Last weekend thousands of Houstonians celebrated the opening of Land Bridge and Prairie, a 100-acre, roadway-burying project and a major component of an ongoing plan to upgrade Houston’s largest park.
The focal point of the event, which was billed as the biggest picnic in Texas, was a land bridge that invites humans and non-humans alike to cross safely over the six-lane highway that has divided Memorial Park since the 1950s. Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects sculpted the bridge from soil, plants, and hardscape to create a new green space that connects the long-severed north and south sections of the park. In this section, new trails for walking and biking build upon the existing, contiguous trail network within the park. On top of its recreational amenities, the Land Bridge and Prairie initiative restores almost 45 acres of native coastal prairie and wetlands to boost biodiversity and improve stormwater management.
The project is an impressive work of landscape engineering that layers an expansive, naturalistic walkway over four tunnels. These passages are made from over 600 prefabricated concrete panels. Up to 55,000 vehicles per day will drive through them, while above, their tops offer views of the Houston skyline, five miles away, as well as the surrounding prairie in the park.
“There are two distinct aspects unique to this project that really excite me,” said Thomas Woltz, principal and owner of Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects in a press release. “First, is the scale of it, given where it is situated. Memorial Park is nearly twice the size of Central Park and is in the geographic heart of Houston, one of the largest and most diverse cities in the U.S. Add to this, the fact that not only are we providing an expansive land bridge for humans and wildlife across a major commuter artery, but we are also re-establishing an important and endangered ecological habitat by planting nearly 45 acres of native Gulf Coast prairie. I’m very proud that with this project, we can demonstrate how impactful ecological restoration and the creation of accessible public open space, both of which are so critical to the health and civility of our culture, is possible through thoughtful design.” Woltz recently wrote about the project for AN‘s October/November 2022 issue.
The project is part of a master plan for Memorial Park, also led by Nelson Byrd Woltz, that aims to fortify the space against drought, repair damage from severe storms, and upgrade deteriorating landscapes and facilities throughout the almost 1,500-acre park. The planning process kicked off in 2013; the initiative is produced in partnership with the Memorial Park Conservancy, Houston Parks and Recreation Department, and Uptown Development Authority.