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Buffalo Bayou Park and Promenade

designed by /

Location: Texas / USA / Type: Parks / Riverbanks / Under the Bridge / Built: 2006 / 2015 /
Show on Google Maps / Published on September 1, 2015


Buffalo Bayou Park reveals the story of how a derelict drainage basin hidden beneath a tangle of highway infrastructure was transformed into a treasured parkland in the heart of Houston, Texas. Now, this thoroughly renovated, 160-acre public space deploys a vigorous agenda of urban ecological services and improved pedestrian accessibility, with four new bridges connecting surrounding neighborhoods. It stands as a model of resilience, having been tested severely by Hurricane Harvey and emerging unscathed.

The design utilizes channel stabilization techniques, enhancing the bayou’s natural meanders and offering increased resiliency against floodwaters while preserving the beauty of this culturally significant waterway. The planting strategy reduced mowed turf by half, replacing it with riparian woodlands and naturalized meadows featuring native species. This further stabilizes the landscape, provides habitat, and uses Texan species to return a sense of place to the city. All lighting, plantings and walkways are designed to withstand the natural, periodic flooding of the bayou. The project provides continuous pedestrian and bike trails, public art, and special maintenance and safety provisions. Buffalo Bayou Park provides access and recreation opportunities for a broad cross-section of Houstonians to experience the unique ecological character of the site.


One of the largest investments in public parkland ever carried out by the City of Houston, this $15 million project was the result of an historic public/private partnership to revitalize Houston’s downtown urban waterfront. SWA Group was retained to create a master plan and subsequent full landscape architectural services through two miles of some of the most challenging urban conditions: overhead freeways and utilities, steep slopes, limited access and critical flood water elevations. The project converts a once neglected eyesore—intimidating to pedestrians and detrimental to flood control efforts—into 3,000 linear feet of urban parkland providing a gateway to downtown Houston and adding over 20 acres of park space to Houston’s inner city. The project features naturalization of gently sloping banks, extensive native landscaping, hike and bike trails, public art, dramatic artistic lighting, 12 new street-to-bayou entryways, stairs and ramps reconnecting people to the bayou, a major north-to-south pedestrian bridge, way-finding, and interpretive signage.

The natural channel and the soil along the banks of the bayou were stabilized through the use of gabions and the anchoring of 14,000 tons of rock and recycled concrete. Weeds and other invasive plants were replaced by nearly 300,000 plants (including native perennials, groundcover and trees). The lighting system provides glowing orbs that follow the monthly phases of the moon; lights are blue when the new moon occurs and gradually shift to white as the full moon emerges. All lighting, plantings, and walkways were designed to withstand the natural, periodic flooding of the bayou. The waterway now teems with ducks, herons, turtles, and fish. The Army Corps of Engineers’ existing HEC model was used to ensure that floodwater conveyance would not be compromised by the improvements. This new public space provides national prominence conducive to commercial, recreational, cultural, and civic vitality.


Project Data

Landscape Architecture: SWA Group

Location: Houston, TX USA
Area: 160 acres, 1.2 miles
Completion: March 2006 Phase I, 2015 Phase II
Clients: Buffalo Bayou Partnership; City of Houston; TXDOT; Harris County Flood Control District


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