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Memorial Park

Other cities want to be like Houston

For parks and landscaping.

The word “infrastructure” typically conjures up images of towering buildings, layered freeway interchanges and heavily monitored drainage ditches; concrete, cars, trucks and impressive feats of engineering that attempt to mold the natural world and resources to fit human needs.

Houston, the fourth largest city in the U.S., has long been hailed, and criticized, for such accomplishments, but a shift in social, political, and economic values has strengthened lesser-thought of elements of city infrastructure: parks and green space. Architectural and engineering professions in Houston have been historically bolstered by energy and the wealth it has pumped into the city, but the recent downturn in oil prices and a more diversified Houston economy has led the city to focus on what the landscape architect can bring to table.

Just like “infrastructure,” the term “Houstonization” has begun to mean something completely different. Cities across Texas and the nation, including San Antonio, are taking a closer look at the Bayou City and how the Sun Belt’s biggest metropolis, now 180 years old, has done an about-face to embrace the natural environment as cultural and economic assets to retain and attract residents. Literal mud holes and parking lots have become world-class parks.

[…]

Like most paradigm shifts, it took an “aligning of the planets,” said Cultural Landscape Foundation President and CEO Charles Birnbaum in the ornate lobby of Hotel ZaZa Thursday evening. He would later reiterate this concept for conference attendees next door in the auditorium at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Those “planets” are core patrons – the bureaucratic (city), the civic (philanthropist/corporate) and the citizen patron. The key for Houston, as other cities, has been another three-piece vocabulary, the public-private partnership, the so-called “P3.”

Just as these patron planets aligned for the rise of the highway and construction cranes, they have aligned for green space, Birnbaum said. “People are hungry and ready for parks.”

Houstonians – along with national and international consultants – are currently turning an urban golf course into a botanical garden; they’re redesigning, reconnecting and expanding Memorial Park and its arboretum; they’re connecting 150 miles of bayou trails; and developing engaging programming to activate its 371-and-counting parks.

“It takes big civic ideas and the patronage muscle to pull it off,” Birnbaum said.

That’s a report from a recent landscape architect’s conference that was held in Houston. OffCite was all over this as well. Lots of good reading there if you’re interested.

They also love us for bus system reimagining.

Was it hard to persuade people to focus on rerouting bus lines?

They had us all put together a list of, what are things you’d like to see done. This was on my list. It took about three years for the agency to be convinced to do it.

There was a lot of focus on the fact that ridership was dropping. I was actually offering up a solution that addressed that problem.

It probably didn’t hurt that it was budget friendly?

It’s funny when you look at this. Why haven’t more agencies done this? Because on the surface it’s a no-brainer: make a system better without putting money into it. In the end we put a little bit of money into it, but using your current resources to do more seems like it’s something everybody would be doing. But it turns out it’s actually really rare.

[…]

So Houston is open to change and your project has been a progressive triumph. But is the city ever going to reach that urban planning “nirvana”?

Yes. I think we’re actually getting there. There are people from all over the United States looking at Bayou Greenways as a model, looking at Discovery Green and Market Square. We’re a city that has suddenly ended up in the national spotlight when it comes to urban planning, and that’s really interesting because 20 years ago, even 10 years ago, we were the joke at the beginning of every urban planning presentation.

Yes, I distinctly remember the slide in those presentations.

It’s funny. One of the most famous pictures is that picture of downtown Houston covered in surface parking lots, and that’s where Discovery Green is now.

Some of the things we got held up for as being bad, like the lack of zoning, I think are turning out to be advantages. The good restaurant scene we have actually has something to do with the fact we don’t have zoning.

It’s really odd, parks people are looking at Houston, development people are looking at Houston, transit people are looking at Houston.

That’s got to feel pretty good.

It feels pretty darn good.

That’s from an interview with recently reappointed Metro board member Christof Spieler. Spieler has previously said that other transit agencies are closely watching the new bus network rollout – one agency that is considering something similar was here in town on the day that the new maps were implemented, for a firsthand look at how it went. As Spieler says, that feels pretty darn good.

The draft bike plan is out

Here it is, in all its glory. I encourage you to look at the draft plan and play with the interactive map. Then, when you start to feel overwhelmed and wish someone would explain it all to you, go read Raj Mankad’s story in Offcite, which does exactly that.

The last time Houston made a bike plan was 1993. Many of the streets declared official bike routes then are among the least safe places to bicycle. Take Washington Avenue. Every few hundred feet, a yellow sign with an image of a bicycle declares “Share the Road.” The street, however, has no dedicated bicycle path — not even a narrow one. Cars race down the 12-foot-wide lanes feebly painted with ineffectual “sharrows” that have faded from the friction of tires. Only “strong and fearless” cyclists, who represent less than one percent of the total population, attempt such routes.

The signage on Washington is visual clutter, or worse. It sends the wrong message to potential cyclists, according to Geoff Carleton of Traffic Engineers. If the city designates a route for bicycling, he says, it should be comfortable enough for “enthused and confident” riders, not just the spandex-clad racers in pelotons. Ultimately, says Carleton, a city’s bike facilities fail unless they can reassure the largest segment, as much as 65 percent of the total population, of potential cyclists: those who self-identify as “interested but concerned.” (The other group is the “no-way no-hows.”)

The Houston Bike Plan, a new draft released by the City of Houston, details just such a future. Made public and presented to the Planning Commission, the plan was crafted by Traffic Engineers, Morris Architects, and Asakura Robinson, a team comprising most of the designers behind METRO’s New Bus Network, a dramatic reimagining and restructuring that’s receiving national attention for its success. A grant to BikeHouston from the Houston Endowment provided part of the $400,000 budget for the new plan with additional funds coming from the City, Houston-Galveston Area Council, and the Houston Parks Board.

The process involved extensive community outreach across class, race, gender, and ethnicity, as well as a study of all existing plans made by the city, management districts, parks, livable center studies, and neighborhood groups. The resulting draft is more a fresh start than an elaboration of the 1993 precedent.

The plan begins with an assessment of where we are today and makes distinctions between high- and low-comfort bike lanes. Only the high-comfort routes are kept in the plan moving forward.

As the plan’s introduction states, Houston has “made great strides in improving people’s ability to bike to more destinations.” The plan also notes changes in attitude and ridership levels, calls out “Sunday Streets … a great example of encouraging more people to get out and be active on Houston streets.” The most substantial improvement comes by way of Bayou Greenways 2020, the 150 miles of separated trails and linear parks along the bayous. (See our coverage of the 2012 bond measure funding this project, the progress of its construction, and the transformative impact it could have on our region.)

