Students’ award-winning park designs exemplify 'Education First' initiative at Texas A&M

The July 13 dedication of a new park in Spring, Texas culminates a four-year, award-winning park system design project undertaken by Texas A&M landscape architecture students. The initiative, a valuable contribution to the state of Texas, also stands as a prime example of the myriad community outreach projects the Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning has undertaken under the auspices of Texas A&M University's Education First program, which encourages university contributions benefiting the citizens of Texas.

Herman Little Park, which includes a wetland observation deck, 5-acre fishing pond, a skateboard park, a jogging and hiking path, a pavilion and parking for 20 cars, is part of an award-winning system of recreation spaces that students, led by Jon Rodiek, professor of landscape architecture, designed for the Timber Lane Utility Municipal District from 2005-2009.

“We combined these designs to create a master parks plan for the district,” said Bud Gessel, the district’s assistant secretary. “We have 179 acres of parkland and 8.25 miles of trails, 90 percent of which were designed by Rodiek’s students,” he said.

With the plans, the district was able to secure $4.4 million in state and federal funding for the series of parks and trails, located in a 100-year floodplain along the northern bank of Cypress Creek, adjacent to the Timber Lane subdivision in North Harris County about 25 miles north of downtown Houston. 

“This was a fantastic project for the students and the utility district,” said Gessel.

The project, said Forster Ndubisi, head of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning, is one example of the department’s fulfillment of Education First, one of the university’s major initiatives.

The initiative emphasizes the provision of solutions for modern challenges, such as health and economic development, through public service and innovation. The effort is guided by the university’s Vision 2020: Creating a Culture of Excellence, a road map pointing Texas A&M’s way to recognition as one of the U.S.’ 10 best public universities.

“Projects like these in our department focus on the inseparable and interdependent mix of the University’s teaching, research and service/engagement missions,” said Ndubisi. “It’s using a ‘real-life’ project that benefits a community while forming the basis for learning and research.”

Rodiek’s students overcame special design challenges presented by the site.

“We had to respect where the flood line was,” said Rodiek, whose students created designs with flood lines provided by Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “The students’ designs also respect the native forest,” he said. “There’s wildlife all over the place: hawks, all kinds of songbirds, small mammals and deer. The designs emphasized keeping wildlife in habitat areas while routing people away those areas and respecting the native plants.”

“We tried to make our parks user-friendly, minimizing their exposure to walking parallel to the stream by identifying key access points to create perpendicular paths from the neighborhood to the park.“ said Rodiek.

posted June 26, 2012