Enormous Plan To Build Bayou-Side Parks: The Movie

Here’s the feel-good Houston bayou hit of the season: a dreamy, 11-minute-long video talking up a $5.4 billion plan (that’s the proposed budget, anyway) to build a new interconnected system of parks and trails out of “derelict” properties along Houston’s extensive network of bayous. The goals: better air and water quality, reduced flooding, and economic development.

Properties not directly located along bayous would also be included. In all, the plan calls for acquiring 3,800 acres of land and turning 3,200 acres of them into parks and stormwater detention sites. The remainder would be “set aside” for future redevelopment. Continuous greenbelts would be established along 10 major Houston bayous, connecting parks and community gathering places. In all: 300 miles of trails and 1,600 acres of linear greenway space.

But that’s just for Houston.


The proposal is part of a “Redfields to Greenfields” research project funded by New York hedge fund manager Michael Messner’s Speedwell Foundation — for a national economic stimulus program that would turn “in-the-red” properties in major urban areas into job-creating, real-estate-value-enhancing parks (and gather up raw land for future development). Financing for the economic-recovery proposal would come from banks, but would be made possible by a $200 billion “land bank” and parkland acquisition fund established and administered by the U.S. Treasury Dept., the FDIC, and the Federal Reserve.

The above video comes from a “second tier” of city studies; A glossy report (PDF) laying out how Houston could take advantage of such a program was produced last year. It includes this map of potential buyout (and future park) sites:

Video: Speedwell Foundation

44 Comment

  • Way past time and so I second the call of “Bring it”!

  • Great video by the way! Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to discovering some of these new trails in the near future. Willow Waterhole off S. Post Oak is a great example of bringing beauty back to a once plighted area.

  • It is a bit of a bailout for developers who for decades insisted on channelizing the bayous instead of providing detention on their developments. And that same industry will reap major benefits of the increased property values near the new green spaces. But it is a great idea. Tropical Storm Allison did 5 billion in damage. The savings on storm damage would easily pay off the 5.6 billion price tag. So, bail away. Better late than never.

  • This appears to be a banking scheme that would have the Federal Reserve Bank(s) finance and hold securities on these important lands in many large cities across the US. More scrutiny of the fine print and long-term ramifications is needed before yielding to the sensuous propaganda.

  • Bring it! And agreed, this is a great video. Beautifying the bayous is win-win for everyone.

  • Sounds awesome to me. I used to live in one of thos houses with a fence to the bayou. It was all cement with overgrowth around the edges and was what I considered to be the downside to the house. If it were close to the bayou as it is along Allen Parkway, Macgregor, or behind the homes in Memorial, it would have been great.

  • I’m curious to see what the plan is for developing a “continuous greenbelt” along Buffalo Bayou between Beltway 8 and Shepherd. Somehow I can’t see the landowners along that section giving up a single inch of waterfront, let alone allowing any public access.

  • Amazing. I see discovery green as the initiator of a big push – Houston real estate investors/developers have realized that by making an area a better place to be, everyone’s property value goes up. Please let this be a continued push towards a 21st-century renaissance for our fair city!

  • Really nice video. I hope there is a way to undo some of the channelization and put some of the bayous back into a more natural state.

  • When I was a kid back in the 70s, Willow Water Hole was a nasty bayou that flooded our little section of Westbury too many time to count (major flood damage to most of the houses at least twice that I can remember). Will be nice to see that bayou cleaned up.

  • Sounds like a bunch of bureaucratic do-gooders and their developer cronies salivating over $5.4 billion in ponzi-government handouts.

  • Great ideas, but don’t kid yourself. If we wait for Uncle Sam to get involved and lead the push we’ll never get anywhere. If we can spend $5 billion on freeways, we can spend $5 billion on parks.

    We already pay a 1% sales tax to the City and another 1% to METRO (which is a joke). In FY2011, that 1% sales tax gave the City and METRO $484 million. With a 1% Park tax we could have this whole thing done in a decade or so.

    Or issue some 30 year bonds at today’s rock bottom rates and use a much smaller sales tax bump to pay the freight over a longer period.

    Best use of tax dollars I’ve heard of in a REALLY long time.

  • Absolutely love this idea for the simple fact that I feel like it will finally give this city a great collective identity.

  • Bernard, I’m all for parks.

    But we’re already in debt. And any “sequestered” tax gets thrown into to slush fund anyways. We don’t get low rates unless there is a claim on general revenues.

