A Celebration of Concrete

Or How to Create Ill Will

March 3, 2023

For those who don’t get enough experience of concrete in the city of Houston, there is now plenty more concrete for you to enjoy in Memorial Park.

Normally one would go to a park to escape the hardness of the built city. We are fortunate in Houston to have a major urban park, almost 100 years old, dedicated to the experience of nature – a soft path underfoot, tall trees swaying gently in the breeze, a glimpse of a rabbit or raccoon, the call of a hawk, the smell of soil, mushrooms and pine; the rhythm of the bayou flowing past. Conservationists have worked for years to try to keep it natural.

But in recent years the private conservancy running Memorial Park on the banks of Buffalo Bayou has decided to turn our beautiful park into a constructed experience. This is a problem with park conservancies: in order to raise money they have to do projects, and in order to raise more money they have to do more projects. It’s never enough to let nature be.

And apparently they have decided that in order to raise money they have to throw donors names in big letters in front of it all. Most recently, in addition to the massive amount of concrete poured to construct not one but two sets of tunnels over Memorial Drive, the conservancy has erected hulking grey concrete walls on both sides of the tunnels announcing who is responsible: Kinder. It’s the Kinder Land Bridge.

Well, we’re not sure that everyone is going to be thanking the Kinders for this, although they have been very generous (see also here) with their pipeline fortune throughout the city.

Sunrise over one of the two Kinder Land bridges in Memorial Park, Feb. 17, 2023

One Land Bridge Wasn’t Enough

Land bridges for wildlife over (better under) major highways is a good idea. But the idea that a land bridge over Memorial Drive was for the animals (including humans) has always been a farce, as our founding president Frank Smith has long argued. Wildlife – coyotes, bobcat, possum — have always found safe passage through the large drainage culverts passing under Memorial and Woodway. And as we have previously pointed out, the Conservancy has thoughtfully included a drainage culvert designed for wildlife passage underneath the land bridges, which officially opened Feb. 11. Based on reports from neighborhood residents, more wildlife likely died fleeing destruction of their habitat than before construction of the land bridges and prairie.

In addition, for humans who can’t navigate the crosswalks and stoplights to walk across six-lane Memorial Drive and back, there is a lovely, modest pedestrian bridge, known as the Living Bridge, a remnant of an earlier, more enlightened master plan from 2004 connecting the north and south sides of the park near the Running Center. Not that most people often have reason to do that. Generally you are either jogging or walking the Seymour Lieberman trail around the expanded golf course on the north side or strolling, biking, running (or getting lost) with your family and friends through the lovely bayou woods on the south side. (Yes, the Lieberman trail is much improved by routing it through woods and over streams instead of along Memorial Drive.)

But okay, so they really wanted a bridge over Memorial Drive: a high point over our low, flat prairie (and over the trees) from which Houstonians could view the sunset and sunrise and the surrounding vista. That’s cool. But wouldn’t one bridge, one set of tunnels have been enough? asks the amazing Mr. Smith, who at 101 years is still engaged, still concerned about the park that he promised Ima Hogg he would always protect. Did we really have to spend $70 million to build two massive bridges?

Top left: concrete walls surrounding the Kinder Land bridges. Top right: on top of one of the bridges. Bottom: Side view looking north of one set of tunnels. Photos Feb. 17, 2023

More Parks Needed

Do we not need other parks, many more green spaces? The Conservancy often touts the fact that many people drive a long way for the experience of Memorial Park. But we have long argued that maybe they do that because there are few other opportunities. (They certainly don’t do it to look at concrete walls.) Houston ranks 70th out of the nation’s most populous 100 cities in terms of parkland, investment, and access to parks, according to the 2022 ranking from the Trust for Public Land. Although note once again that this calculation is skewed by the vast acreage of parkland included within Barker and Addicks reservoirs in far west Houston, including Cullen Park, at over 9,000 acres one of the largest parks in the country.

