Each month, City Parks Alliance recognizes two “Frontline Parks” to promote and highlight inspiring examples of urban park excellence, innovation, and stewardship across the country. The program also seeks to highlight examples of the challenges facing our cities’ parks as a result of shrinking municipal budgets, land use pressures, and urban neighborhood decay.
August’s Frontline Parks are examples of industrial sites that have been reclaimed and restored as urban green space.
Five miles from the Houston Ship Channel, home of the second largest petrochemical complex in the world, a 27-acre remnant of the southeast Texas bayou system is being regenerated. The source of this emerging life is Robert C. Stuart Park, soon to be an environmental education center and source of respite for nearby neighbors and factory workers. The Houston Parks Board (HPB), whose mission is to create, improve, protect and advocate for parks in the Greater Houston region, initially identified the site during a city-wide evaluation of possible parkland in 2005. Although not listed for sale, HPB contacted the property owners, and after four years secured the site at less than 50% of its market value. By partnering with the Houston Parks Board, the City of Houston obtained grant funding for most of the park improvement. At Stuart Park, visitors will be invited to embrace and appreciate the historic bayou habitat – to wander trails, cross boardwalks over wetland streams, and watch prairie grasses wave in the breeze. It will also be a place to learn about nature, with a learning pavilion, teaching stations, interpretive signage and a demonstration garden.
A signature project on the Bronx River Greenway, Concrete Plant Park provides a vital link and highlights a unique partnership between public agencies and communities to reclaim the waterfront for public use. The seven acre park is sited on a former concrete plant, which was in operation from 1945 to 1987. After the plant closed in the 1980s and the city seized the property, the area was saved from the auction block by community residents, led by Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice. These efforts were supported by The Point Community Development Corporation, Community Boards, elected officials, and the newly formed Bronx River Alliance who saw the site’s potential as a waterfront park. During the design phase, residents articulated a vision for quiet contemplation, learning, unstructured play and a sense of the history of the site. Today, the park boasts the stabilized remnants of the concrete plant, acres of open lawn, winding paths, benches, shaded areas and game tables. On summer afternoons you can watch a pick-up game of cricket and soccer, paddlers out in canoes and kayaks, or fishers casting their lines into the river. Concrete Plant Park is the result of a decade of tireless efforts, as well as an indicator of what is to come as new links on the Bronx River Greenway open to the public.