For more than three decades, Guy Hagstette has preached the gospel of green space in Houston. He's served as director of planning and development for the Downtown Management District and advised City Hall on urban design issues. But far from a sidelines bureaucrat, Hagstette has rolled up his sleeves, steering a new wave of urban parks stretching from Downtown to the winding shores of Buffalo Bayou.
A registered architect and urban designer who started his career in the private sector, Hagstette was part of a trio of architects who designed Sesquicentennial Park in the mid-1990s. That project would become a Downtown landmark and a catalyst for renewed interest in urban parks. In 2005, Hagstette led the team charged with transforming a 12-acre parking lot fronting the George R. Brown Convention Center into Discovery Green. Today, Discovery Green is lauded as one of the best urban green spaces in the country. Now, Hagstette is steering a new initiative, the $55 million revitalization of 158 acres of parkland along Buffalo Bayou.
The argument for green space...A city's green space is one of those places where everything comes together, where people meet up and where you get a real sense of what a community is about. That's why they're so important--they're the life of the city.
Building a career in Houston...Houston is a city that grows on you. A lot of its best qualities are subtle, and the absolute best quality is its people. And you become attached to that.
Houston's green evolution...Houston has a great history with parks. Prior to World War II, the city was buying parkland more than any other city in Texas, from Memorial Park and Hermann Park to Buffalo Bayou Park. Somewhere around the time of World War II, other things began to take precedence and Houston sort of lost its way in green space. I think over the last 15 years we've regained our bearings and made great progress...The evidence is the bond election that just passed [November 2012] where 68 percent of people voted for spending public dollars on parks. With what's happened in Hermann Park, Discovery Green and elsewhere, Houstonians realize how fantastic good parks can be; they're embracing that and they want more.
Houston is...energy. It's people from different backgrounds and environments that contribute to an incredible energy that feeds this city.
Where I go to experience Houston... A lot of places. I have my favorite restaurants. Of course I go to Discovery Green. I have a few favorite galleries whose shows I always go to, and the exhibits at the Menil. I also like to ride my bike off the beaten path.
Houston hidden gems...Last Concert Cafe is great. Places like TheOrange Show and Project Row Houses. I also think some of the most beautiful areas of Houston are residential streets. North and South boulevards near Rice Village, Lazy Lane in River Oaks, great areas of the East End and Third Ward. It's these neighborhoods that are really cool.
How Houston has changed...I can't tell you how many times I've had conversations with people who grew up here, moved away, came back and they can't believe how different, and how much better, the city is now. We are becoming a more urban city, a denser city, and that's a good thing. People aren't just here working and raising their kids anymore, they're actually enjoying the city.
What makes Houston cool...What makes this city cool is that we don't think of ourselves as cool. It's something I really like about this place. I've spent some time in other cities where people have this attitude about themselves. It's really refreshing and wonderful to be in a city where everyone just is who they are; they aren't putting on a show. You get to know people better and enjoy them more in a place like this.
How Houston stacks up...In my circles, Houston is considered a bit of a bad boy, because we don't follow all the rules. People have a hard time getting their heads around Houston. Most people are surprised when they come here that all of their perceptions and assumptions really don't play out. Houston is turning heads in a good way. We are living at a time when a lot of the old perceptions of our city are being challenged.
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