The Revitalization of the Most Historic Waterway is Underway in Houston's East End
Formed 18,000 years ago, the Buffalo Bayou is Houston prime’s waterway extending some 54 miles from the Katy area all the way down to the Ship Channel and Galveston Bay. Its history in Texas goes back to the early Anglo-American settlements and the Texas Independence with the Battle of San Jacinto. The docks in the Harrisburg area just East of Downtown Houston became the foundations of what became the modern Port of Houston.
Efforts to preserve and modernize the Buffalo Bayou can be traced to the 1960s and 1970s but not until 1986, the Buffalo Bayou Partnership (BPP) was founded that public and private finance towards renovating and expanding park space along the river became a top priority. With the Partnership came a new era for this historic waterway.
In early the early 2000s, BPP established a 20-year master plan with the vision of a series of linear parks through central Houston. In 2018, the Partnership turned its sights on the bayou east of downtown – from US 59 to the Port of Houston Turning Basin.
By the end of 2018, BBP aims to complete its final master plan for the East portion of the Bayou with local East End partners and heavy hitters at the national level including Michael Van Valkenburg Associates, an award-winning landscape architecture firm; HR&A, an award-winning economic development, real estate, and program design company; and Houston’s BakerRipley, a community stakeholder with a solid foot print in the East side supporting low-income families. *
Anne Olson, President of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership said, “The East Sector plan is a huge visionary project involves community-based planning, a shared vision for growth, and a focus on maintaining momentum for long-term results.” She adds, “As a result, partnerships with residents, businesses, local leaders, and other vested stakeholders are imperative.”
The plan encompasses four key themes.
Authenticity – BBP’s vision is to transform the parks and green spaces such as Tony Marron Park, Guadalupe Plaza Park, and some of its properties to reflect the area’s cultural and industrial legacy. To achieve this, the parks will incorporate programming such as music and dance performances that portray Latino traditions. In addition, interpretive signage and artwork from local artists will help bring genuine stories to life.
Connectivity – A top priority will involve connecting all neighborhoods to the waterway. While hike and bike trails connect neighborhoods running east and west along Buffalo Bayou, neighborhoods running north and south need to be connected with infrastructure such as pedestrian bridges.
Inclusivity – Long-time residents and businesses will be encouraged to work collaboratively on smaller short-term capital projects in the parks and trails. There is strength in numbers, and their participation will be a high priority.
Resiliency – Although the East End is less prone to flooding, Hurricane Harvey caused considerable erosion on banks close to downtown. Therefore, improvements will be made to mitigate future flooding, stabilize the bayou banks, and increase economic and social prosperity.
According to Olson, “The master plan will be executed in a series of strategic steps. Initially, we will start working on smaller capital projects and then later on, larger projects that will be more transformational. These will take time to complete as we will have to raise considerable funds to design and construct the improvements.”
Bolivar Fraga, a longtime resident of the East End area and Community Developer for BakerRipley says, “By approximately 2035, the East End will be a more diverse and vibrant community than it is today.” He adds, “The overall implications of what is being envisioned for the bayou is a significant increase in the quality of life of the East End community and Houston in general, and in the environmental health of the bayou and its banks.”
The Bayou will serve as an amenity to enjoy but also as a catalyst to propel economic development. Developing the parks, trails and green spaces will create opportunities for restaurateurs, park maintenance personnel, canoe and kayak concessions to name a few. Final outcomes include stronger community pride, strengthened community bonds with bordering neighborhoods (East End and with the 5th Ward), improved health from the recreation and mobility, and more opportunities for mixed-income housing.
Reinvigorating the East End not only enhances the residents’ lives but the community becomes an engine that drives growth in surrounding areas.
*Multiple partnerships will be key to revitalize Buffalo Bayou. These include Houston Parks & Recreation Department, Harris County Precinct One, Harris County Precinct Two, the Port of Houston Authority, the East End District, East End Chamber of Commerce, Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation, as well as many civic associations, Super Neighborhood groups, and other community organizations.
This story is funded in part by the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance.