This eco-friendly space aims to improve the health of visitors and Houston's downtown environment.

The Perfect City Park

A couple enjoys a picnic while women stretch into Pilates poses and children run through dancing water jets. Houston's new urban park, built amid high-rises and hotels, spreads out as a welcome burst of green in this city center. With my toes in the grass and a basil lemonade from The Lake House in hand, I decide that Discovery Green is the kind of park every town should have.

Debuting in April, Discovery Green challenges visitors to get active outside, connect with their neighbors, and shake off their expectations about what a public park is supposed to be. Organizers put a lot of thought into plans for a park that would draw people outside. The result is part community center, part exercise hub, part art gallery--and all fun.

Rethinking Green

"The concept of a park in the U.S. had grown a little stale until recently," says Guy Hagstette, president of the Discovery Green Conservancy. Guy and his colleagues spent months talking with Houstonians. Their goal was to think big about the possibilities of this space, which was once a parking lot. The final product--12 acres of greenspace--marks an exciting new phase of downtown development.

Plus there's more "green" to the park than its sprawling promenades. An eco-friendly mission exists throughout, from the solar panels that line the roof of park offices (providing enough energy to run the whole building) to the organic wines served at the park's cafe, The Lake House. On Recycling Saturdays, Houston residents unload their recyclables and enjoy the area.

Playtime Central

Discovery Green is packed with things to delight children, but they seem drawn to the section with the Gateway Fountain, where synchronized jets shoot water 14 feet in the air. After drying off, the kids climb on the John P. McGovern Children's Playground, constructed to reflect the migratory birds that often fly over Houston.

Just a short walk away I find Kinder Lake, where remote controlled sailboats are available for rental on the weekends. Come Thanksgiving, part of the lake will be converted to an ice-skating rink. People walk their dogs, in-line skate, and jog on the path that winds around the lake and through the park.

The day I visit I'm kicking myself for not bringing workout clothes. How often is free lakeside Pilates available? At Discovery Green exercise classes are scheduled several times a week. For those more inclined to enjoy the outdoors from the comfort of a lawn chair, free concerts take place at the Anheuser-Busch Stage.

A Shady Place To Rest

Of course nothing is wrong with doing the traditional activities. I relax underneath the shade of 100-year-old oak trees, where plenty of benches provide places to read.

Not that you'd want to spend too much time sitting still--there's too much to see and do here. In addition to the park's interactive amenities, art is staggered throughout the grounds.

If you visit on a Thursday, you can check out the farmers market. The Grove, Discovery Green's upscale restaurant, fills its menu with market produce and herbs grown in the restaurant's garden.

Who knew a park could be so much fun? At this green, it's there for your discovery.

Discovery Green: The park is open 6 a.m.-11 p.m. daily. For more information visit, or call (713) 400-7336.

10 Ways To Hit The Park
1. Make it a family outing. What better way to enjoy a weekend than spending an afternoon with the kids at the park? Check ahead to find out if park equipment and activities are age-appropriate.
2. Put on your running (or walking) shoes. Many parks have trails for running and walking. A walk in nature can be good for the body and mind.
3. Take a workday break. Visit your local park during lunchtime. Packing a healthful lunch can save you money and calories.
4. Enjoy concerts. Many public parks host free or low-cost concerts, a fun way to check out local or regional artists.
5. Pick up rackets or bounce balls. Check into the availability of tennis or basketball courts. If you don't have the equipment, borrow from your park.
6.Try something new. Consult local listings for classes. Parks are great places to learn how to exercise, dance, or garden.
7. Connect with your neighbors. Parks help build communities--a visit to a park may provide an opportunity to meet a new friend.
8. Shop for locally grown food. Some parks offer regular farmers markets, where you can purchase freshly harvested, local food--good for you and for the local economy.
9. Read. Expand your mind with a new book, and enjoy it with your toes in the grass.
10.Get involved. Have an idea for how your local park could better serve you? Call your parks and recreation board with the suggestion. Better yet, consider volunteering your time to work hand in hand with park officials.

Healthy Benefits

  • Evidence shows that when people have access to public parks, they exercise more.
  • Contact with the natural world can improve physical and psychological health.
  • Parks provide an opportunity for social engagement, which can contribute to longevity.