The McGovern Centennial Gardens at Hermann Park. Photo by Flickr user Mario Bo.
The McGovern Centennial Gardens at Hermann Park. Photo by Flickr user Mario Bo.

Historically, the City of Houston has not been known for its greenspace or urban recreation opportunities. Houston conjures up images of towering, concrete freeway interchanges, even taller glass and steel buildings, and sprawling stripmalls and suburbs.

But over the past fifteen years, Houston city leaders, designers, planners, and philanthropists have been painting a new, multi-million dollar picture of the U.S.’s fourth largest city and they’re using buckets of green. They’re connecting a network of bayous and trailways that were once little more than obstacles for cars and making the most of its urban parks to attract a new generation of professional that demands a more sustainable, walkable, green downtown.

What kind of role will San Antonio’s parks (Hemisfair, Brackenridge, Travis, Maverick, San Pedro Creek, the San Antonio River’s Museum and Mission reaches, etc.) play in the city’s urban renaissance? What lessons can local leaders learn from its easterly neighbor?

Several City of San Antonio and park leaders, including Mayor Ivy Taylor, will gather such insights at Leading with Landscape II: The Houston Transformation conference on Friday, March 11 at The Museum of Fine Arts’ Houston Brown Auditorium.

“I’m interested in how equity, access and design impact the creation of outstanding public places and why elected officials need to participate in or even lead these conversations in order to improve the vitality and competitiveness of their communities,” Taylor stated in a news release.

Mayor Taylor and former Houston Mayor Annise Parker – who led the way for several greenspace initiatives like Bayou Greenways 2020 and improvements in Memorial Park, Buffalo Bayou Park, Hermann Park and Emancipation Park – will participate in the last of three panels, which will evaluate the successes and challenges of Houston’s completed and coming projects to “assess their implications for city-shaping.”

“Houston’s exceptional parks have been made possible by great landscape architects, visionary civic leaders, generous philanthropists and ardent citizen supporters,” stated Houston Parks and Recreation Department Director Joe Turner, who will join others in giving welcoming remarks at the conference on Friday morning. “We look forward to sharing our rich legacy and planning insights with a broad national audience.”

The conference is but one of dozens of events organized by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), a nonprofit based in Washington D.C. that hosts conferences, tours, seminars, initiatives, and exhibits across the nation that advocate for smart city planning through landscape architecture. The foundation, founded in 1998, aims to preserve the connection between the built environment and natural world as it is vital to cultural heritage.

“In a career that includes working for the City of San Antonio, serving as a member of the City Council, as mayor, and also as an executive at Merced Housing Texas, Mayor Taylor has been a leader in facilitating inner-city redevelopment and affordable housing and in targeting investment in areas where opportunities have been limited,” stated TCLF President and CEO Charles Birnbaum. “We are grateful for her participation and look forward to her input, ideas, and analysis.”

The concept of “landscape architecture” was a foreign one even to many city planners as few as five years ago, but the ascension of its importance has run parallel with the resurgence of the live/play/work urban lifestyle.

The day-long conference will include other expert-led panels from the development and architectural communities that will provide attendees with an overview of Houston’s sorted history with greenspace, work completed and planned in Houston, and how it all effects the “culture, history, and ecology in the evolving Houston cityscape.”

Some of the same experts will then join others to lead free tours of more than 25 public parks, historic districts, trailways, and buildings around the city during the Landscape Foundation’s signature What’s Out There Weekend Houston throughout Saturday and Sunday.

*Top image: The McGovern Centennial Gardens at Hermann Park. Photo by Flickr user Mario Bo.

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Brackenridge Park: The Public Interest vs. UIW Expansion

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Hemisfair’s Civic Park: Will it be Ready by City’s 300th Anniversary?

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at