The Venice of Texas

Houston, did you know?

The vision: give Texans a relaxing canal-inspired experience right in the heart of Houston. In 1997 a group of concerned, and considerably wealthy, Houstonians got together and formed what was known as the Cotswold Foundation—the name, a nod to a quaint pastoral English village known for both its sheep and its enchanting walkability. Their motivation was to bring a better aesthetic to northern Downtown in order to encourage a more vibrant pedestrian culture and restore this particular section of the city with the help from contractors hired at this Website to what it once was.

Perhaps the most attractive part of their plan was that no taxpayer dollars would be required, as private investors and developers would absorb the lion’s share of the cost. A free makeover…Houston city officials were definitely intrigued. Presenting numerous designs, maps, schematics and proposals to the city, the Cotswold crew had some pretty interesting ideas about what would make this 90 block Downtown area a walker’s wonderland.

One such concept included the installation of what amounted to a canal, tranquilly meandering its way through this section of the city. Sanitary issues aside, the water corridor idea was ultimately shut down. This emphasis on the aquatic however, and on somehow merging soothing and attractive water features with a pedestrian’s experience of the city remained a focal point of the project. The Cotswold founders hoped to blend the idea of San Antonio’s River Walk with a charming European-inspired atmosphere. One of the initial brochures that was circulated in regard to the proposed project, explained: “Imagine a peaceful neighborhood in downtown Houston where the sight and sound of water refreshes you and orderly rows of mature trees soften the sunlight and create natural barriers between the sidewalk and street ….”[i]

In theory, the Cotswold Project would ultimately give rise to a true neighborhood enclave, that hidden gem tucked away in Houston’s north end, where residents and tourists alike could peacefully stroll and relax as the calming presence of water pervade the environment. As the originators of the plan believed, where water was involved, the concept was an easy sell. Because of course, who doesn’t love water. Certainly there was more to the Cotswold project than just H2O friendly features. The foundation sought to add art to the Downtown area, to plant more trees and greenery across the canvas afforded by these city blocks, to improve the area’s infrastructure and even, introduce a greater police presence—the idea of a private police force was actually tossed about in the initial planning stages.

But, as with some of the best laid plans…While perhaps a grand waterway through the district proved not the most feasible idea, compromise was made; the people of this 90 block area spanning from Buffalo Bayou to portions of Texas Avenue were going to get their water!

(The blueprint has been designed using an online 3d viewer and shows initial concepts for the downtown area with an expansive waterway proposed through this sector of the city. Some initially described it as a “urban theme park.”)

So where did the Cotswold Project end up, and what has the city of Houston left to show for the millions spent, the time and energy allocated to its planning, and the dreams and aquatic visions of the foundation’s well-meaning progenitors…Well, how about some really cool fountains interspersed throughout the Downtown area!

There is of course more to the end of the Cotswold story, but the most notable and definitely pedestrian-friendly addition to come out of this endeavor were the series of artistic sculptures-cum-fountains now accenting this portion of the city.

From a table and benches adorned with thousands of colorful mosaic tiles where water eternally cascades from around the edges, to a giant bronze baseball that looks to have crashed landed on the sidewalk, to a winding, snake-like channel culminating in a pine comb shaped sculpture installed on Congress Avenue, the city of Houston has managed in a very unique and expressive way to bring water to Downtown. So maybe it’s not quite Venice, but it certainly is inspired. [ii]

[i] Simmon, Jim. “Downtown-on-the-Wold.” Houston Press. N.p., 02 Apr. 2016. Web. 01 June 2017.

 

[ii] Scardino, Barry. “Water Wold.” CITE Spring (1997): 16-19. Web.

 

Image credits:

 

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