Why Parks Matter
People have asked us, “Why did you build a pedestrian park in Katy, Texas?” We were told, “A pedestrian park in Katy, Texas–nobody will want to go there.” They were wrong. Our off-duty HPD peace officers count park visitors. We know that on the average, about 2,000 people visit Rick Rice Park and Francesca’s Garden each month.
The reason we built it is because parks matter. While some well-meaning park advocates try to quantify the fiscal benefits, parks matter for non-quantifiable reasons. They provide a safe place for children to play, for adults to sit, exercise or just talk. They provide a place for community activities where people come together. They provide a place for young and old who want to enjoy the beauty of nature. Parks are flexible enough to fit the needs of everyone.
Parks bring people together as a community. Go to Eleanor Tinsley Park on July 4th. Walk through Hermann Park on a weekend. Parks encourage people mixing. Parks sooth the uneasy and calm the agitated. Parks are a refuge from daily life. In congested cities like New York, parks are the “green lungs” of a city, refreshing both visitors and non-visitors. Parks matter for so many different reasons. That is why we built a pedestrian park in Katy, Texas.
As a child growing up in New York City, my mother took me as a young boy to Forest Park in Queens and I never forgot the freedom to jump, run and generally make a nuisance of myself. When we moved to another part of Queens, Alley Pond Park and Crocheron Park became second homes. Going to college in Buffalo, New York, home to a comprehensive but decaying Olmsted designed park system; I saw the faded glories of a city in its decline.
Many years ago when I came to Houston, the first thing that I did was drive down Memorial Drive to find Memorial Park. Given the fact that I only had one park model in my head, I was looking for an urban park like those designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. When I wound up downtown, I realized that I had gone past the park. I had looked for a different kind of park and missed what was right in front of me. Years later as a runner, I realized that parks come in all shapes and sizes. Memorial Park was just different from those in my past.
On behalf of the Board of Directors of Interstate Municipal Utility District, I am pleased that we have had the opportunity to provide the growing Katy community with Rick Rice Park. Watch as we start the next phase of Francesca’s Garden in 2017.
Please Join us at Rick Rice Park whether with family or friends or just by yourself. It is there for you because parks really do matter.
We name streets, parks, bridges and other civic infrastructure after people who have contributed to our community. But too often we do not know who they were. Maybe it was because they lived years ago and their achievements have been shadowed by the mists of time.
Maybe they worked in the background, avoiding the limelight and civic recognition so their achievements go unnoticed. Rick Rice was this type of person. A native Texan who moved here when he was 7, Rick was both a Cougar and an Aggie. He was also a man who who wanted to make his hometown a better place. And, he did.
A member of the Interstate Board for many years before he accepted a role on the Houston City Planning Commission, Rick earned an M.A. in Urban and Regional Planning from Texas A&M. He was also a developer who helped build Houston’s west side and was known for the quality of his projects and his dedication to excellence.
When the Board of Interstate Municipal Utility District began working on the park that would eventually bear his name, Rick shared his expertise and knowledge. It was invaluable. He knew that cooperation with other public entities could expand the reach and impact of the park. He also understood that the construction of sidewalks leading to the park and a County trail on the west side of Mason Creek would allow more pedestrians to safely reach the park without having to get into a car.
Following Rick’s guidance, underpasses were built under Kingsland Blvd and Westgreen, in cooperation with Commissioner Steve Radack of Harris County and Mason Creek MUD. The result is the County trail on the west side of the park that runs south into Mason Creek MUD along Mason Creek. The construction of that trail brought additional people to Rick Rice Park. Eventually the trail will run from Rick Rice Park to George Bush Park. As part of the partnership with the County, Interstate MUD maintains the trail within its boundaries.
Working with the County, Interstate MUD also built sidewalks on the north and south sides of Kingsland. Now students attending Taylor High School and commuters using the Metro Park and Ride lot no longer have to walk in the street or deal with muddy dirt paths. The number of park users jumped with the construction of the sidewalks and trail.
Rick emphasized the need to maintain the park and trails so people would always feel safe. He said that no matter how beautiful a park was designed, it would only be a success if it was full of people. Rick knew that a safe park was a well maintained park. The detailed and rigorous maintenance program for Rick Rice Park is the result of his vision.
In recognition of Rick’s hard work and lifelong commitment to parks and the beautification of Houston, on April 11, 2006, the Board of Interstate Municipal Utility District unanimously voted to name the new park Rick Rice Park.
Not only was Rick instrumental in the creation of the park, he was a community leader. An Eagle Scout as a youth, he guided a number of young men to their Eagle Scout awards as an assistant scoutmaster. He served on the Houston Planning Commission, as well as on the Harris County Flood Control Task Force and the Houston Real Estate Council. He was also the former chair of the West Houston Association and the Greater Houston Builders Association Developers Council.
Rick was more than a member of civic groups—he was a leader who strongly believed in Houston, its future and its people. He also believed that because Houston was not blessed with natural geographical features, it was imperative for its residents to create them—to maximize what we had and use them to make our community a better place to live and play.
Rick Rice passed away on November 30, 2016. May his memory be a blessing and may Rick Rice Park be his legacy.