Approximately 1.3 million people — six out of 10 Houstonians — will live within 1.5 miles of these bayou trails when they are completed, but traversing those 1.5 miles can be a major challenge. When you map out this and other projects in the works, you see islands of bicycle-friendly territory and fragments of high-comfort bicycling facilities. Because the bayous run east-west, a lack of north-south routes could leave cyclists alone to contend with dangerous traffic and car-oriented infrastructure.

“If we do nothing beyond what is already in progress, we will have 300 miles of bikeways,” says Carleton, “but it won’t be a network.” Thus, the draft plan focuses on links that would build that network.

Ultimately, the vision is for Houston to become by 2026 a Gold Level Bicycle Friendly City according to the standards of the League of American Bicyclists. Currently, the city is Bronze Level.

Here, the plan is broken down into three phases: 1) Short-Term Opportunities, which could solve problems quickly and relatively inexpensively; 2) Key Connections, which are high-impact improvements that would require more investment; 3) Long-Term Houston Bikeway Visions, which are true transformations of infrastructure that would require substantial investments of money, time, and labor. Below, we look at each stage as a whole and at few routes in particular as examples.

Go read the fuller explanation of what those things mean, then look at the map to see where they fit in. A lot of the short-term opportunities include finishing the planned trails along the bayous and taking advantage of streets that have more capacity than traffic to turn a lane into a dedicated bike line like what we have on Lamar Street downtown.

Here’s a snip from the map that I took, which focuses on the parts of this plan that most interest me. Green lines are off street, blue lines are streets with dedicated bike lanes, and fuscia represents streets where bikes and cars can coexist in reasonable fashion. The thicker lines are what exists now, and the thinner lines are what’s in the plan. I’ve filtered out the long-term visions, so what you see are the short term and key connection opportunities:

BikePlanSmallView

A few points of interest:

– Note the continuation of the MKT Trail due west at TC Jester (it currently continues along the bayou), following the existing railroad tracks, then turns south through Memorial Park and on down, via the existing CenterPoint right of way. I think all of that is included in that 2012 bond referendum, but don’t hold me to that. Note also the connection from Buffalo Bayou Park to Memorial Park, which just makes all kinds of sense.

– The blue line that runs north-south is at the top the existing bike lane on Heights Blvd, which then continues on to Waugh, serving as a connection to the Buffalo Bayou trail. I’ve noted before how while I’d like to be able to bike that way, it’s just too hairy once you get south of Washington Avenue on Heights. As Raj notes in his story, this would involve some road construction to make it happen, but boy will that be worth it.

– Other blue east-west bike lane additions include (from the bottom up) Alabama, West Dallas/Inwood (connecting to an existing on-street path), Winter Street, White Oak/Quitman (a convenient route to the North Line light rail), and 11th Street/Pecore. I can testify that there is already a bike lane drawn on Pecore east of Michaux, but it needs some maintenance. 11th Street west of Studemont can have some heavy car traffic – people regularly complain how hard it is to cross 11th at the Herkimer bike trail – so I’ll be very interested to see how the plan aims to deal with that.

– Downtown is in the lower right corner of the picture, with Polk and Leeland streets targeted for connecting downtown to EaDo, and Austin and Caroline streets for downtown to midtown. These will no doubt be like the existing Lamar Street bike lane, where the main investment will be in paint and those big raised bumps.

Those are the things that caught my eye. Again, I encourage you to look it all over. The short term and key connection opportunities are fairly low cost all together, with some of the funds likely coming from the 2012 bond and the rest from ReBuild Houston. From Chapter 6 of the plan, on Implementation:

While a significant number of projects have dedicated funding identified for implementation over the next five years, including projects in the City’s CIP and the Bayou Greenways 2020 projects, the City of Houston budget projections indicate that there will be challenges in identifying additional resources, either in personnel, capital, or operations and maintenance to advance many additional components of the plan forward in the near term. Opportunities to leverage existing resources to meet the goals of the plan are important. Additional resources will likely need to be identified to implement many of the recommendations in the HBP in addition.

The Mayor’s press release identifies some of the funding sources being used now for this. Take a look, see what you think, and give them feedback. The draft plan exists because of copious public input, and that input is still needed to take this to completion.

Council approves Memorial Park plan

Done deal.

The plan, which could see up to $300 million invested, also would restore the park’s ecosystem, which was greatly harmed in the 2011 drought, through ambitious plans to add fire suppression and irrigation systems and improve drainage to end serious erosion problems in parts of the park.

The plan was developed through months of public meetings, surveys and workshops with park users, and incorporated research from local experts on such matters as soil ecology, hydrology, archaeology, history and traffic. It was created by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, the Memorial Park Conservancy and the Uptown tax increment reinvestment zone, which committed $3.2 million in financing for the plan.

The Uptown zone also will commit up to $120 million toward the envisioned infrastructure projects, such as drainage and parking improvements. Much of the rest will be raised from private donors by the conservancy.

As with most such master plans, the blueprint defined goals for what the park should become over time, if and when funding becomes available to build the things it proposes. Next, officials will design the projects, estimate how much they will cost, and decide how and when to apply public and private dollars to them.

See here for the background. Since there was a lot of discussion regarding the price tag in the comments to that post, keep in mind that not everything in the plan may ultimately get done. In addition, as noted above, privately raised funds will be a big part of this. The Bayou Greenway Initiative, which has a key role in the plan, intends to raise as much as they borrow in the bond initiative. Whatever the city winds up paying will come from the capital budget. It would be nice to know how much that is, but we’re not going to until the construction projects actually start. And again, it would be nice to know what the Mayoral candidates think about this, because this affects them and they can affect this. Hair Balls has more.

What kind of Memorial Park do you want?

Council is set to vote on the Memorial Park Conservancy plan, whether you like it or not.

Joe Turner does not want more drawings gathering dust on a shelf.

Houston’s parks and recreation director inherited more than a few unrealized master plans when he was hired 10 years ago. Now he’s shepherding the most complex one yet, a detailed plan to restore, improve and maintain Memorial Park, the largest and most heavily used green space in the city.

