Favorite Places: Discovering Houston's Discovery Green

One of the entrances to Discovery Green, highlighting the connection between nature and the city that the park provides. 

One of the entrances to Discovery Green, highlighting the connection between nature and the city that the park provides. 

A 12-acre park in the heart of downtown Houston, Discovery Green has nearly everything an urban resident could ask for. Adjacent to the George R. Brown Convention Center, the beautiful park features open spaces for events, a landscaped jogging trail, a picnic area, public art, a small lake for kayaking and ice skating, a playground, various gardens and fountains, restaurants, a putting green, a shuffleboard court and a seamlessly integrated parking garage, among other features.

Here are a few things to know about Discovery Green. 


Designed by Hargreaves Associates and Lauren Griffith Associates, the park features 11 different landscaped gardens, all with unique themes. There's a butterfly and hummingbird garden, a rose garden, a scensory garden and a tropical garden, among others.

Designed by Hargreaves Associates and Lauren Griffith Associates, the park features 11 different landscaped gardens, all with unique themes. There's a butterfly and hummingbird garden, a rose garden, a scensory garden and a tropical garden, among others.


1. It's been a good investment.

With its landscape designed by leading landscape architectural firm Hargreaves Associates in San Franscisco, the park helped revitalize downtown Houston. While the total cost for land aquisition, development and landscaping reached $125 million, it has lead to $625 million in downtown developments, including a high-end residential tower, the Embassy Suites Hotel and the Hess Tower office development. There's another $1 billion in private hotel, office and housing projects still coming down the pipeline, according to the Discovery Green Conservancy. Not to mention, it's greatly increased the popularity of the George R. Brown Convention Center, attracting large businesses and industries to hold their events in Houston.

"The park has catalyzed development of the east side of downtown, as one surface parkinglot after another has been converted into corporate, residential and entertainment space," wrote Ann Duncan, the park's Chairman of the Board, and Barry Mandel, its president and director, in a letter to the public commemorating the park's 5th anniversary, in 2013.


Park visitors find time during a summer day for a kayak ride on Kinder Lake before a rain storm pushed people back indoors. Photo by Maria Sprow.

Park visitors find time during a summer day for a kayak ride on Kinder Lake before a rain storm pushed people back indoors. Photo by Maria Sprow.


2. It's well-loved.

Before the park opened to the public in 2008, stakeholders believed about 500,000 people would visit the park each year — but the actual numbers have consistently more than doubled that projection. Nowadays, the park hosts more than 600 events each year; the events alone attract an estimated 1.2 million people annually. Events include everything from Zumba classes and parkour training to poetry slams, festivals, flea markets, language classes, movie nights, concerts and city-wide holiday celebrations. "Discovery Green felt like a home away from home to so many people as soon as it was opened," wrote Duncan and Mandel.


Another view of Kinder Lake, showing the George R. Brown Convention Center at right. The convention center area is currently undergoing additional renovations with the creation of Avenida Houston, a 99,000 square foot pedestrian plaza spearheaded by preparations for the 2017 Superbowl. 

Another view of Kinder Lake, showing the George R. Brown Convention Center at right. The convention center area is currently undergoing additional renovations with the creation of Avenida Houston, a 99,000 square foot pedestrian plaza spearheaded by preparations for the 2017 Superbowl. 


3. It was created through a public-private partnership.

Before it was a park, Discovery Green was home to two large, unsightly parking garages and a small green space. Residents considered it an "undeveloped, concrete eyesore." In 2002, the city aquired part of the land, and a group of philanthropists approached the city's mayor about a long-term vision of turning the space into a urban park capable of redefining the city's downtown landscape. By 2004, the city had purchased the rest of the land needed and created the Discovery Green Conservancy non-profit to operate and maintain the park. One of the Conservancy's first jobs was to get public input on the project, an extensive process that included a series of public meetings and focus groups. Today, the park is funded through donations from foundations, companies and individuals, as well as proceeds from revenue-generating events and venues.


