What Was Mitchell's Vision?
George Mitchell’s vision for The Woodlands included blending nature with modern development practices. He called for a complete community with a major employment center or Town Center surrounded by residential villages. Today The Woodlands continues to thrive as one of the top master planned communities and stays true to Mitchell’s vision - to create an exceptional environment where people “live, work, play and learn”.
Since its founding in 1974, The Woodlands has steadily grown into a thriving community in which over 115,000 people live and roughly 64,000 are employed. Amazingly enough, through all of this development The Woodlands has managed to maintain a land ratio of 28% green space (that’s 5% higher than George Mitchell’s original vision for The Woodlands intended). This combination of urban development and conservation of the natural environment has developed The Woodlands into one of the most highly rated places to live and work in America, making its homes highly sought after and increasingly more valuable. With one of the lowest crime rates in the US and relatively low tax rates in comparison to similarly sized cities in Texas, there is not much for residents of The Woodlands to complain about…that is besides traffic.
As increasingly more people begin to live and work in The Woodlands every day, it makes sense that the roads are becoming more and more congested. With The Woodlands approaching buildout capacity, Montgomery County Precinct Three’s commissioner James Noack hired third party Brown and Gay Engineers to conduct multiple studies on the flow of traffic in and around The Woodlands, and how it could be improved. Commissioner Noack’s South County Mobility Study (Sept 2015) discovered that many of the main thoroughfares in and around The Woodlands are experiencing traffic at a level that exceeds the capacity of the existing improvements. Within The Woodlands, the required improvements including grade separations at major intersections and pavement widening are in the plan and can be accommodated within the existing right-of-way dedicated to the county, but have not yet been implemented due to lack of funding. However, the existing interchanges along IH 45 at Woodlands Parkway/Robinson Road and Lake Woodlands Drive which are outside The Woodlands are rural designs which have become obsolete as the area has developed into an urban area. The study warns, “Inadequate transportation facilities and services in the SCMP study area threaten the quality of life enjoyed by current residents as well as [The Woodlands’] continued economic growth.”
We support local artists and arts organizations and advocate for our common needs and interests. The Woodlands Township’s consideration of a Cultural Arts Center is an example of a project that we wholly support to provide a needed physical hub for arts in our community. A Cultural Arts Center has always been a part of the master plan for our community and according to the latest two surveys, the residents support it. The Cultural Arts Center currently under consideration would contain mid-size and small performance and rehearsal spaces as well as potentially a non-profit gallery, exhibition and teaching spaces, digital media arts spaces and programs and a healing arts space. It would not compete with the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, which accommodates large performances.
Our tagline is “Because Art Matters” and we believe that art enriches individuals and communities. No great civilization has ever existed without art. By enhancing the quality of life, arts help attract and keep residents and businesses in our area. A Cultural Arts Center would spur additional retail activity including restaurants and hotels and also increase sales and hotel tax revenues. For these same reasons we support a Cultural Arts District or cultural tourism in The Woodlands.
Township Board Chairman Bunch spoke about his vision for the community, saying “I want our township to be an example for all the cities in Texas, our country, and the world as well.” The success of The Woodlands is easily summed up but not so easily done, Bunch said. It’s all about “the quality of life, our first-class amenities, our low tax rates, a vibrant local economy and what I call intentional investment," he said.
That “intentional investment” includes expansion of the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion – making it the number two venue of its kind on Earth – as well as the expansion of The Woodlands Mall, the largest generator of sales taxes in the township. Bunch also pointed out that when residents were asked what words accurately describe The Woodlands, the number one response was "beautiful."
Mr. Mitchell’s goal to have 1.5 jobs per household was rather unique for a suburban community. Certainly, as an economic developer, we see the positive impact of having an abundance of jobs for our residents and not be a typical “bedroom community”. The vision of Mr. Mitchell’s "Live, Work, Play and Learn" is still the essence of our community.
In our 19 years of existence, we have held true to our mission of job growth and capital investment in our community. We offer all the available resources in The Woodlands area to help facilitate a company’s move or expansion to our area, including site selection, business incentives and workforce recruitment and training to name a few.
