Greener Pastures

April 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Edit

Downtown park features amenities for all

A new, tranquil sanctuary for Houstonians and visitors lies beneath Downtown’s hustle and bustle. Spanning 12 acres in front of the George R. Brown Convention Center, Discovery Green is Houston’s newest urban park. The park’s official grand opening is April 13. However, it is already hosting events.

Susanne Theis, the park’s programming director, says Discovery Green is not just a plot of green space beneath Downtown’s concrete canyons. “The whole idea is to create an urban space that will draw people together,” she says. Park officials hope to accomplish this goal by combining the central location with diverse activity programming. Activities include yoga, dance and fitness classes; art exhibits; festivals and live music. A co-op organic market will be on-site once-a-week where visitors can purchase fresh produce from local vendors.

Discovery Green is a unique venue for Houstonians, but is not the first of its kind. Park developers examined Millennium Park in Chicago and Bryant Park in New York when planning layout and design for the Downtown park. By doing so, Theis says, developers were able to utilize the small, contained space in a fully functional manner. The project was initiated in 2004 when Mayor Bill White asked what was then-called the Houston Downtown Park Conservancy to raise capital needed to construct and operate the park. The $122 million project was funded by private partnerships and the City of Houston. However, the design was based on input from Houstonians who participated in public meetings. Theis says their vision for an active Downtown park led to many of the amenities and location of Discovery Green. The close proximity to the convention center, Minute Maid Park, Toyota Center and Hilton Americas make the park a central location for visitors to congregate before or after events.

Houstonians even had a chance to name the park through a contest held before the park’s groundbreaking. “Tapping the public to name the Downtown park was a natural decision by the Conservancy,” says Nancy G. Kinder, chairwoman of the Conservancy. “The interest and excitement during our public input phase in 2005 was instrumental in helping us design a truly urban park that will be utilized by all Houstonians.” The name Discovery Green, chosen from more than 6,000 entries, was adopted because it best reflects the spirit and uniqueness of the new park and … represents Houston’s diverse history and communities. “We were thrilled that so many Houstonians submitted ideas on what we should name the park,” says Guy Hagstette, park director of Discovery Green. “Throughout the design phase of the process … the point was made over and over again by neighbors and friends. We want visitors to explore and discover our park and our city.”

Discovery Green’s 12 acres are divided into three distinct areas which appeal to all age groups and interests. Kinder Lake, a one-acre water way, lines part of the northern boundary of Discovery Green. Near the lake is a stage featuring slope lawn seating for musical and theatrical performances. The family area contains playgrounds, walking areas, picnic lawns, dog runs and other activities. The urban garden area abounds with lush greenery where one can relax, play shuffleboard or even work on his golf game. Two restaurants, The Grove and The Lake House are located in this area and complete the park’s facilities. One of the amenities Houstonians requested was plenty of shade, Theis says. That request was granted through groves of trees and a “grandparents’ porch,” which will provide 20 feet of shade in the playground area. Discovery Green also boasts plenty of parking; the ground beneath the park was excavated and built into a parking garage serving the park and convention center areas.

Pieces from nationally acclaimed artists also dot the landscape of Discovery Green. The works of Margo Sawyer add vibrant colors to the park and function as portals from underground parking. Visitors can cool down at the Fayez Sarofim Mist Tree, a 15-foot-high stainless steel Doug Hollis creation. Discovery Green will also showcase several art carts during busy events near the lawn and amphitheater. The art carts are actually golf carts transformed into mobile canvases by local artists and students.

The Downtown venue appeals to all senses — a place where visitors can truly see, touch, hear, taste and explore the best Houston has to offer. Discovery Green is a premiere urban park, like those found in the world’s leading cities, White says. “It is one of many vibrant projects that [changed] the landscape of downtown Houston.”

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