The Woodlands is the largest community in Montgomery County. With River Oaks in Houston and Lake Jackson in Brazoria County it ranks as one of the three most historically significant ventures in twentieth-century garden suburban planning undertaken along the Texas Gulf Coast. Located thirty miles northwest of downtown Houston, The Woodlands was developed by Houston oilman George P. Mitchell. Its design was based on an ecological vision of environmentally responsive planning by Scottish-born Philadelphia landscape architect Ian McHarg, whose firm, Wallace McHarg Roberts and Todd, collaborated with William Pereira and Associates of Los Angeles; Richard P. Browne of Columbia, Maryland; and Houston architect Robert J. Hartsfield, Mitchell's in-house design consultant. Mitchell began acquiring large tracts of forestland in southern Montgomery County near Spring Creek in 1964. The Woodlands was one of fifteen new communities across the nation backed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Development's Title VII program in the early 1970s.
George Mitchell's ambition for The Woodlands was that it be an antidote to suburban sprawl, a model that other Houston developers could follow. Organized in nine residential villages and with office, retail, and institutional sectors, The Woodlands is strictly zoned and totally car dependent, although it contains a one-hundred-forty-five-mile network of pedestrian trails and has public transit service to various Houston employment centers. Yet it did not set an example that other Houston developers followed.
What is conspicuously missing at The Woodlands is architectural excellence. Public buildings were often well designed but housing was strictly industry standard, so that The Woodlands is indistinguishable from less ambitious Houston developments.
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