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Houston unveils post-Harvey downtown master plan

News Newsletter Southwest Urbanism
Houston unveils post-Harvey downtown master plan. A rendering of North Canal in Houston (Courtesy Downtown District)
Houston unveils post-Harvey downtown master plan. A rendering of North Canal in Houston (Courtesy Downtown District)

Downtown Houston released an ambitious master plan on Friday, the culmination of 18 months of work and input from hundreds of stakeholders. Creating walkable streets, a five-mile green loop around the city’s core, new design guidelines and more, the 20-year plan puts an emphasis on sustainable, resilient development.

A product of the Houston Downtown Management District (Downtown District), a nonprofit focused on improving the quality of life in their district, and Central Houston Inc., the proposal is a spiritual successor to Houston’s 2012 Downtown Living Initiative. Although Houston lacks zoning codes, the original Downtown Living Initiative successfully encouraged growth in the city through a series of public/private partnerships, tax rebates for construction, and reinvestments into downtown Houston’s infrastructure. Asakura Robinson and Sasaki had consulting roles in the process, while HKS Architects and Harris Kornberg Architects were among the architecture firms involved in the plan’s leadership group.

The proposed Green Loop would circle around downtown Houston and connect other neighborhoods. (Courtesy Downtown District)

With the new plan’s release in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, planners, designers and city officials have also turned their focus towards disaster mitigation. Besides increasing the amount of green space in the district, the proposal has set aside land for detention areas and has tried to shift away from car-dominated urban planning.

City officials are expecting a population boom from 7,500 to 30,000 over the next 20 years, and are calling for the construction of 12,000 new residential units to deal with the demand. Along with building more schools and predicting a 20 percent increase in the workforce, the plan calls for keeping residential developments centralized and integrated with mass transit. As with the plan that preceded this one, questions over how affordable these developments would be have yet to be answered.

Bob Eury, president of Central Houston Inc, spoke to the Houston Chronicle about the challenges involved with bringing affordable housing to this type of development.

“Unless we can find public land so you can basically write off the land costs, it’s extremely challenging to build affordable high-density housing without a continuous subsidy,” he said.

Rendering of the waterfront along Buffalo Bayou. (Courtesy Downtown District)

The project’s crowning jewel is its five-mile long Green Loop, a band of parks and bike lanes that would wrap the downtown area and connect it with further-flung neighborhoods. Aided by the ongoing North Houston Highway Improvement Project, a highway readjustment by the Texas Department of Transportation, downtown Houston has an unprecedented chance to readjust its urban borders.

The complete Plan Downtown: Converging Culture, Lifestyle & Commerce presentation is available here.

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