Who’s Paying for Houston’s Bayou Greenways?

Houston is getting greener, and by 2020 the city will have a continuous system of parks and trails stretching 150 miles along Houston’s bayous. At least, that’s the plan according to the Houston Parks Board. Their project, Bayou Greenways 2020, is part of an ambitious initiative to bring accessible greenspace to Houston’s citizens. The project, however, isn’t cheap—Bayou Greenways 2020 is expected to cost $215 million. This cost will be covered through public-private partnerships, and local foundations have already stepped up to start covering the bill, including a grant that may be one of the largest ever given to public green space in the US.

Bayou Greenways 2020 has been largely welcomed by Houston’s city dwellers. In 2012, Houston voted on Proposition B, a parks bond to fund the project. The proposition passed with 68% of voters supporting the greenways project. Bayou Greenways 2020 will thus receive $100 million from public funds to build trails and related facilities. This, however, only covers about half of the expected cost of the project. Private sector funding is expected to cover land acquisition and trail design. Fortunately, funds have started to roll in.

The largest private funder of the Bayou Greenways, thus far, is the Kinder Foundation. This foundation is focused primarily on the Greater Houston area, focusing largely on urban green space, education, and quality of life issues. They do not accept unsolicited requests for funds, but they do give big when they want to. In October 2013, the Kinder Foundation committed to giving $50 million to the Houston Parks Board for the Bayou Greenways 2020 project. According to the foundation, this is the “largest donation in the history of Houston's park system and one of the largest grants to a public greenspace in the United States”.

The Kinder Foundation is covering a hefty portion of the project’s costs, and other foundations are also getting in on this ambitious project. The next-largest award comes from the Houston Endowment (see IP’s profile), which has been a regular supporter of the Houston Parks Board for years. In 2011, the endowment granted $7.5 million to the board for developing parkland as part of the Bayou Greenways project. The grant award period will last three years. Numerous individuals have also stepped up to support the project and the Houston Endowment’s list of donors is quite long. The Houston Parks Board seems to have hit on a project that the people really want.