Thomas Woltz describes his blueprint as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help save a green space three times bigger than New York’s Central Park. It doesn’t lack for ambition, restoring the ecosystem, shifting several ballfields to the park’s northeast corner, increasing parking spaces by 30 percent and creating two dramatic land bridges spanning Memorial Drive that reconnects the park’s major sections.

“We feel like we’ve enlarged the park without any land acquisition,” said Woltz, a partner in one of the nation’s premier landscape architecture firms, Nelson Byrd Woltz.

But it’s an election year, and vested interests around the park are taking aim at new ideas they don’t like. Tuesday is the last day for public comment on the plan.

Then, on Wednesday Mayor Annise Parker and City Council will be asked to vote on the plan, 18 months after they unanimously approved its creation. The plan was created through a partnership of Turner’s department, the Memorial Park Conservancy and the Uptown Houston tax increment reinvestment zone, which committed $3.2 million in financing for the plan.

[…]

In addition to the land bridges, the plan’s most ambitious ideas involve infrastructure, including fire suppression and irrigation systems, stormwater management and a 30 percent increase in parking spaces. Those projects would happen first. They fall within the realm of the TIRZ, which by law can support infrastructure only with the tax money it collects.

In interviews with the Houston Chronicle, Woltz and Sarah Newbery, Uptown’s park project manager, have said the tab might be $300 million, but last week they were loath to use any figures.

Newbery said the plan simply tries to define goals for what the park should become over time, if and when funding become available to build the things it proposes. If council approves the plan, the team soon will address where and how to begin, calculate costs and put every item through “a measured and thoughtful public process,” she said.

See here and here for some background on the plan; see here, here, and here for background on the TITZ part. The plan has its share of controversy, from the land bridge to the parking plan to the bayou erosion remediation. This Hair Balls post about yesterday’s Council public session covers a lot of the concerns. I’m generally favorable, though I share a lot of the concerns about the bayou. Be that as it may – you know what’s coming, right? – there’s nothing in this story to indicate what any of the Mayoral candidates think about this. Memorial Park is a crown jewel, and this is a huge undertaking that will happen on the next Mayor’s watch. Wouldn’t it be nice to know if they approve or disapprove, and what their concerns are?

Bayou battle

Another one of our local disputes that has been picked up by national interests.

A Harris County Flood Control District proposal, submitted to the Army Corps of Engineers in April, would reconfigure and stabilize about a third of the semi-natural bayou left inside Loop 610. And it would do so using an approach called Natural Channel Design that, though in wide use across the country, is denounced in many scientific circles.

One of the method’s foremost critics, G. Mathias Kondolf, a professor of environmental planning at the University of California at Berkeley, was with the group on the bayou.

“This is such a remarkable place right in the heart of the city,” he said, standing on the bank. “Here you could let the river be a river. And so why not just leave it alone?”

Natural Channel Design, which the Harris County Flood Control District has used since 2006, was created and popularized by Colorado-based hydrology consultant Dave Rosgen. Rosgen has little in the way of formal scientific training, but he recognized a demand for stream-restoration methods long before academics moved to meet it. Rosgen’s method, taught in short courses rather than Ph.D. programs, uses tree trunks and other natural materials to stop streams from eroding or changing course.

“Rosgen claims that channels designed using his approach are both stable and natural, a deeply appealing combination,” Rebecca Lave, an Indiana University associate professor of geography, writes in her 2012 book “Fields and Streams.” “His NCD approach has been adopted and implemented by local, state and federal agencies throughout the United States despite opposition so strenuous and long-lasting that the controversy has come to be known as the Rosgen Wars.”

[…]

The bayou’s surrounding urban environment, however, has sometimes made the channel’s dynamism difficult to accommodate.

As flood-control district director Mike Talbott tells it, Buffalo Bayou is “coming unraveled.” The bayou has eroded and shifted course as Houston has boomed and development increased, and the proposed project would demonstrate a way to stabilize it.

Notably, the last semi-natural stretch of Buffalo Bayou inside Loop 610 runs between Memorial Park and some of the city’s most visible and most expensive real estate, creating a dividing line between public land and private property.

The flood control district and conservationists agree that this marriage of public and private space has not been a happy one.

Some of the landowners whose properties border the bayou have responded to the bayou’s natural erosion with ecologically and hydrologically problematic solutions – things like removing vegetation and replacing it with vast concrete walls. The flood-control district can’t control what those landowners do.

But by addressing an area slightly downstream from these expansive backyards and their bad solutions, the district intends to showcase a better way, Talbott said, one that would stabilize the bayou and reduce erosion without being so ecologically destructive.

“The people aren’t going to let it do what it wants to do,” Talbott said of the property owners along Buffalo Bayou. “That’s why the idea of intervention sounds like the right thing.”

The Memorial Park Demonstration Project, which would cost an estimated $6 million, has both money and broad institutional support, with funding lined up from the flood-control district, the city of Houston and the River Oaks Country Club. The Memorial Park Conservancy and the Bayou Preservation Association are also backing it.

But the project is not a done deal. Even if the Army Corps of Engineers approves the flood-control district’s proposal – there is no specific deadline for them to do so – it will have to go through another public hearing process, as required by the Texas Parks and Wildlife code.

See here for the background, and here for the case against the Rosgen approach, as articulated by Save Buffalo Bayou. Prof. Kondolf was here in November to inspect this part of the bayou and give a report on it; you can read a brief summary of that here and see a video of his presentation here. Save Buffalo Bayou is a good resource if you want to know more about this part of the bayou that most of us never get to see. It seems likely to me that the Memorial Park Demonstration Project will go forward as planned, given the support for it, but we should at least understand what the alternative is.

Like a bridge over Memorial Park

Some fascinating ideas for ensuring the long-term health of Memorial Park.

Today Memorial Park is a land divided.

The city’s premiere park stretches across 1,500 acres, almost twice as large as New York’s Central Park. But to Thomas Woltz of the internationally renowned landscape architecture firm Nelson Byrd Woltz, it feels much smaller. Over time the land has been divided into 24 tracts by roads, an elevated railroad, a power easement and recreational amenities.

That could change during the next 20 years if a long-range master plan being proposed by Woltz’s firm is adopted next spring by the Houston City Council. Hired in 2013 by the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, the Uptown Houston tax increment reinvestment zone and the privately funded Memorial Park Conservancy, the firm is nearly three months into a 10-month design process.

