Grow for the Green:
The Business Case for
The $490 million Bayou Greenway Initiative has enjoyed the early and enthusiastic support of business groups such as the Greater Houston Partnership and the Quality of Life Coalition.
In 2000, as Boeing was in the final stages of weighing its decision to relocate its worldwide corporate headquarters, confidence was high in the city of Dallas.
When the aerospace giant made its long-awaited announcement — opting for Chicago over Big D — city leaders were left to wonder why they’d come in second. It felt like the city itself had been found wanting.
“One of the key factors in their decision was quality-of-life considerations, with recreational opportunities and a vibrant downtown a big part of that,” says John Crompton, professor of Recreation, Parks and Tourism Sciences at Texas A&M.
In the wake of Boeing’s brush-off, Dallas created a blue-ribbon commission to breathe new life into its urban center. The effort led to the creation of Main Street Garden at the east end of the city’s downtown. Filling a full city block, the park is surrounded by historically significant buildings and serves as an inviting centerpiece for urban dwellers, with live music and a moonlight movie series.
During the past decade, corporate giants such as AT&T and Comerica have moved to Dallas, drawn by the city’s and state’s pro-business environment — and by the city’s growing awareness that a “green” infrastructure can serve as a powerful lure.
Green vs. Gray
An urban region’s network of roads, utilities, buildings and parking lots create its “gray” infrastructure, while the green kind comprises open spaces, parks, trails and natural undeveloped land. When integrated into an organized system, green infrastructure provides recreational and natural areas that enhance quality of life.
Today’s city planners and policymakers are taking a more strategic approach to the creation and use of green infrastructure.
And it’s not just because it’s nice to hug trees. It can mean big business.
Metropolitan areas hoping to attract and retain today’s knowledge workers cannot afford to view investments in green space as frills; they have become a central selling point for the skilled professionals who are in demand. “There’s a clear connection between economic development and parks,” Crompton says.
New York City, which Crompton says is leading the renaissance in city green spaces, has invested $12.5 billion in its parks in the past 15 years. In addition to the world’s most famous urban green space, Central Park, Manhattan residents now can bike or run on a trail system that encircles the entire island.
But Texas’ business-driven cities are not far behind in leveraging green infrastructure as a competitiveness tool. Long-established urban treasures such as San Antonio’s Riverwalk and Austin’s Town Lake trail have been chamber of commerce selling points for years.
Crompton, who has served on recruiting committees at Texas A&M and interviewed candidates for senior positions, notes that of 87 interviewees he met, “not one asked about the tax rate in College Station. What they want to know about is the quality of life we have to offer.”
Houston’s Green Network
In Houston, a century-old vision is finally coming into focus. More than a century ago, Arthur Comey, a Harvard-educated landscape architect who studied under the son of Central Park’s creator, believed that Houston’s unique network of bayous could someday become an urban recreational resource to rival the Big Apple’s.
The $490 million Bayou Greenway Initiative, which has enjoyed the early and enthusiastic support of business groups such as the Greater Houston Partnership and the Quality of Life Coalition, will give the city an enormous system of parks and trails spanning more than 300 miles along the 10 bayous running through Houston.
The project will take 10 to 15 years to complete and should have the added benefit of improving the quality of the city’s groundwater by creating more wetlands and retention areas to control flooding.
According to Crompton, urban parks must meet the needs of an increasingly active urban population. “Today, we use our parks to exercise and get from point to point,” he says.
So a network of far-reaching trails along water should prove extremely popular with a generation of Houstonians who prefer to hike, run, rollerblade, kayak or canoe through a park rather than merely go to a park to picnic. FN
Photos Courtesy of Houston Parks and Recreation Department