Memorial Park Conservancy's renovations include some projects that are rare or never been done before. Photo courtesy of MPC

Memorial Park is undergoing a huge transformation that is mixing a little bit of old with the new.

The Memorial Park Master Plan includes adding breathtaking new projects — like water features, a new athletic complex, and more — as well as conservation efforts that restore parts of the land that were native coastal prairie. The project is a collaborative effort between Memorial Park Conservancy, Uptown Houston TIRZ, and Houston Parks and Recreation Department to redevelop the 1,500-acre park.

The Master Plan is set to deliver a series of projects ahead of 2028, and there are a few initiatives that are innovative and different from other urban parks' transformations, notes MPC's president and CEO Shellye Arnold.

The Land Bridge

Photo courtesy of MPC

A big part of Memorial Park's transformation is restoring the park to native species and ecosystems.

"We're taking ball fields, parking lots, and roads and converting them back to what was here — native wetland coastal prairie," Arnold says. "This serves important stormwater purposes."

In order to connect two native coastal prairie lands on either side of Memorial Drive, MPC is building a unique 30-foot-high land bridge the size of three-and-a-half football fields. The space will be large enough that you don't even realize you're standing over a busy street, Arnold says.

The prairies will serve an important purpose for rainwater collection — a growing need within the city of Houston.

"We're channeling [rainwater] into this prairie where some of it can be absorbed, cleansed, slowed down," says Arnold. "And then what doesn't get slowed down and absorbed can flow through the prairie [on the other side], which is even bigger."

The Land Bridge also serves another purpose that park goers have wanted, Arnold says: Connectivity.

"[They] want access across the Memorial Drive — [they] want to safe access, and so this is the response. It's a pretty bold and visionary response," Arnold says.

BioCycling

Photo courtesy of MPC

In 2011, a major drought decimated the park and areas saw losses of 50 to even 90 percent of the canopy of trees. MPC and its team saved what could be saved, and the rest is serving a new purpose to the park.

"We took the trees that we lost on the drought that people felt such a tremendous loss for and ground them all up, and they are in a biocycle in a two-acre area in the back of the park," Arnold says.

The soil created — some of which includes manure from the animals at the Houston Zoo — has already been used on some plants in the park, and Arnold says those plants are thriving.

"It's cool that those those trees are giving life to the park," Arnold says.

Invasive species of trees that are plucked from out of the park are also being ground up and used in the same way.

"There isn't anything this big like this in an urban park setting like this kind of recycling effort," she says.

The biocycling process is scalable too.

"We could open this up to other organizations," Arnold says. "It's so much better ecologically to take trees and grind them up and use it inside the space rather than haul them out to landfill way outside of town and dump them."

The benefit to the program is that MPC can retain some of the soil it produces for these other organizations and use it on site.

Biodiversity initiatives and research

Photo courtesy of MPC

When putting the plans in place, MPC and its partners called on 25 of the best ecologists, as well as 50 more park and other types of consultants specializing in everything from insects and wildlife to prairies and trees.

Just as the Land Bridge is creating new prairie space, other initiatives throughout the park will be focused on eliminating invasive species and bringing back the natural ecosystem of the park.

The Easter Glades project, which is set to deliver next year, will have a habitat for fish, and will not allow any fishing or boating. Carolyn White, conservation director at MPC, is working with the Texas Wildlife Association to bring in the right species of fish.

Arnold says that MPC works with other organizations in an innovative way to bring native plants into MPC, since the park has the space for these organizations to use to cultivate and propagate plants.

"They bring their native plants and they grow them with their volunteers, and they leave us a little bit here," Arnold says. "We could never buy enough native plants to go inside this park."

Memorial Park Conservancy is gearing up to unveil one if its first projects within its 10-year master plan redevelopment. Photo courtesy of MPC

Memorial Park Conservancy plans to deliver its first project of its master plan redevelopment next year

Coming soon

Memorial Park Conservancy has until 2028 to deliver on its master plan redevelopment project, but if MPC president and CEO Shellye Arnold has anything to say about it, the plan will be completed way ahead of that.

The project is a collaborative effort between MPC, Uptown Houston TIRZ, and Houston Parks and Recreation Department to redevelop the 1,500-acre park. In 2011, a major drought decimated the park and areas saw losses of 50 to even 90 percent of the canopy of trees.

"As tragic as it was, it made people take action," says Arnold.

Following the drought, these organizations looked to the people to see what was needed and wanted by the 3 million visitors and residents of the 170 ZIP codes that frequent the park annually.

"There was a huge outcry to do something," Arnold says. "That something became an effort to define the future of the park in a way that would be powerful, bold, thoughtful, innovative, and very resilient. It would consider Houstonians of the future and Houstonians today. It would consider soils, storm water treatment, the wildlife, and what people want."

When putting the plans in place, MPC and its partners called on 25 of the best ecologists, as well as 50 more park and other types of consultants specializing in everything from insects and wildlife to prairies and trees.

The overall funding plan is a total of $205 million — MPC itself has a capital campaign goal of $50 million — with $32 million to go. A $70 million donation from the Kinder Foundation is the most significant contribution within the fundraising efforts. The foundation approached MPC asking to help contribute to the most transformative project in the master plan, Arnold says, and so they suggested the Eastern Glades, a park within a park and the first project within the master plan to deliver.