At a public meeting Wednesday, Woltz presented his firm’s initial design strategies and the reasoning behind them – ideas driven by previous public input and a year’s research by a team of about 70 local experts in fields like soil science, ecology, history and archaeology.

He shared maps, drawings and aerial views to explain the park’s ecological and cultural histories, also unveiling a dramatic solution to one of the landscape’s biggest problems. He’s proposing a grass- and tree-covered land bridge, 800 feet long, that would rise gently across Memorial Drive, over a tunnel, to reconnect the park’s north and south sides.

While it’s not realistic to remove the street, which is crucial to Houston’s traffic circulation, the land bridge is “a kind of triumph … the park wins,” Woltz said.

The current pedestrian bridge on the park’s western side, completed in 2009, was an important first gesture toward stitching the park’s landscape back together, Woltz said. “This land bridge builds on that beginning at a much larger scale.”

[…]

Project director Sarah Newbery of Uptown Houston said the Uptown Houston TIRZ is committed to spending $100 million to $150 million on the restoration projects and infrastructure; a figure that could change with property values. Memorial Park Conservancy executive director Shellye Arnold said her group is studying how much it can raise in the next 10 or 20 years toward the effort.

“But we think of this in terms of a 100-year or 75-year plan. We’ll execute large parts of it in the next three to 15 years; but there can be a road map for the next generation as well.”

Woltz expects to reveal designs that incorporate Camp Logan remnants at the next public meeting on Nov. 10.

“We’re looking for ways the landscape could function as a memorial to the soldiers and maybe even reveal some of the grid,” he said.

A Jan. 12 meeting is titled “Spaces and Places: How Will It Look?” The final March 9 meeting promises a more comprehensive revealing of the plan.

See here, here, and here for some background. The TIRZ in question is also the one helping to fund the Uptown BRT line. Some more material from the architect is here. What do you think about this? Link via Swamplot.

On the bayou and erosion

A portion of the work being done on Buffalo Bayou, known as the Memorial Park Demonstration Project, is drawing opposition for being too big a change to the natural state of the bayou.

Borne of a 2010 workshop hosted by the Bayou Preservation Association, the project calls for reshaping the banks of the bayou that wind past the [River Oaks Country Club], the Hogg Bird Sanctuary, a residential neighborhood and the southernmost border of the 1,503-acre park.

The plan calls for the segment of Buffalo Bayou – stressed, both sides agree, by the increased runoff that has come with urban development – to be widened, its course adjusted in some places and its crumbling banks shaped into stable slopes. A mass of vegetation would be stripped away from its banks and trees removed. Replanting would occur toward the end of the project, the cost of which Harris County, the city of Houston and the country club have agreed to share.

According to the Harris County Flood Control District, which will oversee the project, the plan would “create a self-sustaining bayou that would slow the erosion process” and potentially serve as a model for future projects – if it works. The project would be the first along the bayou to employ “natural channel design techniques,” as opposed to traditional concrete lining, something Mayor Annise Parker and County Judge Ed Emmett describe as a sign of progress. It has been dubbed a “demonstration” project because officials say it would showcase the benefits of the methodology.

Groups such as the Sierra Club and the Houston Audubon Society, however, say the plan would destroy all wildlife habitat along that stretch of the bayou, and that the science behind it has not been proven to reduce erosion.

“If we strip off 80 percent of the vegetation, if we remove the trees that shade the water, we will actually ruin a mile and a quarter of the main channel of Buffalo Bayou,” said Evelyn Merz, conservation chair of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.

The group is proposing an alternative that involves promoting the existing habitat by planting native vegetation. It would impact the area less “because it will be aimed at the areas that most need support,” Merz said.

Save Buffalo Bayou is leading the activism against this. Two of its members had an op-ed in the Chron recently, reprinted here, that lays out their case. I haven’t followed this closely, but the way they illustrate what the plan is sure doesn’t make it look appetizing. If you want to offer your feedback, you have until June 30, when the public comment period closes. Here are their recommendations for what to say. CultureMap has more.

Memorial Park will not become the Riverwalk

Council will vote on the proposed Uptown/Memorial TIRZ this week, which may or may not put an end to some of the wild speculation about what expanding the Uptown TIRZ boundaries to include Memorial Park may mean.

Imagine you’re jogging through Memorial Park, squinting past rows of neon signs in front of fast food joints, the music from bars in a kitschy corridor akin to San Antonio’s Riverwalk barely audible over the roar of nearby bulldozers.

This is the dystopian portrait some citizens paint of a proposal to annex the park into the Uptown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone. They say the move is a takeover of the city’s most precious green space by an unelected board, and fear the process could result in disruptive projects being built before the public has a chance to weigh in.

The problem with this view is that there is no evidence to support it, as city leaders repeatedly have said; Mayor Annise Parker bemoaned the “really goofy theories” that have been swirling.

Adding the park to the nearby Uptown zone is simply a way to funnel $100 million during the next 27 years from one of the city’s richest redevelopment boards into a park ravaged by the 2011 drought and in need of erosion control projects, irrigation, a new jogging trail and other repairs, officials say. Though the Uptown zone or Memorial Park Conservancy may take the lead on select projects, officials stress any improvements in the park must be specified in advance and approved by the city Parks and Recreation Department and by City Council.

Parker pointed out the Uptown zone already is working in a small portion of the park in its boundaries, and that a similar arrangement is succeeding in Emancipation Park.

That has not stopped Councilwoman Ellen Cohen, whose District C includes Memorial Park, from fielding numerous calls and emails from concerned residents.

“What I want to hear from you is that we’re not looking at Ferris wheels along Memorial Park, fast food restaurants lining Memorial Park,” she said to parks director Joe Turner at a hearing last week. “We’re not looking at any of the kinds of things that really would destroy the integrity of the park if this program goes through.”

Turner assured her no such plans are being discussed. The only specific project on the table today is the Uptown zone contributing $1 million toward a new master plan for Memorial Park, which he said would include ample time for public comment, including at least four public meetings, in addition to several hearings before City Council.

The concern about “neon signs” and comparisons to the Riverwalk come straight from that Lisa Falkenberg column about whether there is sufficient transparency built into the TIRZ plan:

They make some important points – none better than Olive Hershey, the stepdaughter of Terry Hershey, the determined conservationist and life member of the conservancy who fought government agencies trying to pave parts of Buffalo Bayou in the 1960s.