    Bottom line, don’t let non-property tax-paying renters decide the fate of tax-paying citizens.

  • One more thing…

    The park idea is a grand slam home run, but there’s no need in Houston for the government to be buying up derelict buildings just because they are eyesores. If the government wants to get rid of eyesores, they should offer to pay for demolition or give the owner some intensive to demolish the ugly building. I’d rather the land stay in private hands (and taxable) until it makes sense to redevelop. I have zero faith that the government will do it right. Vacant land isn’t an eyesore. It’s an opportunity.

  • It just seems like a big real estate subsidy. The land wouldn’t even be kept as parks; it would be “redeveloped later” to pay off these loans. I’m sure these finance guys already have developers in mind…

    To be quite honest if we really wanted to do this we would have already done it. As has been stated, $5 billion is not that much for a big city especially if you stretch it out.

  • UG is right. The homeowners who have properties backing into the bayou in Tanglewood and Memorial (particularly Hunter’s Creek and Piney Point) aren’t going to go for this. And the strategy of targeting blighted properties will be of little use in those neighborhoods. John and Becca Thrash are very civic-minded people, but there’s no way they are going to welcome people bicycling through their back yard. And people in those neighborhoods have the money and clout to make sure it never happens.

    It’s too bad because a trail connecting Buffalo Bayou Park and Terry Hershey Park would be awesome. But I can’t see a path to that ever being built.

  • I agree it sounds like a great idea, but I would rather see it done locally with bonds or a “beauty tax” of some kind.

    So it’s not going to be perfect and some homeowners will not comply. Big deal.

    We always let every little thing hold us back in this city. Example: 2nd rail line in Houston just now being laid. I mean come on.

    Houston used to be a city of bigger than life people thinking big. We need to get back to that way of thinking.

  • I laughed and I cried a bit during the movie…but really, I’d rather these people try to do something about our weather instead ;-)

  • I really want Bike Roads rather than Greenbelts. We have a ton of Greenbelts in Kingwood — using them sucks for transportation. You’re going up and down a 10 foot hill on every road, and stopping on the decline of the hill while waiting for an intersection to clear sucks.

  • I own a home along Buffalo Bayou in West Houston. Along with other homeowners we own the land, we have paid taxes on it for years, and there is NO WAY we are going to allow bike/walking trails in our backyards. HCFCD is not going to be able to seize our private property. Go find your own park!

  • Way to tell ’em, Alyse. Public amenities? Bah! Civic beautification? No way! Quality of life? Fuhgeddaboudit! That kind of attitude is what makes Houston a world-class city.

    Oh, wait …

  • My husband and I are from Chicago, much more walking space, and we constantly talk about how we wish the bayous near our home had trails so we could walk more, go on bike rides, as well as, more parks, you shouldn’t have to DRIVE to a park! I love Houston but it desperately NEEDS more green space and taking advantage of the beautiful bayous is a brilliant idea! I hope they start soon!

  • Jim, do you believe the city of Houston, or the HCFCD should have a right to come in and steal my home and land to put in bike and walk trails? We bought our home because it was along Buffalo Bayou, and have totally remodeled it plus the money we have put into errosion control along our part of the bayou. We have lived here for years, and you think the government should be able to confiscate my property….seriously???

  • Bonny, you shouldn’t have to drive to a park, you just want to be able to park in my neighborhood, and then walk through my yard to get to a hike and bike trail along Buffalo Bayou?

  • Alyse, honey, nobody’s taking your house. Here, take two of these….

  • @Alyse, before getting your knickers in a twist it might be worth taking a look at the map of proposed locations. There appear to be two, or maybe three, along Buffalo Bayou through West Houston. No need to panic, the riff-raff will not be trying to park in your neighborhood.

  • Alyse, you seem to be worrying that someone is going to condemn your property to build a bike trail. What I was contending above is that this will never happen–the neighborhoods along the Bayou west of 610 are too affluent and powerful. Chill.

    That said, Buffalo Bayou is navigable, so you can’t prevent kayakers and canoeists from floating by your castle, admiring your erosion controls and whatever exterior remodeling you have done.

  • Alyse,
    They are going smash your house and turn it into a splash pad. You will get no money for it either.

    I’m pretty sure you don’t own the bayou. (probably not even the land adjacent to it).

