Downtown Houston has increasingly become a stage for a more diverse range of urban activities at all times of the day; however, the network of streets, parks and open spaces in the study area are still heavily monofunctional and designed simply for working commuters.
Defining, activating and connecting the public realm brings identity and a diversity of uses to the downtown area.
It is difficult to ingrain a sense of identity into the public realm when each streets appears and behaves similarly. We defined a hierarchy of uses for various streets to integrate unique experiences into the urban fabric.
Through a series of workshops with local stakeholders and business owners, we worked to activate publicly accessible spaces along commercial corridors. Lively, well-used public spaces support a dynamic downtown culture.
The Southern downtown area is surrounded on three sides by highways which can make those areas feel isolated. Intentionally creating connections across those highways edges helps the downtown feel more integrated with nearby neighborhoods, and encourages the flow of community members in either direction.
A thriving downtown region depends upon a diverse range of urban activities that extend beyond traditional work hours. Expanding public transportation, activating public spaces, and increasing residential development makes the area accessible for a wider range of community members. By building out a social infrastructure to support more Houstonians, the city sets the stage for future investment.
In any urban environment, the ways that people perceive a space are just as important as the physical conditions of it. We interrogated this relationship by observing each street in the Southern Downtown region to reconcile the reality of the social environment with the physical realm. From those observations, conversations with stakeholders, and reviewing earlier studies of the area it was clear that the network of streets in the study area were heavily mono-functional, designed primarily to channel commuters in and out of Downtown during rush hour. It spoke to a need for a clear hierarchy of streets to ensure that no matter where one walks there needs to be something visually magnetic to provide interest for a variety of audiences. It also illuminates a need to expand the public realm into semi-private spaces that line commercial corridors to create a more lively streetscape.
This plan presents a vision for the streets, parks and open spaces of southern Downtown/ CBD that will support a diverse range of activities, development and neighborhoods. Our work on this plan led directly to working on the plan for the whole of downtown, which allowed for a more holistic envisioning of Houston’s downtown.