The original 1,503 acres that were sold at cost in 1923 by the Hogg Brothers and partners to the City of Houston were intended as “an ideal wooded park” for “the common good.” Though the park is frequently touted as nearly twice the size of New York City’s Central Park, the comparison skips over the fact that more than 600 acres of Houston’s park is devoted to a (recently expanded) golf course, driving range, and related buildings, for which numerous magnificent pines and oaks were cut down. Not to mention the significant amount of acreage used by maintenance, sheds and green houses, or just simply ignored and abused.

But Wait! There’s A Concrete Prairie Wall Too. And Stairs

But wait! There’s more. Wander on over to the new prairie on the south side of Memorial and you can gaze upon another massive grey concrete wall with the names of more donors inscribed in giant letters. We won’t embarrass these generous people by naming them. It’s not their fault that this ugly wall rudely interrupts your view of the new green prairie and wetlands they helped to fund.

Read the rest of this post.

8 thoughts on “A Celebration of Concrete”

  1. T says:

    This isn’t about Memorial park but the Bayou. I am a regular user of the Bayou and noticed that a blue substance had been put down along stretches of the Buffalo Bayou and in those areas all the plants were dead. I am assuming this was a herbicide that was put down. You can see a clear line where the spray occurred. Everything was allowed to grow last year. Can you tell more about this project? Rationale? Seems all that chemical is going straight into the Bayou at first rain and they would need the plants for erosion control.

    1. Thanks for your comment, T. Don’t know what the Buffalo Bayou Partnership is thinking but this is a really bad idea, to put it nicely. We’ll be making inquiries today. Those banks were healing nicely after the Harris County Flood Control District bulldozed them in 2020. See our report on that here.

  2. T says:

    This is the response I received, would be interested in your thoughts:
    Harris County Flood Control District has funded a restoration project along the bayou to reduce future erosion and improve the ecological habitat of this riparian ecosystem. The blue dye you saw last week along the bayou is used to adequately track the application of an aquatic use herbicide that allows us to control invasive and problematic plant species that reduce biodiversity. This herbicide treatment allowed us to prepare the site for planting of native trees, shrubs, and grasses, that will stabilize the banks of the bayou. The following is a detailed Project Description: https://www.hcfcd.org/W100-00-00-W002

    1. Thanks, T. We spent a couple of hours this morning on the bayou in Buffalo Bayou Park with Gabriela Sosa, Conservation Manager with the Buffalo Bayou Partnership. We have a report coming out soon. The Partnership is working with the flood control district on this project.

  3. Paul Copello says:

    This is a great article! Thank goodness someone is speaking up and exposing the deforestation and commercialization of Memorial Park.The power hungry commercial enterprise that is under the guise of “green”, called the Memorial Park Conservancy, continues to bulldoze every corner of Memorial Park for profit. On top of the ever enlarging maintenance contaminated compound south of Memorial, there are new acres of land bulldozed for paid parking, huge ugly golf nets, construction of several unused baseball fields, massive golf course expansions and buildings for private use, they now have just recently planted tens of ugly steel 5 G cell towers with power boxes in every corner of the park, and the list goes on….. The golf course renovation was a destruction, and if they ever head over toward towards the Polo Grounds, the last untouched wild of the park, nothing will be left… How can the City get our beloved park back please?

    1. Thanks, Paul. We recently walked through the lovely woods west of the railroad tracks below the polo grounds and barns. Little known fact is that those polo practice fields are actually part of the park. We did notice the ugly black cell towers everywhere in the park. Hmm. Please do complain to your city council representative, the mayor, and the Uptown TIRZ, at the least. And note that the mayor is in the process of nominating new members to the Houston Parks Board LGC. Otherwise, maybe it’s time to start a petition to stop them from doing anything more to our beloved park.

    2. Bill Wilson says:

      There is still plenty of “untouched wild of the park” south of Memorial drive, but they* are rapidly destroying it.

      *Memorial park conservancy, Uptown tirzz, UDA, et al.

      1. And in the woods on the west side too!

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