Get a Closer Look at Houston’s Green Makeover

ASLA 2009 Professional General Design Award of Excellence. Buffalo Bayou Promenade, Houston. SWA Group / Tom Fox
ASLA 2009 Professional General Design Award of Excellence. Buffalo Bayou Promenade, Houston. SWA Group / Tom Fox

Houston, Texas, America’s fourth largest city, is in the middle of a rebirth, argues Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, president of The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) and a number of design journalists. A city known as “car-centric and zoning-adverse” is now spending hundreds of millions of dollars to get people out of cars and into parks. Within this sprawled-out city, under spaghetti loops of concrete highways, there are now networks of accessible parks, trails for running and biking, and bayous for kayaking and canoeing. Many of these public amenities also double as green infrastructure, constructed systems that provide habitat for a range of species, manage stormwater, and protect against flooding.

According to TCLF, Houston is “undergoing a monumental landscape architecture-led transformation whose scale and impact could fundamentally change the city and influence city-shaping around the globe.” The questions then are: How has Houston — the mecca of skyscrapers, highways, concrete, cars, and oil — shed some of its bad habits and created places for people? And as Houston undertakes this green makeover, what lessons does it offer to other car-centric cities that want to improve quality of life?

To delve more deeply into how Houston is changing its identity through landscape architecture, TCLF has put together Leading with Landscape II, a day-long conference on March 11. The conference will be followed by What’s Out There Weekend Houston on March 12-13, which will feature two days of free, expert-led tours.

ASLA 2010 Professional Honor Awards. Rice University Brochstein Pavilion by Office of James Burnett / Paul Hester
ASLA 2010 Professional Honor Awards. Rice University Brochstein Pavilion by Office of James Burnett / Paul Hester

Attendees of the conference will hear from Mayor Sylvester Turner, the current Mayor of Houston; Annise Parker, former Mayor; parks department officials; as well as the leading landscape architects who are shaping Houston’s future, including: Kinder Baumgardner, ASLA, SWA Group; James Burnett, FASLA, Office of James Burnett; Sheila Condon, FASLA, Clark Condon; Mary Margaret Jones, FASLA, Hargreaves Associates; Douglas Reed, FASLA, Reed Hilderbrand; and Thomas Woltz, FASLA, Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, and many others.

Discovery Green in Houston / H-town Visually Blog
Discovery Green in Houston / H-town Visually Blog

The 26 What’s Out There tours will take visitors everywhere from SWA Group’s award-winning Buffalo Bayou Park, in image at top, to Rice University’s Raymond and Susan Brochstein Pavilion, created by the Office of James Burnett, and Discovery Green, a park Hargreaves Associates designed in 2008.

The Leading with Landscape II conference on March 11 is $250 for professionals, providing 6.5 LA CES professional development hours, and $95 for students. What’s Out There Weekend tours on March 12-13, which run 1-2 hours, are all free, but TCLF asks attendees to first register online.

Learn more about Houston’s green transformation in Birnbaum’s blog and the Texas Monthly.

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