Buffalo Bayou: Houston, Texas


Called "Houston's Central Park" by Mayor Annise Parker, Buffalo Bayou has shaped the city's development since the Allen Brothers laid Houston's street grid along the bayou's course in 1836. From influences by renowned architect George Kessler to works by premier local artists and sculptors, Buffalo Bayou provides the finest landscaping and design features Houston has to offer.

Designated Area

Three of Bayou's sectors (West, Downtown, East) extending approximately nine miles between Shepherd Drive and Turning Basin Overlook Park.

Buffalo Bayou has shaped the city's development since 1836 when the Allen brothers laid Houston's street grid along the bayou's course. Flickr photo by Telwink (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Planning Excellence

Despite a century of road building surrounding Buffalo Bayou, increasing numbers of bikers, hikers, and dog walkers today take advantage of the 20 miles of trails that weave through central Houston's section of the waterway. This includes the reconstruction of the Sandy Reed Memorial Trail by the City of Houston and TXDOT.

Special events like the Buffalo Bayou Regatta, now in its 40th year, and the annual Kid's Day bring thousands more people to the bayou every year. The annual Freedom Over Texas Fourth of July event brings more than 100,000 attendees to Buffalo Bayou Park.

A $30 million gift from the Kinder Foundation, the largest private donation for park development in Houston's history, catalyzed the launch of a $55 million renovation of the Bayou's Downtown Sector in mid-2012. The Buffalo Bayou Park: Shepherd to Sabine Project is expected to be complete in late 2015.

The transformation that led the bayou to be known as 'Houston's Central Park' started in 1910 when the mayor envisioned a circle of parks around Houston. Volunteers have helped restore three of the bayou's tributaries, and funding for the Buffalo Bayou Partnership reflects Houstonians' commitment to the bayou. Flickr photo by JP in TX (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Defining Characteristics, Features


  • Land speculators August and John K. Allen purchase 6,000 acres of bayou land; first Houston street grid oriented to bayou's course rather than cardinally (1836)
  • Mayor Horace Baldwin Rice envisions a circle of parks around Houston connected by a system of landscaped boulevards (1910)
  • July 1912 popular vote approves $250,000 bond for land purchase; Houston Parks Commission hires landscape architect Arthur Comey to produce park plan (1913)
  • Oil tycoon Joseph Stephen Cullinan hires noted landscape architect George Kessler for park commission (1914); Kessler's 1923 death halts plans
  • Mayor Oscar Holcombe appoints Rice Institute Professor Lindsay Blayney to chair 100-person citizen committee to develop planning guidelines (1921)
  • Hogg Family sells 1,500 acres of land to city for park space (1924); investor William C. Hogg becomes first City Planning Commission Chairman in 1927

Design and features

  • Allen's Landing Memorial Park, site of the first Houston settlement, features text-based artwork providing historical context; promenade and terrace mimic 19th century port
  • Artist Jesus Bautista Moroles's ziggurat-style Houston Police Department Memorial (1990) hosts mayor's annual wreath-laying ceremony, honoring slain police officers.
  • The free-access 30,000-square-foot Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark (2008), is the first world class, in-ground skatepark in the region.
  • Artist Jaume Plensa's "TOLERANCE" consists of seven steel figures made of characters from nine different language scripts, representing the seven continents
  • Sabine-to-Bagby Promenade features a pedestrian bridge to downtown Houston; artist John Runnel's stainless steel boat sculptures, color-changing lights calibrated to lunar phases
  • Ten-acre Sesquicentennial Park features artist Mel Chin's "Seven Wonders" sculptures, cascading waterfall fountain, semi-circular events lawn

Public and private support

  • Buffalo Bayou Partnership created in 1986 after Mayor Kathy Whitmire's Buffalo Bayou Task Force concludes private funding needed for park improvements
  • Hurricane Allison causes millions in flood damage; alerts Houston civic leaders to need for a buffer zone along Buffalo Bayou (2001)
  • Rosemont Bridge (2011) gives park users convenient access to Spotts Park, Cleveland Park, and Memorial Drive by connecting recently completed hike and bike trails on the north side of Memorial Drive with existing Buffalo Bayou trails systems
  • Funding for Rosemont Bridge was provided by the City of Houston's Memorial Heights Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone #5 and is part of a Capital Improvement Project that includes the Old Sixth Ward trail connector
  • Less than $1 billion of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership's 20-year, $5.6 billion strategic plan involves public funds, reflecting the enduring commitment of Houstonians to the Bayou

Increasing numbers of hikers, bicyclists, and dog walkers enjoy Buffalo Bayou's trails daily. Trails offer convenient access to downtown Houston and other Houston parks. Photo by Tom Fox/SWA Group, courtesy Buffalo Bayou Partnership.

Ecological protection and restoration

  • Activist Terry Hershey and then-Congressman George H.W. Bush lead effort to halt U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposal to channelize Bayou (1969)
  • More than 1,700 volunteers helped restore three natural bayou tributaries
  • "Mighty Tidy" trash skimmer picks up 1,500 pounds of debris per skim (begun 2003); winner of 2004 Environmental Protection Agency Gulf Guardian Award
  •  HCFCD Pilot Project, completed in 2010, removed more than 1,000 cubic yards of silt by creating flood benches upstream of the Sabine Street Bridge and reused it in other project; invasive vines were removed and vegetation was managed
  • Clean and Green Program's community service workers collect and recycle more than 1,000 cubic yards of debris each year