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Downtown Houston's Evolution
by Clark Condon

In conjunction with the Houston Downtown Management District, landscape architecture firm Clark Condon has revitalized Main Street, Dallas Street, and their intersection, known as Main Street Square, in downtown Houston, Texas. As the city grows, so does the need for places to live, work and play in downtown; the sidewalks and streetscapes provided the perfect framework for the evolution into a pedestrian-friendly destination.

The vision for Dallas Street was that of an upscale shopping environment with easy access to transit. During the reconstruction project, the roadway was narrowed and sidewalks were widened. Shops and restaurants neighbor the corporate and residential areas near Main Street Square.

To recreate Dallas Street in the new downtown, the entire roadway was replaced, including the sidewalks. The street was reduced to two lanes from four, with a dedicated parking lane. The sidewalks were widened and new street trees planted. The distinct surface pattern on Dallas Street is comprised of stone, porcelain and glass pavers (Pavestone, Wausau Tile). Tree grates on Dallas Street are from Iron Age Designs; trash receptacles and other site amenities on both streets were from Victor Stanley.

The centerpiece of Main Street is the existing fountain feature, with jets that are activated as light rail trains pass through. This area is considered the central transportation hub of downtown, and the light rail here was connected to newly installed lines within the city. Renovations along Main Street were taken on a block-by-block basis: some left virtually untouched, some refurbished to address drainage or walkability issues, and others made into a blank slate to start over. While the renovations were not done in time for the NCAA basketball Final Four game in Houston in April 2016, they will be completed by the time the Superbowl comes to the city in February 2017.

The revitalization of Main Street Square included the reconnection of the sculpture Planter and Stems, by Floyd Newsum (top, right). Other public art was added to the Square through the Art Blocks program. These site-specific installations include Color Jam by Jessica Stockholm (bottom, right) and Trumpet Flower by Patrick Renner (above). The bollards visible near Color Jam are from Reliance Foundry.

All 17 blocks of Main Street were enhanced with new lighting and landscaping improvements. The newly repaved granite sidewalks were lined with concrete planters that include elm trees, seasonal plants, boxwood, and 'lemon lime' nandina.

The city of Houston, Texas, is quickly growing and evolving. Numerous construction projects are changing the downtown skyline with the addition of more office spaces, hotels and residential developments. The sidewalks and streetscapes provide a framework for this transformation and evolution.

Clark Condon is working with the Houston Downtown Management District to develop both Main Street and Dallas Street into an enjoyable pedestrian experience and destination within Houston's downtown. The firm was responsible for creating the character and imagining the spaces that would make these two streets into unique destinations. We worked with both project teams to seamlessly weave these experiences together, culminating in the intersection of the two streets at Main Street Square.

Creating the Character
Spanning multiple districts with distinct individual personalities, Main Street is the central transportation hub of downtown. The light rail there now connects with newly installed light rail lines, expanding connectivity within the city. Main Street intertwines with the Historic District, an emerging residential district in south downtown, and Main Street Square.

Work along Main Street is enhancing the character of the district by adding planters and trees, as well as replacing the sidewalks and landscape. New lighting and landscaping improvements span the entire 17 blocks of downtown Main Street.

Dallas Street has experienced an even more significant change. Completely replacing the roadways provided the opportunity to reconfigure the drive lanes, and to increase the sidewalk widths. Dallas Street has a distinctive surface pattern comprised of stone, porcelain and glass pavers framed by arching street lights, trees and landscaping that are inviting to pedestrians. At the intersection of Main Street and Dallas Street lies Main Street Square, three blocks at the intersection of the corporate and residential areas. The framework for Main Street Square was already in place, but needed a refreshing redevelopment. The centerpiece is an existing fountain with water jets activated by light rail trains as they pass through the corridor. The surrounding sidewalks have been renovated to include granite paving and landscaped areas. The design opened and cleared the sidewalks, allowing pedestrians a comfortable area to come and go along Main Street.

The Square is also home to public art by artist Floyd Newsum entitled Planter and Stems. The piece, previously separated across the Square, has been brought back together into one composition, refurbished and expanded.

The Houston Downtown Management District wanted to make Main Street Square a destination for both everyday users and visitors. Acknowledging that a pleasant pedestrian experience is not enough for people to linger, they introduced the Art Blocks initiative, a series of temporary art pieces located throughout the Square. These site-specific installations include Color Jam by Jessica Stockholm and Trumpet Flower by Patrick Renner. In addition to the Art Blocks installations, scheduled pop-up performances, interactive experiences and community festivals will enliven and enrich the area.

Imagining the Spaces
Clark Condon worked very closely with the Houston Downtown Management District and the design teams for these projects to create two unique streetscape experiences that address the site-specific needs of the districts in which they are set. The Main Street project is a block-specific approach to improve the overall streetscape. Some blocks remained untouched as the character and pedestrian experience were working well, whereas other blocks needed work done to improve drainage or walkability, and many other blocks needed complete renovations to meet the needs of the increasing development within downtown.

Conversely, the Dallas Street project is a complete roadway reconstruction project that offers an opportunity to reimagine the area and create a world-class shopping district, a need identified in 2013 by the Downtown Retail Task Force.

As seen in LASN magazine, August 2016.

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July 22, 2019, 10:12 am PDT

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