“There’s been virtually no disclosure of the real details of this scheme and the public stands to lose any meaningful control of an irreplaceable park in our public lands and waterways,” Hershey told the council Wednesday. “Memorial Park must not be turned over to a group of bureaucrats who may have little understanding of how to nurture and defend this fragile jewel. If the city needs money to reforest the drought-damaged landscape there, it seems a shame to basically turn the park over to TIRZ 16 because the city can’t afford to protect the remaining trees.”

She wondered aloud whether the powerful influence of developers and other interests over a relatively few conservancy members could lead to “neon signs” along trails and retail developments similar to San Antonio’s Riverwalk. The mayor dismissed such scenarios as “far-fetched” and stressed that the park can only be used for “park purposes.”

I didn’t address this when I wrote about it then because it seemed a bit ridiculous to me. I understand the concerns about transparency and public input, but I just don’t find the scenario being put forth here as remotely realistic. If there were ever even a rumor of this sort of thing being proposed or in the works, people would storm city hall with pitchforks and torches. Nobody who could be elected to anything in Houston would allow this to stand. I don’t understand where this is coming from. There may be less-farfetched things that could happen, but I don’t know what they are, and it’s still not clear to me what level and form of public input would be acceptable to assuage these fears – I still haven’t seen any suggestions to that effect. As noted in the story, the TIRZ meetings are open to the public, and five of the eight members are appointed by the Mayor and Council, which gets back to that pitchforks and torches thing. I totally get the desire to ensure that Memorial Park is preserved. I’m right there with that. I just want to know what the remedy is that would also allow for the needed improvements and infrastructure repairs to be made to the park.

Looking forward on Memorial Park

Meet Shellye Arnold, the new Executive Director of the Memorial Park Conservancy.

Shellye Arnold

There is no doubt that it is a pivotal moment for the 89-year old-park. Decimated by the drought of 2011, Memorial Park lost thousands of trees. The conservancy – whose stated mission is to “restore, preserve and enhance Memorial Park for the enjoyment of all Houstonians, today and tomorrow” – has a lot of work to do.

Arnold brings an exceptional skill set to the task. Her expertise in strategic planning, team building and leadership was honed over a 20-year career at Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, Compaq Computer Corporation and the management consulting firm, McKinsey & Company.

Previous to accepting the position with the conservancy, Arnold volunteered her time as both a writer and a speaker for the Parks by You Parks Bond Initiative, which passed in November 2012, providing $166 million in parks funding.

Jim Porter, board chair of the Memorial Park Conservancy and a certified Texas naturalist, feels confident that they have the right person for the job.

“Shellye has a history of getting things done and delivering results,” he said.

[…]

She notes that it was human intervention that uniformly forested Memorial Park with pine trees so heavily to begin with and that even before the drought, many of the park’s trees were already approaching their life expectancy.

About 15,000 new trees have been planted thus far. But there is also a need to restore and enhance the natural balance of the park on a larger scale. As Arnold notes, “you can’t water a forest.”

The diversity of Memorial Park with its three distinct eco-systems – East Texas Piney Woods, Post Oak Savanna and Coastal Prairie – will help sustain it. Clearing out non-invasive plants, which compete for water and sunlight, and planting native grasses are some of the items which could help with the restoration.

[…]

Arnold is supportive of the TIRZ proposal, in part because Mayor Parker is clear that Memorial Park will not be commercialized. It will remain a park, which is in line with the Hogg family stipulations when they made the land available to the city of Houston.

She sees potential down the road for linking the park to Uptown for cyclists. There has also been feedback about connecting Memorial Park to Buffalo Bayou, thereby giving people more access to the 150 mile trail system that is being completed through the Parks Bond Initiative.

Making those connections would be awesome, and very useful. Wouldn’t it be nice to have ways to get to Memorial Park that don’t involve driving? Throw in the Uptown BRT line and hopefully someday the University Line, and you’ve greatly expanded the bike-to-the-park range. That’s down the line, to be sure, but this is a long-term project. KUHF has more on what is being considered for the park.

Shellye Arnold is executive director of the Memorial Park Conservancy, a group that works with the Houston Parks Department to fundraise for the park. Driving west on Woodway, she pulls over to a spot where the park meets Buffalo Bayou and points out an area where TIRZ 16 money is already allocated for an erosion project.

“We’re looking at a big pipe that carries water down into the bayou. And what happens with the water is that it causes erosion, it causes the land around it to erode into the bayou itself. And over time, it eats and eats away at the bayou, so what we’re looking at is probably hundreds of feet of erosion from the banks of the bayou that has been caused over years of time.”

As for what else the money might do, nobody knows for sure because the master plan hasn’t been developed yet. As Arnold points out, there’s only a plan to make a plan.

“There are things that people have expressed that they’d like to do. There are many people that would like to put a prairie on the utility easement area. That’s a great example. Those are things that could be considered in the context of a master planning process, which will take, you know, will take some time.”

Council will vote on the TIRZ next week, on Wednesday. We don’t need to have a master plan by then, but some kind of vision or outline would be nice.

Have your say on the Uptown/Memorial Park TIRZ

From the inbox, and the office of CM Oliver Pennington:

CM Oliver Pennington

CM Oliver Pennington

To the Residents of District G:

As many of you are aware, the May 1, 2013, Council Agenda contained several items related to the Reinvestment Zone Number Sixteen (Uptown Zone), also known as TIRZ 16. Included on the agenda today were Items 15 (enlarging the TIRZ boundaries), 15a (extending the duration of the TIRZ), 15b (authorizing the issuance of bonds by the TIRZ) and 15-1 (adding land to the Harris County Improvement District No. 1, also known as the Uptown Management District). Those Agenda Items, and the back-up provided by the administration, can be viewed at this link: http://www.houstontx.gov/citysec/backup/2013/043013.pdf

At the City Council Meeting this morning, Council Member Pennington made a successful motion to delay further consideration of these 4 agenda items for two weeks so that these matters can be presented to and discussed at a Committee Meeting. That will allow the public to fully learn the plans relating to the Post Oak METRO project and the re-forestation of Memorial Park.

There will be a presentation regarding TIRZ 16 at the Budget & Fiscal Affairs Committee Meeting on Tuesday, May 7, 2013, at 10:00 A.M. The Public is invited to attend and there will be an opportunity for all concerned citizens to speak at the meeting. The meeting will be held in Council Chambers, located at City Hall, 901 Bagby, 2nd Floor, Houston, TX 77002.

