Discovery Green: Houston, Texas

In the early 2000s, Houston's downtown was little more than a vast sea of concrete parking lots, lacking green space as far as the eye could see. East Houston, which was a residential neighborhood only a century before, had become a place Houstonians drove through on their way to and from work, stopping only to park for special events at the nearby George R. Brown Houston Convention Center. The downtown was in desperate need of activation, but how?

A small group of civic-minded philanthropists knew downtown Houston needed a modern revisioning that would redefine the city's landscape and benefit all Houstonians. The group, led by Maconda Brown O'Connor of the Brown Foundation and Nancy G. Kinder of the Kinder Foundation, determined that an uncommonly beautiful urban green space accessible by regional transportation options was just what the city needed.

The city, local philanthropies, and area nonprofits played leading roles early on in establishing the foundational framework for construction and operations, but residents strengthened the vision for the park by sharing how they dreamed of using the space.

Residents enjoy an outdoor fitness class. Photo by Katya Horner.

Residents enjoy an outdoor fitness class. Photo by Katya Horner.

Planning for Discovery Green included extensive outreach to residents from all corners of Houston. With guidance from the Project for Public Spaces, the Discovery Green Conservancy, a nonprofit created to maintain the new park, met with Houstonians in large and small settings to solicit feedback on the proposal. Comments received from residents proved critical, laying what would become the foundation for Discovery Green design and programming for years to come.

Though the idea of transforming parking spaces into a park quickly attracted a host of champions — including former Mayor Bill White, the Wortham Foundation, and the Houston Endowment Inc. — there were critics. Area businesses questioned whether a park was really the best use of valuable land adjacent to the convention center. They argued that it had been years since Houstonians participated in outdoor recreation in the downtown and believed it to be an impossible challenge to overcome.

Still, city and community leaders persevered, and through the planning process, learned and leveraged what would draw residents and visitors to a space where people had previously only worked.

Park visitors on a multi-use path. Photo courtesy Discovery Green.

Park visitors on a multi-use path. Photo courtesy Discovery Green.

"The park's founding is a true example of Houston's can-do spirit, leading to what is now a dynamic gathering place 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."

—Mayor Sylvester Turner

Today, Discovery Green is a 12-acre green oasis that attracts more than 1.5 million visitors annually. Some of the more prominent features include Kinder Lake where people kayak year-round, a playground, permanent art installations, and ample green space for families, friends, and visitors to enjoy. Each year, the park plays host to more than 700 free community events. Using 100 percent renewable energy, the park will also help Houston avoid producing 74.5 million pounds in carbon dioxide over the next decade.

Since its grand opening in 2008, Discovery Green has proved an important catalyst for development immediately surrounding the space, attracting more than $1.2 billion in new housing, restaurants, hotels, and East Houston's only grocery store. Most importantly, Discovery Green provides a recreational space for Houstonians of all backgrounds to safely play and explore Houston's many diverse cultures as one community.