From Neglected Urban Wilderness to Resilient Gem: Transforming Houston’s Memorial Park

Topical Peer Conversation

At 1,500 acres, Memorial Park is Houston’s largest and wildest park. Its size, centrality, composition, and cultural history, as well as the diversity of the thousands of people who visit every day, make Memorial Park unique – both locally and nationally.

Years of drought, severe storms, and a lack of adequate resources and public funding for necessary maintenance and stewardship collectively led to a decimated tree canopy, a worn landscape, and deteriorated amenities. But a wildness still remained, and inspired the community to act. The park’s new leadership and design team focused the energies of the community to create a grounded and implementable vision that would bring the park back, build it up stronger to withstand future challenges, and connect it even more with the diverse community of Houston.

A decade later, Memorial Park is transformed. The 100-acre Clay Family Eastern Glades opened at the height of the pandemic, serving as a much-needed sanctuary. A three-tiered stormwater management system, healthy soils, native wetlands, savannah, and a restored and more resilient forest now define the Glades. New amenities include picnic areas, 3.5 miles of trails, and a 5-acre lake that serves as detention, irrigation, and habitat.

Opened in February 2023, the 100-acre Kinder Land Bridge and Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Prairie unified the park through two land bridges spanning the 6-lane Memorial Drive that bisects Memorial Park. In addition, the new space provides two extensive wet prairies that serve as retention basins while creating a native habitat, 2.5 miles of new trails, and hilltop views with dramatic vistas for picnicking.

For the last decade, Memorial Park Conservancy has fulfilled the grand vision established so long ago. Attend this peer conversation to learn how these highly celebrated, award-winning projects are anchored in:
1. Extensive public engagement process
2. Research into the ecology and culture of the site
3. Bold vision
4. Systems-based common-sense approach to design and construction
5. Formation of leading-edge partnerships and pool of experts

And share similar stories of transformation from your work.


Shellye Arnold

President & CEO, Memorial Park Conservancy, Houston, Texas