MPC expects the Eastern Glades to open next summer — and much of the construction has already been completed. The area will be a 100-acre park within a park with wetlands, a man-made pond, 9 acres of picnic space, and three picnic pavilions.

Eastern Glades

Photo courtesy of MPC

"The full 100-acre Eastern Glades project will provide an amenity that we do not have right now," says Arnold in a release, "a place to put down a blanket and read a book, relax on a park bench, or go for a leisurely walk and just enjoy being outdoors."

In addition to the Eastern Glades, the park will also reopen some relocated ballparks next year.

After next year, the MPC and its master plan partners will deliver a slew of other projects on a rolling basis.

Here are some other exciting ones you can expect in the next few years:

Running Complex

Photo courtesy of MPC

Running is such an important part of Memorial Park, Arnold says, citing the Seymour Lieberman's millions of annual visitors. The $19 million running complex is expected to deliver in 2022.

Memorial Groves

Photo courtesy of MPC

There's a section of Memorial Park that has more history than the rest of the land. The master plan includes a 100-acre, $21.5 million memorial for the fallen soldiers from Camp Logan that's expected to deliver in 2022.

"There were a handful of WWI training camps — this was one of the sites that was chosen," Arnold says. "We have archeological features in the park."

The memorial will feature native pine trees that will be planted in a formation that looks as if they are standing in attention.

The Land Bridge

Photo courtesy of MPC

Possibly the most striking of all the plans is the Land Bridge. The project will connect each of the prairie wetlands on either side of Memorial Drive with a 30-foot-high arch of land. The space will be large enough that you don't even realize you're standing over a busy street, Arnold says. The Land Bridge is planned to deliver in 2022.

Stormwater management

Photo courtesy of Mir

An ongoing part of the transformation will be stormwater management upgrades. MPC has budgeted $3 million to this asset of the renovation. While a part of the plan is tributaries for run-off water, bringing back prairie and wetlands will do a great deal to help abate stormwater.

"We're taking ball fields, parking lots, and roads and converting them back to what was here — native wetland coastal prairie," Arnold says. "This serves important stormwater purposes."

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Houston company's sustainable oil product reaches milestone production capacity 5 years early

overachieving

Houston-based biotech company Cemvita has achieved a key production goal five years ahead of schedule.

Thanks to technology advancements, Cemvita is now capable of generating 500 barrels per day of sustainable oil from carbon waste at its first commercial plant. As a result, Cemvita has quadrupled output at the Houston plant. The company had planned to reach this milestone in 2029.

Cemvita, founded in 2017, says this achievement paves the way for increased production capacity, improved operational efficiency, and an elevated advantage in the sustainable oil market.

“What’s so amazing about synthetic biology is that humans are just scratching the surface of what’s possible,” says Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita. “Our focus on the first principles has allowed us to design and create new biotech more cheaply and faster than ever before.”

The production achievement follows Cemvita’s recent breakthrough in development of a solvent-free extraction bioprocess.

In 2023, United Airlines agreed to buy up to one billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel from Cemvita’s first full-scale plant over the course of 20 years.

Cemvita’s investors include the UAV Sustainable Flight Fund, an investment arm of Chicago-based United; Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based energy company Occidental Petroleum; and Japanese equipment and machinery manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

Tech disruptions sparked by Texas co.'s update highlight the fragility of globally connected technology

Airlines, banks, hospitals and other risk-averse organizations around the world chose cybersecurity company CrowdStrike to protect their computer systems from hackers and data breaches.

But all it took was one faulty CrowdStrike software update to cause global disruptions Friday that grounded flights, knocked banks and media outlets offline, and disrupted hospitals, retailers and other services.

“This is a function of the very homogenous technology that goes into the backbone of all of our IT infrastructure,” said Gregory Falco, an assistant professor of engineering at Cornell University. “What really causes this mess is that we rely on very few companies, and everybody uses the same folks, so everyone goes down at the same time.”

The trouble with the update issued by CrowdStrike and affecting computers running Microsoft's Windows operating system was not a hacking incident or cyberattack, according to CrowdStrike, which apologized and said a fix was on the way.

But it wasn't an easy fix. It required “boots on the ground” to remediate, said Gartner analyst Eric Grenier.

“The fix is working, it’s just a very manual process and there’s no magic key to unlock it,” Grenier said. “I think that is probably what companies are struggling with the most here.”

While not everyone is a client of CrowdStrike and its platform known as Falcon, it is one of the leading cybersecurity providers, particularly in transportation, healthcare, banking and other sectors that have a lot at stake in keeping their computer systems working.

“They’re usually risk-averse organizations that don’t want something that’s crazy innovative, but that can work and also cover their butts when something goes wrong. That’s what CrowdStrike is,” Falco said. “And they’re looking around at their colleagues in other sectors and saying, ‘Oh, you know, this company also uses that, so I’m gonna need them, too.’”

Worrying about the fragility of a globally connected technology ecosystem is nothing new. It's what drove fears in the 1990s of a technical glitch that could cause chaos at the turn of the millennium.

