Built to Flood: Houston's Buffalo Bayou Walk

As the City of Jacksonville and Groundwork Jacksonville embark on a long dreamed plan to build greenways along McCoys and Hogans Creeks, Houston's Buffalo Bayou Park Trail is one worth paying close attention too. Built to flood, it has become one of the most popular urban trail systems in the American South.

An aerial of McCoys Creek in Mixontown.

In Jacksonville, the vision to retrofit the flood prone McCoys Creek into a linear greenway connecting several Westside neighborhoods with downtown and the Northbank Riverwalk is an ambitious one. A major part of the proposed Emerald Trail system being spearheaded by Groundwork Jacksonville, the project has the potential to be a catalyst for social and economic development in Jacksonville, from encouraging healthy lifestyles and promoting public safety, to spurring economic growth and neighborhood revitalization. To bring this system to life, Groundwork Jacksonville teamed up with the PATH Foundation and landscape architect KAIZEN Collaborative to develop a master plan earlier this year. In addition, the Mayor’s Office has allocated $62.45 million in the Capital Improvement Plan to restore and turn the Westside’s flood prone McCoys Creek into an urban greenway. This includes $13.05 million in the FY 18-19 budget for drainage, flood control, creek restoration, ash remediation, recreational trail, and road and bridge improvements between Hollybrook Park and Downtown Jacksonville.

The Atlanta Beltline

While Atlanta’s Beltline has generated local media coverage regarding the economic benefits an urban trail system can bring to Jacksonville, due to its PATH Foundation affiliation, Houston’s Buffalo Bayou Trail is a great recent civic success story that is highly applicable to Jacksonville’s flood prone waterways and coastal climate. Buffalo Bayou is a slow-moving river that starts just west of Katy, Texas and flows over fifty miles east through the Port of Houston, the Houston Ship Channel and into Galveston Bay. Serving as a major artery for a network of waterways flowing into Galveston Bay, the City of Houston was founded on the banks of Buffalo Bayou in 1836. Its heavily urbanized watershed is also known for being flood prone similar to Jacksonville’s McCoys Creek.

Houston’s Buffalo Bayou

After a century of being treated as an urban afterthought, the Buffalo Bayou Partnership (BBP) was established in 1986 to focus on turning a 10-mile stretch of Buffalo Bayou through central Houston into a premier linear public space. Since that time, the non-profit organization has helped leverage more than $150 million through the support of foundations, individuals, corporations and government agencies to transform the waterway. In 2003, the Partnership developed a master plan for Buffalo Bayou, calling for $5.6 billion over a 20-year period to create a series of linear parks through Houston, including the rehabilitation of former industrial property, habitat restoration, flood control management, cultural programming, high-and-bike trails, kayaking and canoeing facilities and mixed-use urban development.

A Downtown Houston directory illustrating the network of trails and green space lining Buffalo Bayou.

Signature projects completed since then include the Buffalo Bayou Promenade (2006) and Buffalo Bayou Park (2015). Combined, these spaces have activated 183-acres and stormwater infrastructure along the Buffalo Bayou into an interactive green space and hike/bike friendly waterway connecting several neighborhoods with Downtown Houston.

Here’s a brief photo tour of Buffalo Bayou through Central Houston.