In a series of votes last week, Houston residents helped further refine the broad priorities that will shape the future of the 1,500-acre Memorial Park, considered one of the city’s “signature parks.”
More than 2,000 persons have participated in the park’s long-range master planning process, which began about six months ago. More than 100 attended an open house last week to weigh in on seven priorities identified in the process so far. They revolve around:
Access — including entry points and connectivity with other parks and parts of the city;
Balance — between nature and recreation, for example, land and water, amenities and programs;
Communication — including signage and messages about programs and park offerings;
Connections — between the park, its past and present, programs and users;
Enhancing the park — upgrading existing amenities while preserving its urban wilderness;
Increased safety — including security day and night and management of user traffic;
Sustainability — preserving a resilient ecology and using sustainable practices throughout the park.
Public input is occurring simultaneously with research about the park’s ecology, its natural and cultural history. Preliminary design work is the next step and will involve more public input, said Shellye Arnold, executive director for the Memorial Park Conservancy.
The conservancy is working in partnership with the Houston Parks and Recreation Department and the Uptown Houston District’s tax increment reinvestment zone, or TIRZ, to develop the master plan with landscape architectural firm Nelson Byrd Woltz and consultants Lord Soil Resources.
“We’d love to have a master plan on paper by the end of the year and in the approval process by Houston City Council early next year,” Arnold said.
Arnold was joined at last week’s open house by HPARD Director Joe Turner, TIRZ Project Manager Sarah Newberry and consultants Thomas Woltz and Priya Sicar, who answered questions about the planning process.
Based on what he has heard at public forums and through surveys, Woltz said the overarching theme for the plan appears to be finding a balance between Memorial Park’s wilderness and its recreational uses. In general, his goal is to enhance the park’s existing character, not fill it with uses that may exist in other parks, he said.
Once developed, the master plan could take up to 20 years to fully implement. Funding will come from the TIRZ and fund-raising by the conservancy. Major components will have a pecking order, said Turner. Fire suppression, for example, may trump an amenity like resurfacing tennis courts to ensure the park’s sustainability.
“This park extends way beyond us,” he said. “It extends to our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren and to all the future citizens of Houston.”
Since the current plan for Memorial Park was developed the park has seen a dramatic increase in use and signficant loss of trees due to drought and hurrican damage. Existing infrastructure also is in decline. About four million people use the park annually.
In addition to the Memorial Park master plan, the city also is updating the master plan for all its parks, which are divided into 21 geographical sectors. Residents are encouraged to participate. Find out how atwww.houstontx.gov/parks/masterplan.html