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How to Transform Houston – Mayor Turner Tells It All To ULI

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

HOUSTON – City officials are participating in discussions of a transformative proposal to re-work the freeways in downtown Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner said Thursday in an appearance before the Urban Land Institute organization.

The freeway changes could result in the destruction of the Pierce Elevated freeway, a much-maligned and ugly barrier between Downtown and Midtown Houston.

“The Pierce Elevated will no longer be in use,” Turner said, in describing the proposal to the ULI crowd.

The Pierce Elevated, which is a section of Interstate 45, will be re-routed to the east side of the George R. Brown Convention Center, according to TxDOT.

The mayor told ULI construction of the $7 billion freeway redevelopment is expected to begin in 2020.

Importantly, the downtown freeways (Interstates 45 and 69/59) near the George R. Brown will be depressed.

Taking the freeways below-grade, or underground, opens the possibility of putting a park – like a lid – on top of the freeways. The new over-the-freeway deck park in Dallas is hailed as a major success. In Dallas, the Klyde Warren Park, which was built over the depressed Woodall Rodgers Freeway, opened in 2012. The Dallas park has improved walkability, removed barriers to growth and prompted new towers, which are under construction now by Trammell Crow and Lincoln Property Co. In 2014, Dallas’ Klyde Warren Park won the ULI’s national Urban Open Space Award.

The designer of the Dallas freeway park, landscape architect James Burnett of The Office of James Burnett, recently told Realty News Report that replacing the Pierce Elevated with a linear park was an excellent idea.

Mayor Turner told the ULI luncheon the city needs to pursue park improvements throughout the city. The mayor praised the recent development and improvements at Hermann Park, Discovery Green and Buffalo Bayou Park – three parks near the city’s inner core.

But the city’s small neighborhood parks all over town need improvement and many are neglected, the mayor told the ULI’s luncheon.

Turner said Houston must improve its walkability and transportation systems.

Roads and freeways cannot carry the load alone as the Houston grows, Turner said. More expressways aren’t the answer.

“We built 610. We built Beltway 8 and the Grand Parkway, but it hasn’t helped,” the mayor said.

Commuter rail, transit, even bicycles and walking (enabled with denser urban development and mixed-use projects) need to be expanded. Houston must restrain the number of cars on the road.

“We have to offer more forms of transportation options,” Turner said.

The mayor also exhorted developers to build inside the city limits of Houston, rather than just in the surrounding suburbs.

“My responsibility is to get companies to move into the 640 square miles of the City of Houston,” Turner Thursday in an appearance before the Houston chapter of the Urban Land Institute organization. “Why not develop in the city of Houston?”

The mayor also vowed to revamp the city’s building permit process, which has been widely criticized for being excessively slow and cumbersome. “Permitting will be streamlined,” the mayor said, in remarks on August 18, 2016.

 

Ralph Bivins, Editor of Realty News Report.

Ralph Bivins, Editor of Realty News Report.

Editor’s Comment – Mayor Sylvester Turner, who took office in January, is correct that other modes of transportation must be developed and expanded in Houston as the city addresses future growth. Commuter rail connections from the outer suburbs to downtown, the Texas Medical Center and Uptown/Galleria area should have been started years ago. It’s urgent now.

Realty News Report also urges the Mayor to support a plan to demolish the Pierce Elevated, a barrier that has discouraged growth from spreading from Downtown to Midtown. Keeping the Pierce Elevated intact with a contrived plan to transform this ugly freeway into an elevated park are well-intentioned, but a misguided misfit for the climate of Houston and the characteristics of this urban site. The ground level space underneath the freeway is dirty and horrible and its highest use in the current form has just been an unofficial campground and restroom for the homeless. Tear it down and reclaim the land as a linear park.

The Mayor must also lead in developing an over-the-freeway park over the soon-to-be depressed freeways on the east side of the George R. Brown Convention Center. The Klyde Warren deck park in Dallas, which opened in 2012, is drawing huge crowds and high praise, not to mention a major ULI Urban Space Award. It’s enabled people to walk from downtown to Uptown Dallas. Land prices near the Dallas park have skyrocketed, leading a Trammell Crow/Met Life joint venture to pay a record-setting $390 per square foot for a old drive-in bank facility fronting the Dallas park. Crow is now building an office tower on the site, called Park District, and a residential tower and retail are coming next for this well located parcel. Dallas leaders are now discussing an expansion of Klyde Warren, covering up more of the freeway with a park.

The deck park in Houston could take some of the success of Discovery Green park into the EaDo district on the east side of downtown. Private funding needs to be secured for Houston’s over-the-freeway park.

Could a Houston freeway deck park do for EaDo what the Klyde Warren Park did for downtown Dallas?

“These parks are reconnecting neighborhoods and districts, and the majority of these are in downtown areas similar to East Houston. These green bridges can make a huge impact as proven in Dallas,” said landscape architect James Burnett of the Office of James Burnett, a firm founded in Houston in the 1980s.

“It would be a game changer for Houston,” Burnett told Realty News Report recently.

Realty News Report has interviewed a number of Dallas leaders and North Texas real estate professionals about Klyde Warren Park. After decades of journalism, rarely have I heard such wide praise for a park or any public project, in terms of its powerful transformative nature. It’s an outstanding project that is in-step with Mayor Turner’s goals (more walkability and the need to spread quality development to more neighborhoods) and the needs of Houston. Improvements have been made in EaDo on the east side of downtown Houston over the years. Looking ahead five or 10 years, this park will be the thing that makes EaDo more than we ever have dreamed. May our leaders step forward now and make this dream come true.

— Ralph Bivins, Editor Realty News Report

August 19, 2016 Realty News Report Copyright 2016

5 comments

  1. Buses, please. No more rail! Rail cost twice as much to construct and twice as much to operate. And buses are more politically expedient. There are many more advantages. It may be the buses are driverless before the rail is operational.

    http://publictransport.about.com/od/Transit_Vehicles/a/What-Are-The-True-Operating-Cost-Differences-Between-Bus-And-Light-Rail.htm

  2. Nice follow up but have they perfected below grade drainage yet????

  3. Build out the rail lines to the Northern and Western suburbs first. The East End may make sense at some point in the future, but it’s a cart-before-the-horse approach to mobility issues in this city. We do NOT need more highways. This city IS urban sprawl. That’s what we do. Accept it and plan accordingly by creating an actual suburban railway that is usable instead of running it by BBVA stadium. I live there. No one uses it (look through the tinted glass and APTA award stickers…2 to 3 riders per pass during morning rush hour).

    And yet every morning when I head North on 45 or 59 toward the loop, guess what the South-bound sides look like. Any guesses? This city simply wants to pat itself on the back and say, “Look at our shiny new rail lines world. We’re as awesome as New York or San Francisco!” How about building the rail where it is truly needed. If not, then Thomas above is correct. Don’t bother.

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