped a struggling athlete finish. My friend’s daughter joined me for a few of the final miles. And I crushed the final 1/2 mile into the finisher chute!

Q: What did you tell yourself to keep going when the going got rough?

A: Positive self-talk is probably the skill I need the most work on deep into a race. I reminded myself that I can handle the pain, and that the pain will ebb and flow, so I just needed to persevere.

Q: What was the best part of the race for you?

A: As we lined up for the swim, with an amazing sunrise to the east and snow-capped mountains to the west, I realized how cool it was that I was about to do my second Ironman in six weeks, and by far my most challenging. I knew without a doubt that I had the depth of fitness and training to do it. I felt unstoppable.

Q: What did you learn about yourself during the race?

A: That I have to enjoy the experience. Racing can’t always be about the time or the result.

Brandi Grissom Swicegood spent nearly 20 years in the news business and quit to chase her dream of being a professional triathlete. Her work has been published in Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and Texas Monthly, among others. She is chronicling her journey as triathlete in a column at and on her blog at Email her at and find her on Instagram at @brandiswicegood.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.



Growing up with Waco

(Editor’s note:  This post was originally published in Karat Magazine. To quote their website, “The Karat is a Waco-based online magazine celebrating local people & history. Each person has a story, and every story is gold.” To read more about the founders of Karat Magazine and their vision, click here. For this story and others like it, click here: Karat Magazine.  – ALW)

By Evan Hebert

I have spent my whole life in Waco. The first 18 years I lived in Hewitt, avoiding downtown Waco like the plague. Then, on a whim and despite having no familial or emotional connections to the university, I decided I would apply to Baylor. As most people do, I immediately fell in love with the campus, the people, and the idea of feeling like I wasn’t in Waco.

Because Baylor is the most expensive school in the entire world (maybe a slight exaggeration), I was forced into a very unconventional freshman year. Originally, I planned to live at home with my mom to save money, but I ended up couchsurfing my entire first year of college. From crashing on an air mattress with a very cute dog named Oliver for two months, to becoming a “futon guy” for the spring semester, I was exposed to more life in those nine months than I had collectively experienced in the rest of my life.

Without a doubt, living off campus was tough. I made very few friends my freshman year at Baylor, but I got to truly experience my city for the first time. Rather than going to class or studying (sorry Mom), I spent my time running around a (then) vacant downtown, tugging on doors, and finding my way onto nearly every rooftop in the downtown area.

When I moved into the Waco High Lofts in February of 2013, I had only ever intentionally spent time in the downtown Waco area for the annual 4th of July fireworks show. Then, all of a sudden this vacant space was my new home. I spent my days trying to tread water in school and my nights falling in love with my city. Then, I spent the rest of my undergrad years sharing my favorite spots with any and everyone who would let me. I think the final count is around 300 students that I was able to introduce to my city via rooftops, abandoned buildings, and hole-in-the-wall spots. I was fortunate enough to work with 4 consecutive incoming classes of students, so I have had the honor of seeing the narrative about Waco change over the last 4 years.

Waco has historically been the butt of jokes (and with good reason most of the time), but there has been something special going on here for the last five years. I have had a distinct honor of growing and maturing (a little) alongside my hometown in the last half-decade. I have seen shops open (and close), a boom of civic pride hit the downtown area, and the least anticipated tourism explosion in the history of Waco. I have seen young people put their foot in the ground and commit to making this place better. I have seen my peers decide to move back home to see what the hype is about. I have seen the tension between “old Waco” and “new Waco” reach a boiling point. There has truly never been a more interesting or exciting time to call Waco home.

With the unprecedented growth Waco has seen recently have come some hard realities. You can no longer park 30 feet away from the front door of your favorite restaurant at any given time. You can no longer get literally anywhere in less than 10 minutes. You may have to wait 20 minutes to grab a seat at your breakfast spot. You may even have to honk your horn at a Magnolia mom or two coming at you the wrong way down 5th Street.

Growth is never easy. People don’t like change, and they especially don’t like change that they may not personally benefit from. Waco is a hot bed for change right now. My hometown, the place I fell in love with for its simple beauty, has transformed into the number two tourist destination in America. The abandoned buildings and rooftops that I used to sneak into and onto are now clothing stores, coffee shops, and downtown gyms. The secret places I used to enjoy as vantage points of my city are now Instagram hotspots. For a while, that change was a little too much, too fast for me. I felt like I had a secret that had gotten leaked. (I was also 19 and had a ton of maturing to do, which probably explains a lot.)

I graduated from Baylor about 18 months ago, and I have the best job in the world. I get to share my city with college students, connect them to cool things going on in town, and ultimately connect them to job opportunities with the hope of keeping them in Waco whenever they graduate. I get to spend time on each of the five college campuses in Waco, hear the stories of students trying to figure out their next step, and tangibly help them get closer to their goal. I am literally paid to brag about my city and help people fall in love with it. Life is crazy.

I love my city. I have grown up alongside my city. I have my city on my arm (literally). Waco is a special place. You will have a hard time finding a place that makes you feel the way this place does. Waco has a rough history and has had to reconcile with some of the horrible things that have happened here. Because of stories like that of Jessie Washington, Waco has scars. Because of the tornado of 1953, Waco has scars. Because of the racial disparity highlighted by the contrasting experiences of Wacoans on either side of the river, Waco has scars. Through all of this, Waco has persisted, and will continue to grow closer to being a place for all people, and I can’t wait play my part in that story.

Evan Hebert is a native Wacoan and graduate of Baylor University with a degree in Corporate Communication. He is passionate about the Downtown Waco area and helping people get connected to their city.