How can people create natural spaces within a city designed for the car?

Bayou Greenways are areas of parkland alongside bayous that is can be used for flood control and and as parkland that provides recreation, mobility, flood control and wildlife habitat.

Houston is a large, rapidly growing, and sprawling US city.  Houston is also known for its bayous, which have given it is nickname as the Bayou City.  Bayous are slow-moving wetland streams in the flat, low-lying areas of the South East United States.   These bayous cut though the city,  connecting it to the Gulf of Mexico.

Due to its growth and lack of planning Houston, lacks park space, problems with congestion, and severe flooding problem.  Houston lies tens of meters above sea level on a flat plain filled with wetland areas.  Flooding is a continual problem for the city, killing people and damaging property.  Flooding has increased as the amount of paved area has increased, wetlands have been filled, and climate change has increased the amount of extreme rainfall.

Houston used its bayous to simultaneously address several of these problems by restoring and enhancing them bayous to better connect the city, provide parks, and reduce flood vulnerability.


Buffalo Bayou by Randall Pugh 2013.

One example of such a project is Buffalo Bayou Park.   Which restored and enhanced 4 km of bayou in the center of Houston, that provides a popular cooler, green place of calm, recreation, walking in the centre of the city. The park is a public-private partnership that has focussed on adapting and enhancing existing urban infastructure.  For example, Sabine Promenade, converted a disused areas beneath highways to a parkland of bike and walking trails, that pass through a landscape full of art and tended gardens that uses the highway’s shade & the Bayou to provide a respite from the Houston heat.

In the Houston region the large Bayou Greenways project.  Its grand vision is to establish an equitable, accessible urban park system in Houston that will use the development of green infrastructure in its bayous to link people, places and green space, while enhancing air and water quality, reducing flooding, and encouraging economic development.  The initiative is a long term public-private green infrastructure/park project plans that plans to purchase land, design and build trails and other amenities to connect existing trails, linear parks and larger parks that many different groups have restored and enhanced over the past decades. The first phase of the plan, the Bayou Greenways 2020 is under way, and includes 80 miles of new trails to expand on Houston’s existing 70-mile bayou trail system. $200 million  plan will connect 7 bayous within Houston city limits.  This project would add parkland across the city, connect over 200 km of trails, and mean that about 60% of Houston’s residents would live within 2km of a greenway.  Longer term the project aspires  to create a system that connects the 10 major bayous in Greater Houston.


Houston Bayou Greenways plan.

Bayou Greenways are an example of green infrastructure that provides multiple benefits to people and wildlife.  In Houston, initial successes in restoring Bayou’s have spread across the city, leading to a large scale re-engineering of the city that aims to socially connect the city in new ways, while providing alternative transport connections, and opportunities for recreation.  As such, it is part of Houston’s efforts to become a more sustainable city. The system also aims to reduce flooding risk, but is currently not well integrated with stormwater management and building.  By connecting people more to the Bayou’s it connects people to nature and has lead to an increase in nature oriented activities in Houston.

For more information

Bayou Greenways website

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Discovering Houston’s Brays Bayou Greenway from STREETFILMS on Vimeo.

Houston Parks Board video on Bayou Greenways 2020 plan.

HOUSTON BETS ON THE BAYOU, Landscape Architecture Magazine March 17, 2016

WaterBorne Finding the Next Houston in Bayou Greenways 2020 by Albert Pope in Cite Magazine

Crompton, John L. “Estimates of the Economic Benefits accruing from an expansion of Houstons Bayou Greenway Network.” Journal of Park and Recreation Administration 30.4 (2012).