About The Bayou

In 1972, when boaters raced around the Buffalo Bayou, which threads through the center of Houston, they called their annual competition the “Reeking Regatta,” a commentary on the polluted state of the waterway. Boaters from that era would be surprised to see the new face of the waterway today. Part of a larger movement to revitalize the city core and clean up the bayou, the new Buffalo Bayou Park opened last month. A series of disconnected, occasionally overgrown green spaces has been reconnected and redesigned as a centerpiece urban park by locally-based SWA Group. The $58 million project connects 160 acres that border a 2.3-mile stretch of the bayou, providing a new link between two important city thoroughfares, Memorial Drive and Allen Parkway. As the name of the park implies, the sunken, snaking waterway isn’t the easiest place to build.

“Putting a park in a floodway isn’t typical, says Scott McCready, a landscape architect and principal of SWA.

Utilize Natural Processes and Plants

To help the bayou fulfill its natural role as a sponge for water, native plants were added to stabilize and soak up water, including cypresses on the higher banks and cottonwoods and sycamores on the lower sections. Turf was swapped out in favor of natural grasses, helping recreate the natural state of the landscape.

“Think of the bayou as a cross section from the water’s edge to the street,” says McCready. Plantings were designed to work with that progression, with plants at the bottom accustomed to being underwater. He points to a portion of the project called GreenTree that remained untouched and in its natural state. Houstonians can stroll through it to get a sense of what the area was like before it was developed. “It gets pretty primeval,” he says.

This downtown Houston area of the bayou is a favorite for resident and tourist alike.