Hometown glory

Mayor Parker disses San Antonio as Buffalo Bayou Park named to list of 10 Great Public Spaces in U.S.

Mayor Parker disses San Antonio as Buffalo Bayou Park named to list of 10 Great Public Spaces in U.S.

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Buffalo Bayou Park made the grade on this year's 10 Great Public Spaces list, compiled by the American Planning Association. Photo by Jim Olive/Greater Houston and Visitors Bureau
Buffalo Bayou Annise Parker American Planning Association
Mayor Anise Parker accepted the national recognition during a special afternoon presentation on the steps of City Hall. Photo by Tyler Rudick
Buffalo Bayou Annise Parker American Planning Association
From left: Buffalo Bayou Park project manager Guy Hagstette, Houston planning department director Marlene Gafrick, mayor Annise Parker, Buffalo Bayou Partnership chair Bob Phillips and Houston parks and rec director Joe Turner. Photo by Tyler Rudick
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Buffalo Bayou Annise Parker American Planning Association
Buffalo Bayou Annise Parker American Planning Association

Buffalo Bayou Park officially joined the ranks of New Orleans' Jackson Square and the Chicago Botanic Garden this week with its placement on the 2012 10 Great Public Spaces list, compiled by the American Planning Association (APA).

Since 2007, the APA has been highlighting the nation's most successful public parks and buildings based not only on their unique designs, but also on the ability to reflect local culture and promote community involvement.

The American Planning Association singled-out Buffalo Bayou Park for its distinctive design, amenities and integration of public art. 

For this year's list, the organization singled-out a particular nine-mile stretch of Buffalo Bayou Park — from Shepherd Drive to the Port of Houston Turning Basin on the east side — for its distinctive design, amenities and integration of public art. The APA also gave a nod for the park's continued focus on ecological restoration as well as its high level of both public and private support.

"Buffalo Bayou is, in one sense, our Central Park," Annise Parker said during a Wednesday speech on the steps of City Hall. "After 176 years, it's great that not just Houstonians are acquainting themselves with Buffalo Bayou, but we're getting national attention as well."

Starting in 2011, the Buffalo Bayou Partnership (BBP) has been leading a city-wide effort to reimagine Houston's central waterway as a green space on par with Memorial Park. Just west of downtown, Buffalo Bayou Park is getting a major renovation thanks to a $20 million public-private initiative sponsored by the BBP and a generous $30 million gift from the Kinder Foundation.

"As I travel, I am often asked by people why we don't turn Buffalo Bayou i nto a River Walk," Parker​ laughed. "The answer is that the River Walk is a cement ditch. There's no other nice way to put it."

By 2015, the Buffalo Bayou Park from Shepherd to downtown will become the spine of a network of urban greenways stretching across the city. Additional trails, lakes, bridges, outdoor sculpture and dog parks will dot the park. Where the bayou meets downtown Houston at Allen's Landing, the former International Coffee Building — once home of a hippy-era music club — will get a new life as a cultural center with the help of Texas architects Lake|Flato.

During the Q&A session after the presentation, Parker showed her hometown pride with some light-hearted fighting words for San Antonio.

"As I travel, I am often asked by people why we don't turn Buffalo Bayou into a River Walk," she laughed. "The answer is that the River Walk is a cement ditch. There's no other nice way to put it."

Parker explained herself, noting the manner in which Houston's central bayou serves as a "living, active water course" that mitigates flood waters and supports regional wildlife. She added that recent work by Harris County Flood Control to maintain the bayou's naturally curving banks will not only provide more heavy rain support, but it could even help to clear the water of its trademark murkiness.