Beyond the Bayous
The Beyond the Bayous master plan builds on Bayou Greenways 2020, a visionary citywide plan to build trails and parks along Houston’s system of bayous. Beyond the Bayous goes further, asking “how can a similar level of connected open spaces reach portions of Houston which are not adjacent to a bayou?” Houston is expansive and polycentric, offering significant opportunities to connect people with nature and each other within the city limits. Building on existing and proposed networks, Beyond the Bayous explores using publicly owned land and rights of way to expand access to green space in Houston. Working simultaneously at the regional and site scales, designers utilized geospatial data sets from a wide range of sources to create a platform for testing open space and connectivity concepts. The team could then evaluate each iteration’s potential impact on a number of complex social and physical conditions, as well as funding possibilities.
The plan brings more equity to the distribution of new landscapes across Houston.
Houston incorporates urban, suburban, and near-rural areas. Dasymetric (density) mapping broke census tract information into more accurate depictions of population distribution.
Project priorities included improving access to local and regional parks, enhancing regional connectivity, and strengthening local ecosystems, as well as creating places worth exploring, engaging the urban spectacle, and providing a sense of immersion and relaxation within the city.
Regional “desire lines” connect low-income, high-density neighborhoods with destinations, such as job centers, parks, and transit hubs.
Detailed examination revealed that improving even straight paths would require cooperation with a number of different landowners and agencies. As alignments were explored and refined, various obstacles, including roadways, rail lines, and bayous, were identified and assessed.
MVVA explored ways of assisting high-need neighborhoods through connective open-space projects dubbed “constellations.” Beyond these loops, the constellations evolved into 19 “neighborhood networks,” concept plans for areas with substantial connectivity and greenspace challenges.
Gulfton Neighborhood Network Case Study
Gulfton is a neighborhood in southwest Houston that faces compound challenges, including poverty, crowding, and frequent flooding, all exacerbated by poor connectivity to transportation networks.
There was no single solution to Gulfton’s urbanistic problems, so the planning team explored multiple options, estimating the number of people affected, the length of connection, and the relative difficulty of obtaining land or funding.
The planners created a detailed inventory of publicly owned land.
As each neighborhood scheme was developed, potential governmental partners and funding sources were identified. MVVA made the initial contact with leaders of many of these departments to explain the project’s goals. The emphasis on resilience, environmental equity, access, and multi-modal connectivity makes the plan a model for the greater Houston area as it continues to come to terms with its environmental and social challenges.