People helping people is what has always been the distinguishable trait of The Woodlands since its inception. When someone falls down, there is always someone there to help. A “spirit of generosity” runs throughout every facet of our community. And I’m exceedingly proud of this.
Since the time of its founding decades ago, The Woodlands has continuously embraced people of all ages, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. We have fostered mentorship opportunities so that our young people can learn from the best. Every person is worthy and unique which applies whether a person’s eventual path is to move away or stay here and raise a family.
How is all this possible? The founder of The Woodlands, George P. Mitchell, had a clear vision for the way in which this community would grow. It’s as if nature and development have joined forces to give life to the best place to raise your family in Texas. One day years ago, Mr. Mitchell and I were having breakfast, and I remarked that when I drive in his wonderful community all I can see are trees. He candidly told me, “That’s how it is supposed to be.”
What is the vision?
From its inception in 1974, The Woodlands has pioneered the blending of nature with modern development practices, creating a new standard in the quality of community development. One of the original goals of The Woodlands plan was to maintain the natural forested environment through the development process. This has been accomplished through several means:
- Maintain approximately 28% of the community’s land area in forest preserves, parks, lakes, golf courses, and other types of open space.
- Maintain forest preserves along major roadways including major thoroughfares and collector streets.
- Maintain the greenbelts along natural streams
- Construct open swales instead of concrete-lined channels.
- Establish forest preserve building setback lines around the perimeter of properties.
- Establish landscape standards within properties such as within parking lots and around buildings.
- Develop maximum land coverage percentages for different land uses and locations.
Our community is going through some changes and challenges that have caused disharmony. I understand that and respect those who might not agree with everything I believe. But if we are all up front about where we really stand on the issues, we can come together and find common ground no matter how difficult the situation might be.
I think Mr. Mitchell would be proud if we could do that within the culture of respect he worked so hard to cultivate decades ago.
We knew the best place for it to be would be in the wooded area, north of Houston. And so we selected an area 25 miles from downtown Houston, to start putting the block together.
...Ian McHarg did wonderful work studying the environmental issues on the whole 25,000 acres. We did such a good job that HUD then used the plan that we had as an example for other projects in the country. The concept would be 7 villages, totaling 125,000 people.
I also think understanding Mr. Mitchell’s HUD submission in 1972 is an important reference in understanding his vision. This document presents a very comprehensive view of his vision at the very beginning of the journey. When I read this document, I am amazed at how relevant his vision is still today.
The Woodlands was never envisioned as the typical residential bedroom community. It has always been planned as a “complete” community with a major employment center where people can “live, work, play, and learn.”
The Woodlands was always envisioned as a “complete” community with a major employment center where one can “live, work, play and learn.” The economics of land development dictates, with rare exceptions, “rooftops first” followed by commercial development and employment. Therefore, the residential villages developed first in a counter-clockwise fashion around the future Town Center, in order to provide the supporting population and facilities needed to develop a true downtown.
The Town Center has always been viewed to be different from the residential villages. The residential villages are designed to have a small town feel in a forested setting. The residential neighborhoods, park and pathway system, schools, institutional uses, and village centers are designed to accommodate most of a family’s daily needs within a 1 to 2 mile radius.
- 1985 Montgomery County Major Thoroughfare Plan
- Articles of Incorporation for The Woodlands Religious Community (Interfaith)
- The Woodlands Community Facts
- 1972 Project Agreement Between The United States of America and The Woodlands Development Corporation
- The Woodlands Non-Residential Square Footage - Ultimate Projection vs Actual
- The Woodlands Employees - Ultimate Projection vs Actual
- The Woodlands Residential Square Footage - Ultimate Projection vs Actual
- 1990 Interview with George Mitchell
- 2008 Interview With George Mitchell
- The Woodlands Road Mileage - Ultimate Projection vs Actual
- The Woodlands Pathways - Ultimate Projection vs Actual
- The Woodlands Population - Ultimate Projection vs Actual
- Summary of 2015 Accomplishments
- The Woodlands Township Strategic Plan