“This is basically what we were all worried about with Y2K, except it’s actually happened this time,” wrote Australian cybersecurity consultant Troy Hunt on the social platform X.

Across the world Friday, affected computers were showing the “blue screen of death” — a sign that something went wrong with Microsoft's Windows operating system.

But what's different now is “that these companies are even more entrenched,” Falco said. "We like to think that we have a lot of players available. But at the end of the day, the biggest companies use all the same stuff.”

Founded in 2011 and publicly traded since 2019, CrowdStrike describes itself in its annual report to financial regulators as having “reinvented cybersecurity for the cloud era and transformed the way cybersecurity is delivered and experienced by customers.” It emphasizes its use of artificial intelligence in helping to keep pace with adversaries. It reported having 29,000 subscribing customers at the start of the year.

The Austin, Texas-based firm is one of the more visible cybersecurity companies in the world and spends heavily on marketing, including Super Bowl ads. At cybersecurity conferences, it's known for large booths displaying massive action-figure statues representing different state-sponsored hacking groups that CrowdStrike technology promises to defend against.

CrowdStrike CEO George Kurtz is among the most highly compensated in the world, recording more than $230 million in total compensation in the last three years. Kurtz is also a driver for a CrowdStrike-sponsored car racing team.

After his initial statement about the problem was criticized for lack of contrition, Kurtz apologized in a later social media post Friday and on NBC's “Today Show.”

“We understand the gravity of the situation and are deeply sorry for the inconvenience and disruption,” he said on X.

Richard Stiennon, a cybersecurity industry analyst, said this was a historic mistake by CrowdStrike.

“This is easily the worst faux pas, technical faux pas or glitch of any security software provider ever,” said Stiennon, who has tracked the cybersecurity industry for 24 years.

While the problem is an easy technical fix, he said, it’s impact could be long-lasting for some organizations because of the hands-on work needed to fix each affected computer. “It’s really, really difficult to touch millions of machines. And people are on vacation right now, so, you know, the CEO will be coming back from his trip to the Bahamas in a couple of weeks and he won’t be able to use his computers.”

Stiennon said he did not think the outage revealed a bigger problem with the cybersecurity industry or CrowdStrike as a company.

“The markets are going to forgive them, the customers are going to forgive them, and this will blow over,” he said.

Forrester analyst Allie Mellen credited CrowdStrike for clearly telling customers what they need to do to fix the problem. But to restore trust, she said there will need to be a deeper look at what occurred and what changes can be made to prevent it from happening again.

“A lot of this is likely to come down to the testing and software development process and the work that they’ve put into testing these kinds of updates before deployment,” Mellen said. “But until we see the complete retrospective, we won’t know for sure what the failure was.”

Houston engineers develop breakthrough device to advance spinal cord treatment

future of health

A team of Rice University engineers has developed an implantable probe over a hundred times smaller than the width of a hair that aims to help develop better treatments for spinal cord disease and injury.

Detailed in a recent study published in Cell Reports, the probe or sensor, known as spinalNET, is used to explore how neurons in the spinal cord process sensation and control movement, according to a statement from Rice. The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, Rice, the California-based Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and the philanthropic Mary K. Chapman Foundation based in Oklahoma.

The soft and flexible sensor was used to record neuronal activity in freely moving mice with high resolution for multiple days. Historically, tracking this level of activity has been difficult for researchers because the spinal cord and its neurons move so much during normal activity, according to the team.

“We developed a tiny sensor, spinalNET, that records the electrical activity of spinal neurons as the subject performs normal activity without any restraint,” Yu Wu, a research scientist at Rice and lead author of the study said in a statement. “Being able to extract such knowledge is a first but important step to develop cures for millions of people suffering from spinal cord diseases.”

The team says that before now the spinal cord has been considered a "black box." But the device has already helped the team uncover new findings about the body's rhythmic motor patterns, which drive walking, breathing and chewing.

Lan Luan (from left), Yu Wu, and Chong Xie are working on the breakthrough device. Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

"Some (spinal neurons) are strongly correlated with leg movement, but surprisingly, a lot of neurons have no obvious correlation with movement,” Wu said in the statement. “This indicates that the spinal circuit controlling rhythmic movement is more complicated than we thought.”

The team said they hope to explore these findings further and aim to use the technology for additional medical purposes.

“In addition to scientific insight, we believe that as the technology evolves, it has great potential as a medical device for people with spinal cord neurological disorders and injury,” Lan Luan, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice and a corresponding author on the study, added in the statement.

Rice researchers have developed several implantable, minimally invasive devices to address health and mental health issues.

In the spring, the university announced that the United States Department of Defense had awarded a four-year, $7.8 million grant to the Texas Heart Institute and a Rice team led by co-investigator Yaxin Wang to continue to break ground on a novel left ventricular assist device (LVAD) that could be an alternative to current devices that prevent heart transplantation.

That same month, the university shared news that Professor Jacob Robinson had published findings on minimally invasive bioelectronics for treating psychiatric conditions. The 9-millimeter device can deliver precise and programmable stimulation to the brain to help treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.