Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Market Square Park in Downtown Houston: Profile and Photos


This Downtown park and occasional public entertainment venue was completely redone a couple-or-so years ago in the course of urban revitalization efforts. One layer of Google Maps birds eye’s view (not sure whether it's a satellite image or photo taken from other flying object) still shows a construction site with a few green spots on it. See below:

Market Square Park consists of several components that serve different purposes and different categories of visitors and Downtown denizens. The West side adjoining Milam Street was converted to an enclosed dog park, with separate corrals for dogs of different sizes. It is marked with a sculpture of a large dog on a paved spot between park benches along the landscaped walkway that separates the dog run area from the rest of the park. 

The North side features a 9/11 Memorial and Garden named after Lauren Catuzzi, a September 11 victim from Houston: Lauren's Garden features a bronze bust of Lauren, beautiful landspacing, and a fountain with sculptured elements that represent the fallen towers, and pebbles and rocks for the victims.
Next to the memorial, Niko Niko’s Downtown outpost serves up Greek and American fare, and also wine and beer, with plenty of seating al fresco nearby. Temperate “fresco” temperatures are not a year-round feature of Houston’s climate, of course. There are gas-fired heaters available during the cold season, and overhead mist dispensers for cooling in the summer. There is no indoor seating.  


The core of the park is a large green space at the center, where Alamo Drafthouse occasionally shows movies that folks can enjoy from blankets spread on the grass, from lawn chairs, or from the Niko Niko’s chairs and tables in the trellis section. Other outdoor events also take place at this public green space occasionally, including live music performances.      

Water table and brightly colored wall in half-circle on the South end of the park

Market Square Park features water fountains in the form of water tables that are like mini-reflecting pools. The stone surfaces feature colored imagery in pleasant hues and evoke associations with French impressionism in themes and style. 

The largest piece of art adorning Market Square Park is a floral-theme metal sculpture at the end of the trellis, with bronze petals stretching skywards.  Several historical and interpretive markers chronicle the evolution and transformation of the erstwhile market for visitors with a deeper  interest in the background of this historic place. The retrospective on this historic old-town Houston site also includes a number of old black and white photographs.

But the most visible part of history is the old Seth Thomas clock that was saved when the old city hall burned down, and is now installed at a clock tower erected at the corner of Travis and Congress. 

Clock tower at the edge of Old Market Square

Clockworks inside the tower - made by Seth Thomas Clock Co.
Numerous restaurants and bars are located across the streets on the North and East sides (Congress and Travis Street, respectively).  The entire area, which is to the North-West of the Theater District has of late seen something of a renaissance. The most recent arrivals are Batanga, a Spanish tapas restaurant with large patio in the shade of the clock tower on the edge of Market Square, and the OKRA Charity Bar. The new Houston-Inspired Mural - part of a recently-launched promotional campaign -- is located nearby: on the South side of the Treebeards building (at the corner of Travis and Preston Street). Adding a more contemporary flair, its cheerfulness and vibrant colors make for a nice juxtaposition and eye-pleasing composite of the Old and the New in the Historic District.   

Houston Inspired Hip Tasty Funky and Savvy Mural with
historic Hotel Icon looming over it under blue sky
Market Square was one of the original sites in the City of Houston bike rental program, which has since been expanded to include many more locations, including some outside the Downtown area. This not only increases the options for occasional cyclists or those interested in exploring the city on two wheels; it also allows for one-way rides, and thus multi-modal trips around town, because bikes can be rented in one location and returned in another. Metro buses also facilitate multi-modal transportation with bike racks installed on the front bumper.  

Market Square Park is managed and maintained by the Downtown Management District, a property-tax funded public entity devoted to urban improvement of the area for which it is named. There are similar special district in other areas of H-Town, including Westchase and Energy Corridor.  

The latest improvements to the park itself were undertaken earlier in 2013 when the section around the floral sculpture was closed for trellis extension.  The Management District maintains a website with information on upcoming events at Market Square Park and a listing of nearby bars and dining spots.

Unfortunately, Market Square Park does not have public restroom facilities and Niko Niko’s only has one restroom, with a key guarded by the manager on duty. What were the park planners thinking? How can you hope to attract droves of Houstonians back to Downtown and bring life back to deserted public spaces without even providing the necessary amenities? The same applies -- alas -- to Buffalo Bayou Promenade, Houston's answer to San Antonio's popular Riverwalk.