Opinion: How to Fund Better Houston Parks

Houston’s iconic signature parks mask a major underinvestment in green spaces for most of the city’s neighborhoods, according to a new report.

2 minute read

October 18, 2023, 6:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Green lawn and walkway in downtonw Houston park with skyline in background.

Buffalo Bayou Park in downtown Houston, Texas. | SeanPavonePhoto / Adobe Stock

“Of the 13 U.S. cities with populations over one million, Houston ranks last in city spending for its parks department,” write Guy Hagstette and Elizabeth Love in the Houston Chronicle, quoting a report from the Kinder Institute for Urban Research.

“Neighborhood parks are the workhorses of our parks system, providing Houstonians with close-to-home access to all the benefits that parks provide – a place to play, exercise, enjoy nature and socialize, as well as to cool our neighborhoods and help mitigate flooding.” Although redevelopment funds and philanthropic support have made significant contributions to Houston park spaces, the report notes that “They are not a substitute for the kind of sustained, equitable funding that our neighborhood parks deserve.”

Parks expert Ernest Cook suggests that parks departments can’t rely on cities for their funding, and points to cities where a dedicated funding mechanism has been created for parks. “For example, Minneapolis operates its park system in a separate unit of government with its own taxing authority. Seattle has created a “park district” that provides revenue dedicated to managing the city’s greenspaces, similar in some ways to how our local flood control and hospital districts work.”

The report suggests a few options for Houston, including “exempting park and recreation spending from the tax cap approved by city voters in 2004,” “passing a charter amendment requiring the city to establish a dedicated fund for its parks,” and creating a parks district.

“Houston can be proud of its signature parks. However, this progress masks the poor condition of hundreds of parks, pools and community centers in neighborhoods throughout Houston that only an adequately funded city parks department can equitably address.”

Saturday, October 7, 2023 in Houston Chronicle

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