Discovery Green is a beautiful, vibrant 12-acre park in the heart of downtown Houston that opened to the public in April 2008. The park was envisioned by several committed Houston philanthropists, who saw the space as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create an urban park that would redefine the landscape of downtown.
Ultimately, the most compelling part of Discovery Green’s history is like the story of Houston itself: It’s a story of audacity meeting practicality, diversity creating community and talent inspiring hard work.
The current site of Discovery Green was originally a high-end residential neighborhood in the late 19th century. In 1910 Union Station was built and residential homes were cleared out in favor of hotels, but the area declined, and downtown development moved westward. By the late 20th century, the site was just two large parking lots adjacent to the George R. Brown Convention Center, with a small strip of green space known as the Houston Center Gardens.
The City of Houston acquired a portion of the land in 2002. When another plot was listed for sale, a group of philanthropists led by Maconda Brown O’Connor of the Brown Foundation, and Nancy G. Kinder of the Kinder Foundation approached then-Mayor Bill White with their idea of turning the space into an urban park. The Mayor agreed and became a strong advocate of a public-private partnership. Several other philanthropic foundations joined the effort, including the Wortham Foundation and the Houston Endowment, Inc.
The City of Houston purchased the remainder of the land in 2004 and created the framework for the park’s construction and operations, including the role of the new organization, Discovery Green Conservancy which incorporated in 2004.
When the Houston City Council approved the contracts to provide funding and support to the park, it also mandated that the “public at large” be engaged in the design and development of the park. With the guidance of Project for Public Spaces, the Conservancy mounted an intensive public process, which included both large public meetings and smaller focus groups to solicit public feedback. This feedback became the basis for the park’s programming.
The Conservancy also worked with local media and community sponsors to create a contest to name the park. More than 6,200 entries were submitted. “Discovery Green” was selected as it fit the personality of the park — education, delight, surprise and an invitation to discovery!
Discovery Green exemplifies a successful public-private partnership between the City of Houston and the Houston First Corporation and Discovery Green Conservancy, the nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that operates and maintains the park.
Hargreaves Associates, an internationally renowned landscape architecture firm based in San Francisco, oversaw the design effort. The lead designer, Mary Margaret Jones, grew up in Baytown before achieving international stature as a landscape architect. PageSoutherlandPage designed the park’s architecture and Larry Speck, former dean of the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture, was their lead architect. Lauren Griffith Associates, an experienced local landscape architect, provided landscape and horticultural design services. Artists Margo Sawyer and Doug Hollis were integral members of the design team and produced three works of art for the park. A large team of local and international engineers and specialists supported the core design team.
There is a team of committed board members, committees, volunteers and staff that work to make Discovery Green® a gathering place.
We exist to bring the community together to discover more about themselves and one another. And that’s what we’re doing.