Buffalo Bayou Park and designing a resilient future for Houston
As Hurricane Harvey continues to impact the Houston area, many of the most poignant and striking images being shared on social media feature before-and-after scenes of the flooding, and just how much of downtown Houston and the surrounding floodplain have been inundated.
One of the many landmarks being used as a yardstick for the storm’s power is Buffalo Bayou, a recently opened urban park and greenspace that connects the 160 acres of parkland bordering a 2.3-mile stretch of the bayou, which connects the city with the Gulf.
Currently overflowing with water, the park shows the challenges of resilient design within the Houston metro area, a floodplain that’s seen its population and development rapidly expand over the last decade. To get a better understanding of the challenge of resilient design in Houston, Curbed spoke with one of the landscape architects behind the park, James Vick of SWA, as well as other area experts.
Growing a greenway network
Buffalo Bayou was initially built with flooding in mind. SWA created a landscape specifically meant to help channel runoff away from the densely built downtown blocks nearby. Using what’s called fluvial geomorphology (the study of riverbanks and flooding patterns), the SWA team carved channels into the landscape to help direct overflow, and built the entire infrastructure of the park (raised trails, galvanized steel, Cor-Ten, and concrete structures) to withstand and bounce back from flood events. Buffalo Bayou, of course, wasn’t designed to handle a storm as intense as Harvey.