Few urban green spaces have ushered in the kind of revitalization that Discovery Green has brought to the city. Once the site parking lots and an ocean of concrete, the lush area is now home to sprawling lawns, a one-acre lake, an interactive fountain, a playground, public art installations, gardens, century-old live oaks, and two on-site restaurants, including the popular Grove.
Little wonder, then, that the verdant park has just been named as one of six Great Public Spaces on the American Planning Association’s annual Great Places in America list. This announcement starts the countdown to National Community Planning Month in October.
The APA’s Great Places in America program recognizes the streets, neighborhoods, and public spaces in the United States that demonstrate “exceptional character, quality, and planning — attributes that enrich communities, facilitate economic growth, and inspire others around the country,” according to a release.
The Great Neighborhoods, Great Streets, and Great Public Spaces of 2019 are places that are “unique and exemplary in their success stories of revitalization, cultural identity, and strong community connection,” the release notes.
A celebration for Discovery Green’s designation as a Great Public Space in America is planned for October 25 from 6-10 pm at Scream on the Green, the park’s annual costume contest and Halloween celebration, and at the Art @ Discovery Green festival.
Longtime Houston residents will recall that the east end of downtown was considered a “sea of parking lots.” While locals and visitors packed the downtown stadiums, the George R. Brown Convention Center, and the Hilton Americas-Houston Hotel, the area was never seen as a central hub or daily entertainment destination.
To activate the area, the heads of the city’s four largest foundations approached then-Mayor Bill White with the idea of a public green space. The four organizations eventually designed, built, opened, and operated Discovery Green in what was once a 12-acre parking lot.
The City of Houston, eliciting public engagement, created Discovery Green Conservancy to operate the park. Today, the Discovery Green Conservancy presents more than 700 artistic, musical, educational, family-friendly, and health-focused events each year, most of which are free to the public. Discovery Green has proven to be a boon to development, with more than $1.25 billion in new projects since its opening in 2008 and an estimated 1.5 million visitors each year.
In addition to Discovery Green, APA also recognizes the following Great Public Spaces in 2019:
- Pioneer Park – Mesa, Arizona
- Neponset River Greenway – Milton and Boston, Massachusetts
- Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook – Amsterdam, New York
- Governors Island – New York City
- Gathering Place – Tulsa, Oklahoma