Discovery Green

Houston, TX

Discovery Green

Client: Downtown Houston, Discovery Green Conservancy
Location: Houston, TX
Year: 2005-2008
Lead firm: Project for Public Spaces
Designers, collaborators: Hargreaves Associates, PageSoutherlandPage, Lauren Griffith Associates
Awards: Great Places designation, 2019; ULI Development of Distinction (Winner), 2009.

Discovery Green wasn’t just a success in terms of park design, programming and management — Discovery Green transformed downtown Houston as a real estate market, as a visitor destination, and – most of all – as a place where Houstonians now want to live, work, and play.

The project transformed twelve acres of surface parking into an active oasis that now draws 1.5 million visitors annually. It is a textbook case for placemaking and economic development – how investing in public space can leverage private investment.

This downtown park, which opened in 2008, created massive economic impacts – well over $1 billion in real estate investment, and attracting premier corporations like Microsoft and Starbucks to the adjacent convention center. But it also sparked a wave of people moving to downtown because for the first time they could see that downtown Houston was becoming a real community. New residential and mixed use development quickly surged across this urban district, which had formerly been surface parking lots near the conven­tion center. These projects included residential/retail buildings, two new hotels, the Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, and downtown’s first grocery store.

Discovery Green exemplifies how placemaking can work with a public-private partnership. The City of Houston, Discovery Green Conservancy, and the Houston First Corporation were partners in the development of this anchor for community life in downtown, recognizing that successful public spaces can anchor urban living so that residential development can succeed. Until Discovery Green, downtown Houston.

Phil’s role was to develop the park vision and program which informed the design and helped make it the great destination it eventually became. One of his career highlights was opening week when the director of the new Discovery Green Conservancy called to tell him “there are too many visitors, we’re going to need more staff!”

Most importantly, the park has changed how Houston views its downtown, which has transformed what was once an office center into a place people now see as a desirable place to live.

In 2019 Discovery Green was named one of America’s Great Public Spaces by the American Planning Association.

“Phil was instrumental in creating Discovery Green, a downtown park that has literally changed our city. He opened our eyes to what was possible and created a template that guided the park’s overall design and vision for creative programming. More than a decade later, Discovery Green continues to thrive in large part because of the strong foundation Phil helped us build.”
-- Guy Hagstette, Founding President, Discovery Green

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