HOUSTON – (By Cynthia Lescalleet for Realty News Report) – Over the weekend a pair of new hike-and-bike trails officially opened along Sims Bayou in Houston as part of Bayou Greenways 2020.
While relatively small in length, the new 1.5-mile and 2.5-mile segments are helping connect Bayou Greenways’ growing network of new and renewed parks, trails and public spaces on 3,000 acres of under-utilized frontage along nine bayous and creeks cutting across the city.
The project’s goals and mission encompass equitable access to nature for a healthier lifestyle, plus conservation, community connectivity and economic vitality, said Beth White, HPB president and CEO of Houston Parks Board, at a recent media meetup. HPB is spearheading and stewarding the project in collaboration with City of Houston and Harris County Flood Control District.
Affected neighborhoods and jurisdictions around Houston have been drawn into the project’s planning and rollout, White said. Among them are civic groups and schools as well as governmental entities like TxDoT, the city’s parks and recreation department, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
With its 2020 deadline approaching, Bayou Greenways’ goal is 150 miles of connected, easily accessible and resilient greenways located within 1.5 miles of 60 percent of Houstonians. A mid-year progress report indicates 47 miles of trail improvements are pending.
Rethinking the Bayous in ‘The Bayou City’
While the bayous retain their drainage function, their frontage is being improved for many shared uses – and users – across city neighborhoods, White said of the initiative.
The scope includes acquisition, design and construction of new green space as well as refurbishment of existing parks and trails along the bayous. New landscaping supports natural habitats and wildlife. Meanwhile, there are provisions for ongoing maintenance and repairs, such as after high water events.
Funding is both public – voters approved $100 million as part of a bond referendum in 2012 – and private, led by a $50 million catalyst gift from Kinder Foundation. The fundraising campaign is nearing its $120 million goal, HPB sources said.
Bayou Greenways 2020 is considered the largest investments in park equity in the country, White noted.
The mega-project is part of the High Line Network, an organization of public space initiatives that adapt existing infrastructure – such as rail alignments and waterways. Examples of the latter include the River L.A. project, Eleventh Street Bridge Park in Washington, D.C., and Buffalo Bayou Park in Houston.
“It’s a robust network … (with) creative folks looking to use space in built-up environments in creative ways,” White noted in a follow-up response.
Down by the Bayou
Over in Sims Bayou Greenway, the newly completed 2.5-mile trail has upgraded the previous one in asphalt with a 10-wide swath of concrete, plus landscaping, benches, trailhead and educational signs, and trash and recycling bins. The $5.1 million trail segment, which runs from South Post Oak Boulevard to Buffalo Speedway, links into a previously completed section for a 24-mile course along the bayou.
Meanwhile, a 1.5-mile hike-and-bike trail within a utility easement intersects the greenway’s east-west improvements and stretches north toward nearby neighborhoods. The link under the power lines was a first in two ways, White said: CenterPoint Energy allowed recreational use of its easement — and contributed $1.5 million for the improvement.
The Sims Bayou link is an example of the 250 greenway-related projects that have been tasked and tackled as part of Bayou Greenways 2020.
A Broader Bayou View
Bayou Greenways 2020 is a grander interpretation of a 1913 plan by notable landscape architect Arthur Comey that used bayous as the backbone of the park system.
While the idea for a networked park system isn’t new, the form and scale are greatly expanded, said Tom Bacon, HPB chairman, also at the meetup.
And so have expectations. Houston’s waterfront – once ignored – has become an economic development tool as the city competes to attract and retain employers and residents who seek modern urban amenities, he said.
Like other cities today, Houston is considering how to stand out, he observed. An accessible, activated waterfront is part of that.
As the project took shape, priorities shifted, Bacon recalled: “Prior to Hurricane Harvey, we talked about greenspaces and economic development. Post-Harvey, it’s about how the city is going to reshape.
“Houston is looking at itself in a very different way and parks and recreation are at the heart of it.”