Many of the park's areas are separated by shaded paths and lush landscaped gardens, perfect for residents and visitors just wanting to relax during lunch or after work. 

Many of the park's areas are separated by shaded paths and lush landscaped gardens, perfect for residents and visitors just wanting to relax during lunch or after work. 


4. The park includes several public art installations

Public art is an important component of Discovery Green, helping shape visitor's interactions and experiences with the park. While Discovery Green does have seasonal and visiting installations, there are several long-term, permanent pieces the park is most known for. 

Perhaps the park's most famous public art installation, Monument au Fantome is a 33-foot-tall, free-form red, white and blue structure adjacent to the convention center. Its form and pieces mimic parts of an imaginary city, including a church, a dog and a tree. It was created by Jean Dubuffet, an internationally reknowned French sculptor who passed away in 1985. Photo by Maria Sprow.

Perhaps the park's most famous public art installation, Monument au Fantome is a 33-foot-tall, free-form red, white and blue structure adjacent to the convention center. Its form and pieces mimic parts of an imaginary city, including a church, a dog and a tree. It was created by Jean Dubuffet, an internationally reknowned French sculptor who passed away in 1985. Photo by Maria Sprow.

Possibly the most photographed installations in the park, the Synchronicity of Color art boxes were commissioned by the Discovery Green Conservancy to add color to the park and connect the underground parking garage pedestrian entrances to the park. They were designed by Margo Sawyer, an art professor at the University of Texas at Austin who was involved with the park's master planning. Photo by Maria Sprow.

Possibly the most photographed installations in the park, the Synchronicity of Color art boxes were commissioned by the Discovery Green Conservancy to add color to the park and connect the underground parking garage pedestrian entrances to the park. They were designed by Margo Sawyer, an art professor at the University of Texas at Austin who was involved with the park's master planning. Photo by Maria Sprow.

Consisting of two large, curved limestone circles placed approximately 70 feet from each other, the Listening Vessels act as sound reflectors so that visitors sitting in front of one vessel can hear the whispers of visitors sitting in front of the other. They were created by structural artist Douglas Hollis, who was inspired by natural landscapes and wind and water activated sound structures that could help extend human senses. Photo by Maria Sprow.

Consisting of two large, curved limestone circles placed approximately 70 feet from each other, the Listening Vessels act as sound reflectors so that visitors sitting in front of one vessel can hear the whispers of visitors sitting in front of the other. They were created by structural artist Douglas Hollis, who was inspired by natural landscapes and wind and water activated sound structures that could help extend human senses. Photo by Maria Sprow.

Created by American pop artist Jim Dine in 1983, The House (Heart) is a heart-shaped bronze cast featuring hand markings and the tools it takes to build a home: hammers, axes, a saw, a brick, a mallet. The tools link the present to the past and the work we do with our hands to our humanity. Photo by Maria Sprow.

Created by American pop artist Jim Dine in 1983, The House (Heart) is a heart-shaped bronze cast featuring hand markings and the tools it takes to build a home: hammers, axes, a saw, a brick, a mallet. The tools link the present to the past and the work we do with our hands to our humanity. Photo by Maria Sprow.


Residents enjoy the shade provided by Oak Allee, a cooridor of 100-year-old heritage oaks that connects the George R. Convention Center to the rest of downtown. Photo by Maria Sprow.

Residents enjoy the shade provided by Oak Allee, a cooridor of 100-year-old heritage oaks that connects the George R. Convention Center to the rest of downtown. Photo by Maria Sprow.


5. Discovery Green is Green

When they first began planning Discovery Green, stakeholders made the decision to follow environmental best practices for construction, sustainability, water efficiency, energy conversation, material procurement, and more. The park is powered by 100 percent clean and renewable energy — including wind and solar — and uses recycled groundwater to fill its lake. The park's innovations and attention to environmental stewardship earned it a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold rating from the U.S. Green Building Council.