Natural Systems
Buffalo Bayou Promenade
Houston, Texas | SWA Group

In 2017, Hurricane Harvey pummeled Houston, causing the Buffalo Bayou, which cuts through the center of the city, to rise by 39 feet. SWA Group anticipated severe storms and designed the 1.2-mile-long Buffalo Bayou Promenade, a resilient linear park along the bayou, to contain and convey a greater amount of floodwater with minimal damage. The landscape itself was designed to be not only beautiful but also highly resilient to flooding: Some 300,000 native plants and 640 trees were planted to reduce erosion, and 14,000 tons of crushed recycled concrete were placed inside gabions to provide nearly indestructible defenses along the bayou’s banks.


The Buffalo Bayou Promenade turned an inaccessible bayou underneath Houston’s spaghetti of freeways and bridges into a destination linear park with bicycle and walking trails. In addition to its flood management duties, the promenade was designed to improve connectivity—bringing pedestrians and bicyclists to and from Houston’s downtown core to the river park to the west.

To create a pedestrian-friendly environment, SWA Group made the linear park more accessible by adding stairs, ramps, and more lighting. Railings, walls, walks, and signage were designed to withstand periodic flooding without significant damage. All lighting fixtures were created to be fully submersible.

To better manage floodwater, the firm regraded the landscape, laying back the slopes surrounding the bayou to limit the impact of erosion and improve floodwater conveyance.

The landscape was designed to be beautiful but also highly resilient. The design team planted some 300,000 native, flood-resistant riparian plants and 640 trees. Green ash trees, which live near rivers and can withstand floods, were planted alongside the bayou to reduce erosion and provide wildlife habitat. And ferns, Ruellia, and other hardy natives that can survive repeated flooding were planted on the slopes to reduce erosion there.

To further bolster the promenade’s defenses, nearly indestructible gabions, filled with 14,000 tons of recycled crushed concrete, were placed along the bayou edge. After Hurricane Harvey, Buffalo Bayou Park Conservancy President Anne Olson noted that the park suffered damage requiring cleanup and repair, but the essential infrastructure was intact.

Demonstrates these solutions:
  • Natural Systems
  • Incorporate green infrastructure into all new and existing urban and suburban development.
  • Prioritize preservation and enhancement of tree canopy.
  • Limit or prohibit building in floodplains.
  • Select biohabitat-supporting and pollinator-friendly native or adapted plant species appropriate to the site/region and changing climate conditions.
Bicyclists use the trails at Buffalo Bayou Promenade, a park found under highway infrastructure.

ASLA 2009 Professional Award of Excellence in General Design, Buffalo Bayou Promenade, SWA Group/Tom Fox.