Introducing Discovery Green’s new playground

After a long wait, Discovery Green is celebrating the opening of a more than $2.3 million dollar renovation of the park’s popular John P. McGovern Playground. While the upgrade was complete in August 2020, COVID restrictions required the playground to remain closed to visitors – until now.

While construction was underway, members of the Kinder team spoke with park president Barry Mandel about this exciting project. Mandel shared his insights on the renovation, COVID-19’s impact on the project and park use, and the meaningful ways Discovery Green creates a space which embraces Houston’s diversity and sense of community. Now that Houstonians can officially visit and enjoy the playground for themselves, it seems a great time to look back on how it all came to be.

What was the purpose of this reconstruction? 

John P. McGovern Playground; Photo by Sheilla Wright, Courtesy of Discovery Green

As shown by the 30,000 visitors that attended the park on opening day, Discovery Green was much more successful than ever anticipated. Due to the significant number of attendees visiting the park each day, the equipment in the playground became worn out. Furthermore, when it was originally built, many of the hotels and buildings surrounding the park today were nonexistent. The demand for a new playground was continuing to rise as new construction brought more people to the city and downtown Houston.

What notable features can park users look forward to when they visit next?

The new construction offers many features and benefits that the original playground did not include. To begin, the playground will be separated into two different play areas, which will be divided by age group. One section is designed for children five-12 years of age, and the other area is designed for children five years of age and younger. Second, a small hill was added, which was inspired by the large hill on the other side of Discovery Green which is often used by children to roll down and have fun. At first, this hill was built as a placeholder for whatever was going to be built across from it, but we decided to keep it since it turned out to be so popular.

Did you receive any feedback or input from park users that influenced any aspects of the redesign?

The Houston community’s feedback had a significant effect on the design of the playground. Designers listened to what the community was looking for in a new playground, and they worked to create a playground that pleased all park visitors. Discovery Green always listens to community feedback whenever we do something new. In fact, the name Discovery Green came out of a community naming contest.

Where did the funding to construct the playground come from?

In order to fund the reconstruction of the playground, Discovery Green turned to the foundations that helped bring the park together in the early 2000s. Upon explaining the need for a new playground, foundations, such as the Kinder Foundation, were happy to help.

What was the design process and timeline for the renovation?

John P. McGovern Playground, Mendez Play Space; Photo by Sheilla Wright, Courtesy of Discovery Green

Teams at Discovery Green worked on designs for the new playground for about two years, with the actual construction beginning in August 2019. The long design and construction process can be attributed to the necessity for permits as well as a few issues that were presented regarding water retention.

Who was the leading designer of the new construction? 

In an effort to maintain a sense of continuity throughout the park, we made the easy decision to work with Hargreaves Jones (formerly Hargreaves Associates) and local landscape designer Lauren Griffith for the new playground, who were both original to the project. Together, they were able to design something new while connecting with the old.

Are there other updates taking place in Discovery Green right now to share?

Another important addition currently being made to the park is the installation of more lights. With more patrons visiting in the evening, there’s a necessity for a greater number of lights throughout the park. Safety is always a priority.

We are also replanting several gardens that were damaged by the winter storm and freeze in February. It will take some time for the “green” in Discovery Green to recover. As part of our spring campaign, we’re raising money to help regrow these gardens. You can find more information at

What is your favorite part about Discovery Green and why?

The way the community values the place. Despite 25,000 protestors meeting at the park on their march towards city hall for the Black Lives Matter Movement last summer, no part of the park was damaged or destroyed. More recently we saw the same respect for the park during the Stop Asian Hate rally that was held at the park. Discovery Green and all parks have the ability to bring a community together despite differences in race, gender, background, and other factors that tend to separate people. It’s a vital role that places like Discovery Green play in our city.