Houston Transformation Conference – Setting the Stage: Charles A. Birnbaum



The Leading with Landscape II: The Houston Transformation conference explored how ambitious, large-scale landscape-architectural projects are taking the lead in shaping the nation’s 4th largest city. Held at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Brown Auditorium on March 11, 2016, the conference brought together some of the leading thinkers and landscape architects who presented nationally significant projects. To learn more about the conference: http://tclf.org/sites/default/files/microsites/houston2016/index.html

Setting the Stage
Charles A. Birnbaum, FASLA, FAAR, President & CEO, The Cultural Landscape Foundation

Over the past fifteen years, TCLF has organized numerous conferences that examine urban planning and landscape architecture. Two recent conferences, Second Wave of Modernism III: Leading with Landscape (Toronto) and Bridging the Nature-Culture Divide III: Saving Nature in a Humanized World (San Francisco), have taken multi-disciplinary approaches to understanding the balance that exists between the stewardship of natural and cultural resources and the evolving identities of urban areas. This conference in Houston will examine how landscape architecture is transforming the nation’s fourth largest city at a scale not seen in the U.S. in a century.

Houston’s highly urbanized landscape, encircled and traversed by ribbons of highways, comprising parks, university campuses, suburbs, and public open spaces. The Picturesque, Beaux-Arts, and Modernist styles can all be found amidst the city’s dense residential, commercial, and industrial enclaves. Massachusetts-based landscape architect Arthur Comey developed the city’s first comprehensive plan in 1913. Comey’s early planning efforts are generally viewed as an important first step, but they were interrupted by a change in political leadership, World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, and the primacy of oil.

Today, a little more than a century since Comey’s plan, it would appear that the time is right for Houston. The new parks we’ll hear about benefit from the public-private partnerships that have advanced Houston’s ambitious plans–groups such as the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, Central Houston Civic Improvement, Discovery Green Conservancy, Hermann Park Conservancy, and Memorial Park Conservancy; and bold vision and leadership from former mayor Annise Parker and other municipal officials. The implications of this planning and development strategy, including innovative design and stewardship models and the resourceful use of urban fabric, will affect how we use landscape as an engine to shape 21st-century cities.

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