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Ranking the City’s Biggest People Places

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By Peter H. Brown (Pedestrian Pete)

We have well-known places where large numbers of pedestrians (20,000-100,000 people) assemble, but are they friendly to bi-peds on foot? Some are, some are decidedly not. Yet, here in car-dependent Houston, we have some notable winners, such as the George R. Brown Convention Center/Discovery Green, the amazing Buffalo Bayou Park and our flagship Hermann Park. Unfortunately, some large crowd destinations, like our giant “sport-places,” are sorely lacking in a hospitable, human-scaled, pedestrian environment.

So we must admit that over the years, Houston has squandered some great urban design opportunities. The most lamentable example is the abysmal NRG “park,” followed by Toyota Center, Minute Maid Park, the new University of Houston TDECU Stadium/Hofheinz Pavilion basketball arena. Although not on this list, CityCentre, the extraordinary private mixed-use development at I-10/Beltway 8, deserves a special honorable mention, as does the Woodlands Town Center. If you have been to either of these places, you will know what I mean.

1. Herman Park / McGovern Gardens (20,000-30,000 people)

Grade: A+

This is among the best urban parks anywhere, our Central Park; a really fun, four seasons place for locals and visitor’s year around.

  • Inspiring, creative landscape design, in its many parts; what pedestrians cherish; a truly diverse crowd.
  • Carefully integrated with the Houston Museum of Natural Science and Miller Outdoor Theater.
  • Strong walking connections north to the Museum Park neighborhoods.
  • Superb contours in a flat city, dazzling water features, and human scale gardens, plus a golf course!

buffalo bayou

2. Buffalo Bayou Park (20,000 people on 4th of July)

Grade: A+

  • The crown jewel for city walkers, bikers, joggers.
  • Surroundings have great variety and good neighborhood connection.
  • Redo of Allen Parkway, connection to 4th Ward expand the greenways.
  • Superb landscape design; all-in-all, a truly great Houston place for all seasons, and for all.


3. George R. Brown Convention Center / Discovery Green (40,000 people)

Grade: A+

  • Inspired design has transformed this once dreary part of Downtown.
  • Redo of Avenida De Las Americas as a plaza street, good for biking, walking and cafe life is what our conventioneers need.
  • George R. Brown façade redo creates human-scaled people place.
  • The weak connection to downtown grid is improving.
  • Discovery Green is one of the best urban spaces of any US city.

4 Navigation - Copy

4. Navigation Promenade (10,000-15,000 people)

Grade: B+

  • Spectacular 3- block esplanade remake; to be expanded eastward.
  • Imaginative design for reuse of wide medians; an instant success; a lot of local festivals.
  • Easy walk from restaurants on Navigation, plus adjourning neighborhoods.
  • The kind of smaller scale walkable urbanism Houston needs more of.

5 Astrodome

5. The Astrodome (now NRG Park: see No. 10)

Grade: B

Deserves standalone status, in spite of being boxed in by the dreadful NRG “park” (it’s not park!). An iconic structure, a unique architectural and technical masterpiece – our own “Eight Wonder of the World.” All Houstonians should work to save The Dome.

  • It’s a marvel to behold inside; simply inspiring, even in a neglected state.
  • It’s awesome to view at a distance, even though most views are blocked by a terrible site plan.
  • Dilapidated “South Main,” is starting to revive, and should be part of a “grand plan.”
  • The Dome could be one of the top national visitor destinations! Rail transit access a big plus.
  • Again, a sad missed opportunity. Makes you wonder where our values have been?


6. Rice Stadium (60,000 people)

Grade: B-

  • Superb architectural design; iconic venue in Houston; part of our “brand.”
  • Unfortunately surrounded by a sea of parking.
  • Large gathering place (60,000+) on big game days; but not enough for crowds to do on foot.
  • An “OK” connection east to gorgeous Rice Campus.


7. Minute Maid Park (70,000 people)

Grade: C-

  • Out-of-scale except for the historic union rail road station restoration.
  • Surrounded by a freeway, parking lots, a lot of concrete. Few places to walk or sit. No shade; not a fun place.
  • Disconnect with Downtown and parking in EaDo, though changing. That is improving.
  • Big Scale architecture; traditional detailing a place.


8. Toyota Center (25,000 people)

Grade: D

  • Another huge missed opportunity. Too much fussing over cars. Near to mostly unused Root Square is no redemption.
  • Link to the Hilton Americas hotel is weak.
  • Neglected urban context – too much paving, unfit for walking or spending time outside.
  • Surrounded by vapid parking lots, garages, and a power substation.
  • No outside seating or shade.
  • Short walk to Discovery Green a plus.


9. University of Houston TDECU Stadium / Hofheinz Pavilion (50,000 people)

Grade: D

  • Again, a scale-less, alien pedestrian environment, surrounded by parking lots, streets and garages.
  • No place for anyone on foot, like students!
  • Poor connection to the walkable main campus, and to adjacent neighborhoods.
  • Area dominated by parking, pavement and cars.
  • Redevelopment of Dowling Street as so far an obvious “mixed-use” but missed opportunity.


10. NRG Park/Stadium/Center (100,000 people)

Grade: F

This is a huge missed opportunity, particularly sad because of its size (it’s over 300 acres). Completely missed the mark in terms of even a decent milieu.

  • Surrounded by a sea of treeless parking; it’s no place for anyone on foot!
  • No shade, few trees, no outside seating; all utilitarian hardscape.
  • Dismal out of scale environment; not a fun place to be in.