  • Jimbo, we’re talking about two different things. This red fied/greenfield proposition, but I am more concerned with the HCFCD’s Charting Buffalo project. I was at a meeting last week, and have seen the maps. HCFCD, along with environmental groups, does have plans to put bike trials in from Beltway 8 to Loop 610, once flood control is addressed. And yes…the bike path comes into my backyard as they have it set up now. The only way to do this is to confiscate my property. Go check out the CB website and see for youself. My neighborhood group has alreaedy spoken with an attorney.

  • caneco–People with bayou-adjacent properties do own the land, but boats may land on the banks in an emergency (like if your boat is sinking). (This is according to this website: http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/fishboat/boat/paddlingtrails/coastal/buffalo_bayou/index.phtml)

  • Caneco, never said I owned the bayou. Hate to break it to you, but my survey does show I own the property all the way down to the water line. I pay a hefty tax bill every year due to the value of my land alone…not just the house. I have no problem with kayakers and others in the bayou, but you have no right to come onto my private property. And we’ve certainly done more to protect the banks than the county/city has ever done.

  • Alyse: You’re the only one talking about the HCFCD. This post and all the comments except yours are about the “Redfields to Greenfields” program.

  • The homes in Memorial Villages do own the land all the way to the water line, and sometimes well into the water itself (bayou constantly changes exact position, after lots were platted). I am por-bike trails like in Memorial park or along Allen parkway but taking people’s land is big stretch. Such project could never afford to reimburse the home owners for drop in property values (millions per home in some cases). Imagine going from a secluded cul-de-sac 1 acre lot backing to the bayou with no visible neighbors and extreme privacy to 1/2 to 2/3 acres where any douchebag can walk up and look into your back yard and bedroom windows. That $6 mln home is suddenly $3 mln on a good day and your taxes would have to pay the difference.

  • Ah got to love the nimbys; so paranoid and high strung…

  • Robert, the two projects may as well be one in the same. The only difference between the two is that Redfield/Greenfield advocates taking derelict properties, along with other private property. Not only is the head of HCFCD interviewed in the video, but so are several others that are involved with the Charting Buffalo project. If the city of Houston wanted to take advantage of Buffalo Bayou, and others, they should have done that 40 plus years ago. It’s too late now. Homes are built all along especially Buffalo, and people are not going to give up their property.

  • So eminent domain would not apply to the land along the bayous?

  • If there ever was a case of eminent domain, this would be it, save for the fact that private developers will reap a substantial benefit from this plan. This plan is filled with all kinds of “public purpose” needed for a government body to exercise its eminent domain powers: 1) Transportation: cyclists could commute to down town from the western suburbs along the bayou by parking along the bayou and riding 10-15 mi to downtown, minimizing traffic; 2) Flood control; 3) park space is a major quality of life issue in cities and a bayou greenway plan could be a major benefit in attracting businesses that see Houston as a car-choked sprawville that is not a good draw for talent.
    I can certainly understand that property owners will fight like hell to keep commoners from having access to the bayou by foot or bike (for some reason a kayak is ok), but if you really want privacy, living along a bayou isn’t a great idea. Every time I have visited someone who lives on Buffalo Bayou, my first thought has been “wow, the house on the other side of the bayou can see right into your house.” Of course, the debate is academic as the City and County will fold like a cheap suit when the rich folks start crowing about losing their sort of private back yards.

  • There are never going to be bike trails along Buffalo Bayou between 610 and the beltway unless a flood comes along and washes away all the houses there. I’m not sure why this is even being discussed. I’m sorry I contributed to this threadjack. It’s the other bayous we should be talking about.

  • I think this would be a far stretch to make eminent domain claim… 1). Spend hundreds of millions of dollars for a dozen sweaty weirdos to ride a bike to work? Really? 2). Flood control may be a valid reason, but there hasn’t been a large scale flood problem since bayous were upgraded since Allison. 3). Quality of life issue is a matter of personal choice, as numbers indicate, vast majority of people prefer well maintained roads and freeways and keep the parks where they are.
    In either case, the underlying idea is a pie in the sky and can never be properly financed.

  • Living on a brown murky muddy over grown bayou, that floods regularly, geniuses..

  • Yeah, let’s talk about WHITE OAK bayou instead. Which genius on here knows how to rip up the danged concrete, while still protecting the surrounding area from washing away?

  • I think it is more realistic to have a bike lane (not just painting a line) connecting Memorial Park to the Terry Hershey greenbelt.

    Furthermore, I think it would be more realistic to have similar bike lanes bridging the gaps between greenbelts.