So if you share Lisa Falkenberg’s concerns about this TIRZ, here’s your chance to put them on the record. You might even suggest some ways that your concerns could be addressed. If you can’t make it to this meeting, my advice is to send an email to Mayor Parker and the members of the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee with your feedback. You can find Council member contact information here. As they say, speak now or forever hold your peace.

Questions about the Memorial Park part of the Uptown/Memorial TIRZ

Lisa Falkenberg reports that some people have raised questions about the Memorial Park part of the Uptown/Memorial TIRZ.

Reforestation is sorely needed in a park devastated by hurricane damage and drought. This is a great deal, city leaders and supporters say, a great way to restore our crown jewel to its former beauty. And we should all trust the Memorial Park Conservancy – a private body whose members aren’t elected and which acts as both fundraiser and watchdog for the park – to make it happen.

But some meddlesome environmentalists aren’t so trusting. This week, they walked into City Hall and demanded the public have a say, a real say, in the deal. They asked for details beyond a press release. They asked for more than a couple of weeks to sort it out and read the small print.

When they were assured by Mayor Annise Parker and some City Council members that the city would have to sign off on any decisions, the environmentalists continued to argue that the public should be involved from the get-go. Not after the fact. Not left holding a rubber stamp.

After all, it’s a public park, a very special one with a rare wildness that offers a unique escape in a city as large as Houston. It belongs to all of us, they say. It is not for sale.

[…]

There are details in a “Letter of Intent” on the project that didn’t make it into the press release. The letter outlining details of the plan states that the Conservancy would be responsible for major decisions including design, bidding, and managing construction projects in the master plan. The city would later have to approve those decisions, but it’s unclear if that leaves enough time for a thorough public vetting.

A troubling section of the letter called “Coordination of Public Relations” points out that the conservancy isn’t subject to public information requests. And the agreement would require all parties – even the public ones that are subject to information requests – to coordinate through private parties before disclosing any information to the public.

When I asked Joe Turner, Houston’s parks director, about that provision, he said it had been awhile since he’d read the letter. He said he’d read it and get back with me if he had anything to add. He didn’t call back.

“The public is a missing piece of this organization. It’s political appointees, private nonprofits and a TIRZ. Where’s the public?” Evelyn Merz, with the Sierra Club, told me. Merz said she’s “appalled” by the plan, but not because she doubts the motives of conservancy members.

“I know they care about the park. That’s not the issue. Are they the same as the public? I would say they aren’t,” she told me.

My first thought upon reading this was to wonder what kind of public input on the management of Memorial Park exists now. If the TIRZ were to go away, I presume the Conservancy would still be responsible for major decisions concerning the park and any attempt to reforest it via grants and private donations, just as it has always been. If the public has been involved in that in any substantive way, I couldn’t tell you what it is.

The difference here is the addition of public funds via the TIRZ. Public money requires public accountability, so it is perfectly reasonable to demand that. Unfortunately, just as there’s no mention of what public involvement currently exists for Memorial Park governance, there is no mention of what type of new or further involvement would make the Mayor’s proposal acceptable. Falkenberg notes that Council would have to approve any decisions made by the Conservancy, but what is being asked for is involvement in the process, before the signoff. I think that’s a fine idea, I’d just like to know what that involvement might look like.

I sent an email to Ms. Merz to ask her what she would like to see done to involve the public more directly, but I didn’t get a response. It’s not unreasonable to me for the Mayor to suggest that Council signoff on any proposal gives the public a voice in the process, but it’s also not unreasonable for Ms. Merz to suggest that the public should have its say earlier in the process, while the ideas are still being debated and proposed. I suppose the ordinance that creates the TIRZ could put some requirements on how the Conservancy operates – open meetings, outreach via social and traditional media for feedback, etc. Again, it’s not clear to me what the specific concerns are. I wish Falkenberg had considered that question. Maybe she felt she didn’t have the space for it in her column, but she does have a Facebook page for her column as well as a long-dormant blog, so she did have avenues to explore it that wouldn’t have cost her space in the news hole. Maybe she’ll write a followup, I don’t know. Campos has more.

UPDATE: Here’s an FAQ about the TIRZ proposal that Campos forwarded to me. Note the following:

How will transparency in the development of the Master Plan be ensured?

The process for creating the Memorial Park Master Plan will follow the same pattern that the Buffalo Bayou Master Plan was developed under. Public meetings will be held during the draft stages; drafts will be circulated for public comment and prior to any finalization of the Master Plan by the consultants selected a public meeting will be held. After that the Master Plan will be brought to the City’s Quality of Life Committee for review and then to City Council for final consideration.

Seems pretty reasonable to me. What do you think, Lisa?

For the Uptown/Memorial TIRZ

Ed Wulfe never mentions Mattress Mack or his recent diatribe in the Chron about the proposed Uptown/Memorial Park TIRZ, but his op-ed in the Chron is clearly aimed at countering naysayers like Mattress Mack.

Uptown is one of the most successful mixed-use urban environments in the United States and a leading economic driver of Houston; yet, Uptown has been historically underserved by public transportation. This is a major concern expressed by employers in the area or those considering a new location in Uptown because a functional and efficient means of mobility for their employees is critical to productivity and an ability to retain and attract workers.

More than 75,000 people work at the 2,000 plus businesses in approximately 23 million square feet of offices, 5 million square feet of retail and 7,000 hotel rooms. Sixty-five percent of Uptown’s workforce currently lives in the Sugar Land, Westpark, Katy or Cypress areas, and the ability and need to connect workers to Uptown is an ongoing and increasing challenge.

This plan, while primarily designed to serve the workforce of the Uptown area, also enables movement to, from and through the corridor more efficiently in both directions.

The widening of Post Oak Boulevard will allow for construction of bus rapid lanes within a landscaped median while still preserving six lanes totally dedicated for automobile traffic.

The plan is designed to connect with Metro’s Northwest Transit Center and the proposed Westpark Transit Center. Exclusive bus lanes will remove buses from general traffic lanes while augmenting pedestrian access. The existing traffic signal system and left turn lanes will remain as is, and Post Oak Boulevard’s signature oak trees will be preserved.

The plan before City Council has evolved based on growing transit needs in and around Uptown, and discussions with the city and the Memorial Park Conservancy to ensure the restoration, preservation and improvement of Memorial Park, a major amenity and connector to downtown Houston.

