2 - Houston’s Buffalo Bayou- Present Challenges and Visions for the Future
Monday, September 24
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Houston’s Buffalo Bayou is the city’s principal river that traverses the most historic areas of the city. It was here that the earliest human settlements were established, historic wars were fought, and trading ports created that elevated Houston’s reputation as a major commercial hub in the nineteenth century. However, by the 1980s the bayou and its banks had devolved into a derelict, unkempt and haphazard urban landscape. This was compounded by Houston’s unique ‘no-zoning’ stance to development, impacts of flooding, lack of an integrated vision and disinvestment in the bayou’s infrastructure. Fueled by public action, the Buffalo Bayou Partnership (BPP) was formed in 1986. With a mix of public and private funds, BPP has transformed sections of the bayou to create an innovative urban park that has served as a catalyst for spurring conservation and development along the watershed. While the creation of the Buffalo Bayou Park is complete – replete with extensive landscape interventions, new construction and reuse of some unusual buildings like an underground reservoir as an art space, the challenges of redeveloping the bayou are far from over. Despite being designed to flood, the waterfront development was strenuously tested by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Even greater challenges lie ahead- BPP has now shifted its attention to the east section of the bayou- that not only lacks ‘aesthetically’ in being surrounded by mid-century industrial sites, but also traverses the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Future development will need to balance environment conservation with brownfield redevelopment, reuse of unconventional buildings, community participation and policies to avoid gentrification.
This presentation will chart the historical evolution and rebirth of Buffalo Bayou with a special focus on the role preservation has played (or not) in the process. It will analyze the challenges presented by the continued flooding of the site, particularly the recent effects of Hurricane Harvey. The presentation will share design explorations from an undergraduate architecture studio taught by the author that re-envisions two industrial sites within the bayou’s east section that is littered with abandoned and in-service industrial infrastructure. The opportunities and challenges posed by these designs will be analyzed within the framework of the East Sector masterplan that is currently underway and commissioned by the BPP.
- Describe the key preservation policy milestones in the revitalization of Buffalo Bayou and its watershed in the last 50 years.
- Identify the challenges that the redevelopment along the bayou continues to face, especially its ability to respond to recent flooding during Hurricane Harvey.
- Explain the hurdles to revitalizing the east sector of Buffalo Bayou which is populated with industrial infrastructure of a more recent vintage.
- Discuss potential solutions to revitalizing the east sector by analyzing two specific industrial sites.