After years in the making, Buffalo Bayou, a 10-square-mile Brownfields restoration launched in the front yard of downtown Houston -- a collection of parks, walkways, a performance center, botanical gardens, boat landings, and residential development, all along the waterway that winds in from the Gulf of Mexico through the center city to the suburban headlands -- is finally coming together. The multi-neighborhood revitalization project, which retools a freeway corridor and recycles vacant and industrial land, is notable in a city better known for sprawl and no zoning.
"This was a very different kind of process, led by a committed private partnership of civic, business and public leaders, with a larger vision and a different cast of players -- which is why I think it has worked well in Houston,” said Jane Thompson, principal at Thompson Design Group, which led the effort in a team including Pratap Talwar from TDG, Ecoplan, Henry Dodson of Dodson Associates, and Patrick Phillips, now president of the Urban Land Institute.
A $1 billion master plan is being implemented. The transformation of some 6,400 acres has been managed by Anne Olson and the Buffalo Bayou Partnership. Part of what led Houston to embrace the project was the realities of flooding and storm surges, which have caused billions of dollars in damages to underground infrastructure. Allowing wetlands to do their work is the kind of natural ecosystems adaptation that is well underway in New Orleans post-Katrina; the parks and development plan is closely integrated with water engineering. Kevin Shanley, chief executive of SWA Group, designer for the Buffalo Bayou Promenade , was an advocate against “straight jacketing” waterways, as were TDG and the partnership.
A thorough update on the project was presented at the New Partners for Smart Growth conference in San Diego. Another essay on the project appears at The Atlantic Cities.