Two points come to mind. One is that this plan isn’t just about Uptown mobility, it’s also about reforesting Memorial Park, which abuts Uptown to the northeast. Mack never touched on this in his rant, but the two are a package deal. There may be a way to fund Memorial Park reforestration that doesn’t involve Uptown, though such a thing isn’t on the table as far as I know, and one could argue that the Uptown mobility part of this plan should be removed, but then what does Uptown get out of it? Basically, this is the plan to reforest Memorial Park. If you approve of that idea but don’t like the other parts of the plan, then you need to propose an alternative plan. What other options are there?

Point two is that the same thing holds true for Uptown mobility. Mattress Mack, as is often the case with opponents of mass transit in general or to specific plans, doesn’t offer a competing vision for Uptown. The closest he comes to that is at the end of his piece when he says “More than 80 percent of our region lives and works in the suburbs, so obviously that is where we need to concentrate our efforts”, which is both a dubious statistic (he gives no citation) and beside the point – it’s not the city of Houston’s responsibility to abet mobility in the non-Houston suburbs, though plenty of our Harris County tax dollars do just that. Assuming that you agree that doing nothing is not a good option for Uptown, what would you do to improve mobility there? Remember, this isn’t just about building dedicated lanes for BRT on Post Oak, it’s about connecting Uptown to the greater Metro park and ride network, via the Northwest and Westpark transit centers. If you don’t support that, what do you support?

Anyway, the plan is still in flux, as Council has not had a chance to discuss it yet. The BRT plan depends in part on grant funding from the Houston-Galveston Area Council, but that funding has not been approved and may not be guaranteed despite strong support from the Greater Houston Partnership. It’s possible this could all fall apart, in which case Mack will have ranted for nothing. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but nothing is certain until it’s done.

The Uptown/Memorial TIRZ

Big projects, big plans, big funding mechanism.

Transit and trees – things that make urban areas move quickly and look pretty – are the centerpieces of a $500 million project that would remake the Uptown area and reinvigorate Memorial Park.

Mayor Annise Parker and other officials announced a plan Thursday that would fund construction of a mass transit corridor on Post Oak Boulevard and kick start much-needed reforestation efforts at one of the city’s signature parks.

“We’re coming together around a really unique opportunity and a unique proposition to link what’s happening in the Galleria area and what’s happening in one of Houston’s most beloved parks,” Parker said.

[…]

The estimated cost of the local park and transit projects is $556 million over a 25-year period. Funding would come from property taxes generated as a result of incremental growth in property values within the Uptown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone No. 16, which encompasses the Galleria and surrounding area.

The project is dependent on City Council extending the boundaries of the Uptown zone. The 1,503 acres of Memorial Park would be annexed into the TIRZ 16, as it’s known. There will be a public hearing on the plan on April 24.

If progress continues as expected, buses could start running in late 2017.

[…]

The plan to enhance the park would first involve removing dead trees, bushes and invasive plants that compete with trees for water and sunlight, said Shellye Arnold, executive director for Memorial Park Conservancy. Erosion control and the re-establishment of native grasslands would follow.

Up to 15,000 seedlings and trees have already been planted since January.

Basically, this is the city’s part of paying for the Uptown BRT line. As reported elsewhere, the estimated cost for that is $177.5 million, of which the city is kicking in $92 million; the rest will come from state funds and an H-GAC grant that uses federal money. Obviously, that means Memorial Park will get the bulk of the TIRZ funds, which makes sense given the 25-year time frame mentioned in the story since the Uptown BRT construction should be done by 2017. Not clear when the Uptown construction would start, but I figure that will come out during the discussion. I can’t wait to see what Helena Brown will make of this. See the Mayor’s press release for more.

One thing I haven’t seen mentioned in stories about the Uptown transit project is to what extent bikes will be part of the vision. Once BRT is in place here and Uptown is integrated with Metro’s park and ride network, you would think that accommodating bikes as a way to extend the reach of these things would be desirable. I haven’t seen Uptown mentioned as a future site for B-Cycle, but 2017 is far enough away, and there are enough other obvious expansion points for bike sharing that it may just not be on the radar yet. But I figure we ought to at least acknowledge the possibility now so that we will be ready to plan for it when it’s more timely.

Rodeo kicks in for tree replanting

Trail riders coming into Houston for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo traditionally camp overnight in Memorial Park on their way to the event. Last year they did this as many of the trees around them were dying from the drought. This year, the HSLR is giving back to help with that problem.

On Monday, [HSLR board chairman Steve] Stevens presented a $250,000 check from the rodeo to Mayor Annise Parker and Memorial Park Conservancy board chairman Jim Porter to help reforest the beloved park.

“For more than 50 years, thousands of trail riders have gathered in the park, so I thought this was a nice way to pay back,” Stevens said. “We’ve got to get it going again. The city and county are great to us. … This was the easiest thing we’ve approved this year.”

The donation is for reforestation, which will include planting thousands of trees in the park, said the conservancy’s Claire Caudill. However, before any major planting takes place, the conservancy and Houston Parks and Recreation must remove about 20,000 dead trees and create conditions that will ensure greater seedling success.

Nice. Other work that needs to be done prior to any planting includes getting rid of the various invasive species that have taken up residence in the park. The conservancy expects trees to be put in the ground beginning next November. Let’s hope the current dry conditions don’t make things worse between now and then.

Re-Plant Houston

Memorial Park is about to get some needed attention.

As last year’s drought killed thousands of trees in Memorial Park, caretakers realized it was time to speed the pace of a long-planned reforestation.

On Friday, Mayor Annise Parker announced that removal of invasive species and dead trees from the 1,500-acre park’s forested areas is scheduled to begin Monday. The work is preparation for planting about $1 million worth of seedlings in the fall, she said at a news conference in the park’s picnic area.

[…]

Nancy Sullivan, executive director of the nonprofit Memorial Park Conservancy, said it was fortunate that a plan to rejuvenate the forest was written before the drought took its toll.

Completed in 2010, the plan originally called for replanting to take a decade. Now, the time frame will be shortened to a couple of years, she said.

“We’re going to turn this into an opportunity,” Sullivan said. “We’re going to create the best, the healthiest, the most vibrant (forest possible). We’re going to have a regenerating forest that will never experience this again.”

