Location: Houston, Texas
Owner: Upper Kirby Redevelopment Authority
Designer: OJB Landscape Architecture
Size: 5.9 acres (2.4 ha)
As one of the only public green spaces in Houston’s Upper Kirby District, the underused Levy Park has been reimagined as an active, vibrant civic destination. The 5.9-acre (2.4 ha) public park offers free programming and public events, and includes a 40,000-square-foot (3,700 sq m) children’s garden, a 7,500-square-foot (700 sq m) rain garden, a 43,000-square-foot (4,000 sq m) event lawn, and a 2,500-square-foot (230 sq m) multipurpose performance space. The park emphasizes environmental and social sustainability, most notably demonstrated in its American with Disabilities Act (ADA)–compliant accessible tree house platform shaded by live oaks preserved from the original park site.
Levy Park dates from 1941, when Leon Levy, a descendant of a local merchant family, deeded the land to Houston for park development. Over the years, however, the number of park visitors fell: a single dead-end road into the green space restricted access while a major highway and surrounding development limited visibility. The Upper Kirby Redevelopment Authority (UKRA) saw opportunity in the underused asset and initiated plans to reenvision the park as a connected, accessible, and financially sustainable multiuse space.
UKRA began assembling adjacent properties and designating sites at the corners of the park for private development. It worked with the city to decommission park land where development was to occur and to transfer ownership of the land to UKRA. In turn, UKRA dedicated a portion of its newly acquired land to the city as park land. The result was a newly configured Levy Park, with an additional half acre (0.2 ha) of land, better access and visibility, and activity at its edges.
The $15 million park investment paid off. Adjacent to Levy Park is Midway’s Kirby Grove Office, a 16-story building with 225,000 square feet (21,000 sq m) of Class A office space and 25,000 square feet (2,300 sq m) of ground-floor restaurant space. Also adjacent to the park is Avenue Grove, a 270-unit mid-rise residential tower designed to take advantage of the park setting. Today, more than 10,000 people visit the park each week, a significant increase from earlier years when the park received just 75 visitors weekly.
Levy Park continues to serve as a public park, but through an innovative public/private partnership, it is maintained and funded by the Levy Park Conservancy. Ground lease payments from adjacent development combined with funds dedicated from the UKRA Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone help cover park maintenance, operations, and programming expenses. This innovative blending of public and private dollars enables residents to take part in year-round park programming free of charge.