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From Covert to Overt
A Houston clinic uses stormwater detention to make a beautiful public environment- despite resistance.
By Kim Sorvig

Understand two things about Houston: It floods, and it has no zoning. Add those factors together, and you have a city where flood control is ubiquitous but piecemeal, well funded but seldom beautiful.

For longtime Houston landscape architect Scott Slaney, ASLA, of The SWA Group, one response is to play Robin Hood. At Houston's Kelsey-Seybold Clinic, Slaney created a multifunctional landscape by stealing from the rich (the stormwater engineering budget) and giving, if not to the poor, to the public.

The result is a carefully crafted symbolic landscape that speaks of healing and nature while meeting stormwater engineering requirements. "Infrastructure," says Slaney's SWA colleague Kevin Shanley, ASLA, "needs to be more than single purpose. Instvvb ead of a big hole surrounded by chain link, Scott gave Kelsey-Seybold an entry space celebrating the storage of water." The project won a 2001 ASLA Merit Award.

For Slaney, a larger process is at work. He speaks with obvious enthusiasm of projects that are changing Houston's thinking about stormwater, reforestation, or downtown revitalization. "There's been a real mood at the grassroots level," he says, "to do public improvements that will make Houston a livable city."

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