The press release on this is here. To be a part of the RE-Plant Houston and RE-Plant Memorial Park effort, visit the following websites:

To RE-Plant Memorial Park visit the Memorial Park Conservancy
To RE-Plant the Memorial Park Golf Course visit the Houston Parks Board
To RE-Plant MacGregor Park and Mason Park visit Trees for Houston
To RE-Plant Hermann Park visit the Hermann Park Conservancy

New park protection rules

From the Mayor’s office:

People Protecting Our Parks

Mayor Annise Parker Announces New Fire Safety Campaign for City Parks

Mayor Annise Parker, the Houston Parks and Recreation Department (HPARD) and the Houston Fire Department (HFD) announced People Protecting Our Parks, a new campaign that calls on Houstonians to proactively protect the City’s parklands during the ongoing drought.  The campaign has two main goals:  fire prevention education and the protection of public parklands.  The first step in this campaign is the issuance of a temporary ban on all barbeque pits in City of Houston Parks.

“Houstonians always respond to calls for help during times of need.  People Protecting Our Parks is our call for help to everyone who loves our parks, green spaces and trees,” said Mayor Parker.  “We ask all Houstonians to join with us to help prevent fires in our city parks.  We are already facing the loss of thousands of our trees simply because they won’t survive the stress of the drought.  I can’t imagine losing thousands more trees, or possibly an entire section of one of our beautiful parks, simply because we failed to protect them from fire.”

“We have seen wildfire tragedies all across our great state this past week.  Our hearts go out to everyone who has been affected by them,” said Houston Parks and Recreation Director Joe Turner.  “With HPD’s assistance, we made an aerial fly-over of our park system on Wednesday to assess the condition of our urban forest and get a clearer understanding of what we as a city were facing due to this unprecedented drought.  As a result of that assessment and the predictions we’re hearing about the drought and the wildfire situations all across our state, we decided it is necessary to temporarily ban the use of barbeque pits and grills in all City of Houston Parks.”

The temporary ban on barbeque pits will remain in effect until further notice.  Signage notifying the public about the ban will be placed in the parks.  To allow for a period of public education, warnings will be issued to violators until City Council adopts a permanent enforcement mechanism next week.

“The City of Houston has seen more that its share of grass and woodland fires, with 160 fires since the beginning of September, compared to nine the same time last year,” reported Houston Fire Chief Terry Garrison.  “The Houston Fire Department is reminding citizens to be extra vigilant in activities that can lead to accidental fires, including the use of barbeques at home and smoking materials. We join Mayor Parker and HPARD in recognizing that our citizens can have the greatest positive impact on the safety of our parks by foregoing the use of barbeque grills right now.”

HFD recommends the following safety tips during this drought:

Barbeque Safety

  • Portable barbecue pits, charcoal grills and other open-flame cooking devices outside of a building should not be operated on combustible balconies or located within 10 feet of combustible walls or roofs or other combustible materials.
  • When igniting the barbecue charcoal, use a charcoal lighter, not gasoline. Gasoline can flash violently in and around the pit causing serious injuries to anyone in the area of the flash. A fire extinguisher or charged garden hose should be handy while the fire is burning. Check the pit frequently to ensure that it is okay.
  • Hot ash and coals from barbecue pits and charcoal burners should be placed in a non-combustible container until cooled or thoroughly saturated with water, before being disposed.

Open Flames

  • The City of Houston Fire Code prohibits all open-burning within the Houston city limits at all times.  The burn ban in unincorporated areas of Harris County also prohibits any outdoor open-burning, including the burning of: a bonfire, rubbish fire, campfire, trench fire, or other fire in an outdoor location when not contained.

Vehicles, Trailers and Tools

  • Park vehicles so that the exhaust system does not come in contact with dry grass, leaves, or weeds.
  • Adjust the safety chains on trailers to ensure they don’t drag and create sparks that can cause roadside starts.
  • Keep lawn mowers and agricultural equipment in proper working condition and avoid rocks and other materials which might cause a spark.
  • Do not weld or cut without a spotter, a water source and a shovel.
  • Notify the electric power company when dead trees or overhanging limbs endanger the electric wires.  The wires may touch each other or the ground, causing sparks that start fires.

Cigarettes or Other Smoking Materials

  • Another cause of accidental fires is carelessly discarded cigarettes or other smoking materials.  They can smolder for hours and should be completely doused with water before being discarded in a safe manner, rather than tossed out a window or on the ground.
  • Texas’ arson law includes felony punishment for anyone whose cigarette recklessly sets fire to a building or injures anyone.  Arson is a second-degree felony in Texas, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, but if a person is hurt or killed or if the fire involves a church, arson is a first-degree felony, carrying possible punishment of up to life in prison.

We really don’t want there to be a hundred acre wildfire in Memorial Park, so let’s all be careful out there. This drought is unfortunately going to be with us for awhile.

The toll on the trees

CultureMap:

Houston, a city long defined by its gigantic live oak trees and lush landscaping, is changing for the worse as the relentless, thrashing sun has taken a toll on all things green and growing.

The ongoing drought, which is the worst in Houston’s 175-year history, destroyed the first wave of historic live oak trees this week in Memorial Park and throughout the city, Trees for Houston executive director Barry Ward tells CultureMap.

The once utopian backdrop of Memorial Park has been most affected by the outdoor water restrictions, leaving thousands of trees close to dead. Only approximately 400 of those have been removed, and Ward says a potential catastrophic wildfire could strike if the dead trees don’t get cleared out soon.

“If the timber isn’t removed and someone flicks a cigarette butt in the wrong place, 100 acres could be burned down in one day,” Ward says. “Could you imagine? A 100-acre wildfire inside the Loop?”

Just look at the catastrophic fires in Central Texas if you’re having a hard time imagining it. Please, please, let it rain soon.

Interview with Stephen Costello

Stephen CostelloContinuing with the At Large candidates, today we hear from Stephen Costello, who is running for At Large #1. Stephen is a civil engineer, whose firm has been rated one of the best places to work in Houston, and is the Chair of the Memorial Park Conservancy board. He is a resident of Montrose.

Download the MP3 file.

PREVIOUSLY:

Karen Derr, At Large #1
Brad Bradford, At Large #4

Memorial Park bridge

Very cool.

Friday was a beautiful place to be in Memorial Park. But the mayor was there for a different reason: the start of construction on a new bridge, funded by the Memorial Park Conservancy, that will be open later this year. It will link the north and south sides of Memorial Drive just east of the railroad tracks.

The project should be complete by the end of the year. Click over for more.