Mandell Park: Growing a Community Asset

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead

The 1.22-acre oasis at the corner of Mandell and Richmond, in Houston’s Museum District, embodies the fulfilled dreams of a small but dedicated group of neighbors.  The vision – to create a gathering place for the community, an organic garden which will both teach and nourish, and a charming anchor for the neighborhood – has been developed over more than two decades.

Not so long ago this lot, slated by the city to be the site of a new public library that was never built, was an illegal dumping ground and a source of immense frustration for its neighbors. In 1992, concerned citizens from the neighborhood association decided they would do something about it themselves. They hauled away the trash and cleaned up the area. A neighbor and avid gardener, Meredith Burke, envisioned an organic community garden on the lot; volunteers soon built it and named it Meredith Gardens in her honor. A committee formed to work with the city, and in 2004 the land was transferred from the Library Department to the Parks and Recreation Department and officially named Mandell Park.  Following the transfer, the non-profit Friends of Mandell Park was formed and has maintained the park in cooperation with the City of Houston since. Winding paths led visitors through beds where vegetables and flowers intermingle.  Weekly work days brought together volunteers from the neighborhood, local schools, Boy Scouts, Rice, the University of Houston and more. Fresh harvests went to Houston food banks.

For all its progress, the Friends of Mandell Park sponsored a design competition which paired University of Houston architecture students with local professionals, challenging the teams to develop a master plan for the park that is beautiful, low maintenance, and sustainable.  The winning design, by Asakura Robinson Company and UH Architecture students Keith Chan and Marianne Do, fulfilled that mission, incorporating beautiful sitting areas and winding walkways with public art, bio-infiltration to improve water quality, composting, curving seat walls, a mounded lawn, a stand of native prairie, fruit and shade trees and green-roofed tool storage facility. The raised vegetable plots of Meredith Gardens are preserved as the heart of the upgraded park.

Friends of Mandell Park has completed a capital campaign worth $1.2 million to implement the master plan and pay for park maintenance. Renovation was completed in October 2014, making Mandell Park a signature jewel in the city’s park collection: a model of sustainability, a gardening classroom, a place to gather and evidence of the power of an inspired and committed group of citizens.

-Corinna Robbins and Friends of Mandell Park

Photos: dabfotocreative for Asakura Robinson

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