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How do you transform the flood plain of a neglected urban waterway into a grand public park and metropolitan gateway?
Dallas has been struggling with this challenge for more than 20 years, making incremental progress on the Trinity River corridor while debating whether to burden it with a toll road. Houston, meanwhile, has spent that same time successfully remaking a 10-mile stretch of the Buffalo Bayou, the sinuous river that runs through the heart of that city and down to Galveston Bay, into precisely the kind of urban amenity Dallasites have long imagined for themselves.
The centerpiece of that project, the $58-million, 160-acre Buffalo Bayou Park, will be completed over the summer, bringing a wonderland of verdant landscapes, scenic bridges, bike and pedestrian trails, restaurants and cafes, watersport facilities, a skate park and performance and art spaces to Houston’s downtown.
If it seems like a bit of nirvana, that’s because it is. Dallasites may rightly wonder how their neighbor to the south has managed to achieve so much, so quickly, while plans in their own city have stagnated.
The explanation begins with accountability.
In Houston, authority has been centralized in a single organization, the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, rather than the morass of private, city, regional, state and federal entities with their hands in the Trinity. It has also stuck to its 2002 master plan, “Buffalo Bayou and Beyond,” a 20-page visionary document produced under the direction of the distinguished urban planner Jane Thompson of Cambridge, Mass. Beginning with the premise that “nature is an integrated part of a new urban vitality,” it promised to create a more competitive city with higher property values, to spur public transit development, increase tourist revenue and, above all, provide residents with a better quality of life. ….