Culture / Newsy

Revitalized Houston Park Named One of the Greatest Places in America

Major Honor for Downtown's Urban Oasis Shows How Far This Former Parking Lot's Come

BY // 09.25.19

A green oasis in the heart of a big city is something else. There is a reason Central Park and Grant Park are world famous attractions. Many assume there simply would not be space to stop and smell the flowers amidst the skyscrapers.

But for Houstonians, that’s just another day in Discovery Green.

And now, the secret is officially out across the country. The 12-acre park, perfect for taking in concerts, stretching it out in yoga, paddling down a small “lake” or interacting with stunning public art installations, has garnered national acclaim from a prominent planning organization.

Discovery Green has been named one of the 13 Great Places in America by the American Planning Association. The lively urban park has been dubbed one of the six Great Public Spaces, joining the ranks of Governors Island in New York City, Pioneer Park in Mesa, Arizona and more.

The American Planning Association’s Great Places in America program celebrates and showcases the streets, neighborhoods and public spaces across the nation that exemplify exceptional character, quality and planning.

The selected spaces are triumphs in revitalization, cultural identity and strong community connection.

“I’m proud that Discovery Green is gaining this national recognition for what Houstonians already know it to be: the city’s village green, and a great place for people of all ages,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says in a statement.

“The park’s founding is a true example of Houston’s can-do spirit, leading to what is now a dynamic gathering space for Downtown residents and workers, a destination for visitors from the region and beyond, and a reflection of what makes Houston such a vibrant, culture-rich city.”

Kurt Christiansen, president of the APA, was charmed by many facets of Discovery Green. “The public spaces recognized this year demonstrate the importance of planning in creating welcoming, multi-use spaces for the entire community to enjoy and come together,” he says.

“Discovery Green is a national example of how public-private partnerships can unite to make a shared community vision a reality.”

Cocolab’s “Gust” at Discovery Green got an extra week of exhibition time thanks to the Windpower Conference. (Courtesy Discovery Green)
Cocolab’s “Gust” at Discovery Green got an extra week of exhibition time thanks to the Windpower Conference. (Courtesy Discovery Green)

The APA was also impressed by Discovery Green’s founders’ ability to leverage what they’ve done with revitalizing and re-energizing the area.

The park originated when the heads of the city’s four largest foundations approached then-Houston Mayor Bill White with an innovative concept.

They aimed to create a thriving public green space in the wasteland of parking lots with little economic development aside from a few sports stadiums and the George R. Brown Convention Center.

Parking Lot Reborn

The partnership reclaimed a massive parking lot to establish what is now a haven for public programming. Discovery Green Conservancy has collaborated with hundreds of programming partners to put on more than 700 artistic, musical, educational, family-friendly and health-focused events each year. Many are free to the public.

“Programming as a whole has been the key to the park coming alive. It is the depth and breadth of the programming that engages the communities across Houston to come and learn about each other and interact with each other. I think the success of the park transformed Houston’s idea of recreating outside,” says Barry Mandel, Discovery Green president and park director.

Discovery Green is truly a collaboration, with community feedback playing a major role in its development and evolution.

“Not only do we engage the community, we’re invested in the community,” Mandel says.

“We call it ‘community connection,’ trying to connect the communities that make up Hosuton and make Houston the diverse city that it is. Our demographic is almost an exact replica of the demographic of the city.”

He also thinks of the recognition a shot in the arm for Discovery Green’s upcoming $12-million makeover. The plans call for a completely new playground, a lighted alley of trees and more.

Discovery Green is already praise-worthy, and it’s about to be better than ever.

Houstonians can celebrate Discovery Green’s 13 Great Places honor on October 25 from 6 to 10 pm during the annual Scream on the Green Halloween celebration and costume contest.

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