In honor of the late George Mitchell’s birthday month of May, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on the impact and contributions of the founder and visionary of The Woodlands.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, George Mitchell began developing plans for a new hometown called, The Woodlands.
It was a vision of an all-encompassing, totally integrated community where residents could live, work, learn and play among a natural forested and preserved environment. For Mitchell, an oil entrepreneur and philanthropist, this intellectual concept was certainly considered risky – a master planned community situated approximately 27 miles north of downtown Houston in an outlying area with no schools, employment or shopping nearby, at the time.
“In the early years, Mr. Mitchell commissioned a small planning team to understand the ecology of the site, analyze the environmental characteristics of the land – the hydrology, soils, vegetation and wildlife – and then develop a community plan which responded to the environment,” said Robert Heineman, who recently retired as Vice President of Planning with The Howard Hughes Corporation after nearly 50 years. “Being a part of planning The Woodlands with many other talented professionals over the years, sharing and helping to achieve Mr. Mitchell’s dream, has truly been the experience of a lifetime!”
One of Mr. Mitchell’s main, non-negotiable objectives was to preserve not only the trees but also the native understory, particularly along the major roadways in The Woodlands. The natural forest environment would be the primary experience in The Woodlands.
Today, Howard Hughes continues his commitment to the environment and sustainability. An unprecedented 28% of The Woodlands is devoted to green space in its 151 parks, 220 miles of hike-and-bike trails, seven championship golf courses, open space and forest preserves. Also, The Woodlands provides 1½ jobs per household, a goal which was accomplished several years ago. In fact, more people commute into The Woodlands for work compared to residents leaving The Woodlands for employment.
“With the dream of Mr. Mitchell, stringent standards and guidelines were developed and applied consistently throughout The Woodlands,” noted Dan Kolkhorst, Vice President of Land Development for Howard Hughes. “His dream of a sustainable environment would transform into reality- landscaped parkways, office buildings and retailers, hidden behind the forest preserves.”
Mr. Mitchell envisioned a “complete” community with a vibrant Town Center where residents could live and work – one which would accommodate a mix of land uses needed for a successful downtown, including retail, office, urban residential, parks and civic uses such as the Pavilion, along with places to host special events so important to a community. His goal was to create a community which offered 1½ jobs per household.
George Mitchell’s vision became a reality when The Woodlands opened on October 19, 1974, with a symbolic ribbon-cutting from his wife, Cynthia Woods Mitchell. As for the dream of a pavilion, The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion opened in 1990 and is one of the top ranked amphitheaters in the world!
“If you reside, work in or visit The Woodlands, you appreciate George Mitchell’s essence and fortitude within the community,” explains Jim Carman, President of the Houston Region for Howard Hughes. “Howard Hughes is honored to carry the torch of his bold imagination for future generations to live, work, play, learn and discover here. We are proud to have established our headquarters in The Woodlands like many companies, and I personally am proud to call The Woodlands home.”
The Woodlands has been named the #1 Community to Live in America for the second consecutive year, 2022 and 2021, by Niche. The Woodlands is considered one of the most successful master planned communities in the nation and has received numerous accolades during its nearly five-decade tenure.
Cover photo courtesy of The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation.