Now known simply as The Prairie, the park features native rain gardens, meadows of native prairie grasses, and restored wetlands that contrast with the dense urban surroundings.
Medical providers are increasingly recognizing the health benefits of open spaces.
The Prairie’s 5 acres provide critical wildlife habitat for migratory birds, monarch butterflies, and dwindling native bee populations. Below the surface, the native legumes, tallgrasses, and transplanted species support soil formation that have improved the soil conditions and nutrient levels.
The Prairie incorporates a series of design elements that promote physical and mental well-being. 0.7 miles of walking trails, Wellness Garden with fresh food, and access to nature
The Prairie serves as a valuable educational resource for conducting research, observing conservation biology first-hand, exploring the biodiversity of this native landscape, and learning the techniques needed to restore prairie sites across the region.
After demolition of an existing high-rise facility in January of 2012, Asakura Robinson worked with Jaime Gonzalez of the Katy Prairie Conservancy, Scott Barnes of Applied Habitats and staff from MD Anderson Cancer Center to transform the site into a restored ‘pocket prairie’: a simply-designed green space that provides restorative ecological benefits to both MD Anderson patients, staff and visitors, and to one of Houston’s densest built environments.
With over 50 million developed square feet, the Texas Medical Center is an incredibly dense and otherwise impervious urban environment. As the only highly functioning prairie system in the TMC, the Prairie provides critical environmental benefits that improve quality of life, habitat, and water quality.
As a historic local landscape, the Prairie ecosystem offers a multitude of environmental and ecological benefits. With native trees and plants, the prairie provides critical wildlife habitat in the urban jungle for migratory birds, monarch butterflies, and dwindling native bee populations. The plants provide food in the form of nectar, seeds, grass and wildflowers. In addition, The Prairie offers shelter and water for migratory and resident birds and butterflies. In fact, The Prairie has attracted the attention of the National Wildlife Federation to be used as a model for urban ecology and as a monarch waystation through Monarch Watch.
The proximity of The Prairie to Brays Bayou presents a unique opportunity to both improve water quality while also providing stormwater management. The Prairie’s design features include green infrastructure techniques that work in conjunction with the deep roots or prairie grasses to absorb and filter rainwater before releasing it through local streams and bioswales. In doing so, the prairie grasses offer flood mitigation and water quality improvement benefits. The sustainable design techniques have dramatically reduced overall maintenance as well. It needs but one mowing per year, in contrast with nearby lawns that require up to 42. It doesn’t require extra watering, which has saved thousands of gallons of water annually, and it needs only four maintenance events a year.
Quality of Life
The Prairie has helped to reinforce MD Anderson’s own interest in developing functional landscapes as an integral component of its mission to provide health benefits and restorative care. With a growing body of research suggesting that nature can have both a calming influence and can even help speed up the healing process for those undergoing medical treatment, The Prairie offers unique access to fresh air, sunlight, and a natural environment that support physical recreation, mental health and wellbeing. Whether peacefully walking the gravel pathway surrounding the prairie, sitting on a bench to watch the monarchs dance from flower to flower, enjoying the birds near the prairie potholes, or visiting the healthy living garden, “Parkscriptions” to visit The Prairie have even become a part of the holistic treatment concepts for some patients at MD Anderson.
Education and Stewardship
As a highly visible example of a restored native landscape in Houston, the project has helped to support a growing interest in the Houston region to reclaim and restore the region’s most endangered native landscape: the prairie. By allowing people to experience for the first time a landscape that once predominated the region but is now its most extinct, The Prairie provides an intangible wealth of community benefits by reestablishing the connection between humans and nature. For local institutions and organizations, the Prairie is a rich educational resource for understanding prairie restoration through on-site training.
The Prairie’s impact Beyond the boundaries of the site, the Prairie offers essential provisioning services by providing plant material, such as seeds and grass plugs, for other local projects including the Rice University Prairie Project.