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Pierce Skypark

How’s this for a big idea?

“Imagine something big,” says John Cryer, an architect at Page Southerland Page. “Really big.”

He’s talking about the Pierce Elevated Freeway, the raised stretch of I-45 that hooks around the west side of downtown Houston. With an eye toward improving traffic flow, the Texas Department of Transportation is proposing to re-route I-45 — and to do so in such a way that would leave the roughly two miles of the Pierce Elevated out of a job.

And that, say Cryer and other urban dreamers, could be a huge opportunity for Houston. What if, instead of tearing down the Pierce Elevated at an enormous cost, the freeway structure became the base for an elevated linear park — a Houston version of New York’s High Line or Paris’s Promenade Plantée?

Pierce Skypark,” Cryer and two other Page architects call the idea. He, Tami Merrick and Marcus Martínez have been working on it pro bono, hoping that a powerful public or private entity would take the idea and run with it. Their presentations have been received warmly: Pierce SkyPark’s Facebook page has more than a thousand “likes.”

Martínez’s dream-big conceptual sketches give a sense of the proposal’s size and potential. The park that he and the rest of his team imagine would be 1.97 miles long, and cover 37.7 acres — an astonishing swath of parkland so near downtown. By comparison, New York’s High Line, built atop an unused freight-rail line, is significantly shorter (only 1.45 miles) and much, much skinnier (13 acres).

Besides the obvious paths for bikes and pedestrians, Martínez says, there’d be room atop the Pierce Elevated to install all sorts of attractions. Maybe a golf range; or a bike-in theater; a conference center; gardens; or a greenhouse for native plants to be installed along Buffalo Bayou.

It sounds a little crazy, but as the story notes, such things do exist elsewhere, with the High Line in New York being a prominent recent example. I would think the main objection to this would be that if the Pierce were to be torn down when TxDOT rebuilds I-45 is that downtown would gain a huge swath of newly developable real estate, which in today’s market would be worth a ton of money. But Piece Skypark as envisioned could be a truly massive amenity for the city, and it wouldn’t necessarily preclude development on or underneath it. I’d at least like to see the idea get discussed and taken seriously. We have two years or more before anything starts to happen. What’s to lose by considering all options? Check out Pierce Skypark’s Facebook page and give it a like if you’re interested.

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One Comment

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    Seems like the best answer would be to leave the Pierce elevated open for traffic, and just build other lanes elsewhere, for pass through traffic that doesn’t need to go through downtown, kind of like the “35 Express” lanes in Austin, except, by necessity, the new lanes will have to go around downtown.