Tuesday, October 20, 2015

American Planning Association to honor Houston's Hermann Park on Friday, October 23, 2015

Earlier this month the American Planning Association released the 2015 edition of the association's "Great Places in America". APA's flagship program, established in 2007, annually celebrates places of exemplary character, quality, and planning. APA states "Places are selected annually and represent the gold standard in terms of having a true sense of place, cultural and historic interest, community involvement, and a vision for tomorrow – and most importantly, a legacy of planning." You can visit the program's website to read more about the history of the program, its criteria, and view a list of previous winners.

Included on this year's list was Houston's Hermann Park, one of the winners in the "Great Public Spaces" category. To celebrate, the American Planning Association will be visiting Houston on Friday to present local officials with the award. The Great Places in America announcement will take place at Hermann Park's McGovern Centennial Gardens at 2:30 PM. Mayor Annise Parker will provide comments, as well as Doreen Stoller, Executive Director of the Hermann Park Conservancy, and Joe Turner, Director of the City of Houston Parks and Recreation Department. All are welcome to attend and celebrate this honor.

From atop the 30-foot mount in Hermann Park's McGovern Centennial Gardens
There is great reason to celebrate Hermann Park, including its provision of such a great diversity of recreational opportunities to Houston's citizens. The park receives over 6 million visitors each year, enjoying attractions such as the Houston Zoo, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, McGovern Centennial Gardens, Japanese Garden, Miller Outdoor Theatre, and the Hermann Park Golf Course. McGovern Lake and the Jones Reflection Pool are excellent water features that now provide contrast to Houston's evolving cityscape, and visitors enjoy the active recreation provided by the park's trails and fields. The park is also served by a growing bayou trail system, as well as METRO Houston's light rail Red Line, making the park accessible to a growing number of Houstonians.

Much of this success is due to the Hermann Park Conservancy, which was created in 1993 "to address growing concerns about the Park's deterioration due to high attendance and insufficient funding." What resulted was a comprehensive plan for the park which guided maintenance and project development.
A group of friends and I completed a bicycle scavenger hunt
 this summer, concluding at Hermann Park's Miller Outdoor Theatre.

Hermann Park was created in 1914 after Board of Parks Commissioner, George H. Hermann, donated 285 acres of land for the park. A year later Houston Mayor Ben Campbell encouraged that the city purchase an additional 122 acres of parkland.

It's worth noting that almost immediately, Hermann Park became a guiding example of park planning, as evidenced in the American Landscape School's "Semi-Public Grounds and Land Subdivision" handbook. The handbook included the 1924 design for Hermann Park's Zoological Garden as an example of the inclusion of zoological features in large parks.

This 1929 handbook provided guidance in the development of public parks, with legendary city planner John Nolen noting that "in the reservation of land for parks and other open spaces, it should be clearly understood that the end is not primarily to beautify nor to add luxury to a city's possessions. On the contrary, it is the profoundly important matter of securing essential recreation for a city's population, and a reasonably high standard for property development."

It is abundantly clear that Hermann Park has provided these recreational opportunities for the past 100 years, and we can hope that Houstonians 100 years from now will enjoy these same opportunities. It truly is one of Houston's best public spaces, and is deserving of recognition as one of the "Great Places in America".

Hermann Park's 1924 Zoological Garden design