For the last
45 years, Robert Heineman has been instrumental in planning many
aspects of The Woodlands that are major fixtures in the community today.
"The Woodlands was a real
challenge, dealing with all these environmental factors and how to
structure a city out of a forest,” Heineman said. "That’s what the
challenge has been: dealing with each element that comprises a city.”
Sutton, co-president of The Woodlands Development Company, said
Heineman has been a vital part of the planning and development of The
Woodlands since its inception.
is a true visionary of The Woodlands, helping to shape the community
from preliminary drawings to one of the most successful master-planned
communities in the nation and the hometown we all enjoy today,” he said.
"He stays true to George Mitchell’s vision, and in my view, is the
conscience of The Woodlands for development.”
who had interests in art, science and math from a young age, first
learned about planning and urban design while studying architecture at
"We had an
urban design project under [architect] Denise Scott Venturi at Rice, and
I found it fascinating,” he said. "I became interested in not just
individual buildings, but groups of buildings and cities.”
graduation in the early 1970s, Heineman enrolled in graduate school at
Harvard University to further his knowledge of architecture. It was then
he first heard about The Woodlands.
parents sent me an article in the paper about George Mitchell and his
plans for The Woodlands, a new community outside Houston,” Heineman
said. "I wrote [the company] asking if they were interested in an intern
and they said, ‘Sure, come on down.’”
arrived in Houston to work for the Mitchell Energy and Development
Corporation in 1971, three years before The Woodlands opened.
summer, the planning staff was two of us—Bob Hartsfield and me,”
Heineman said. "We were beginning to put together the plan for The
Woodlands that would be submitted to [the Department of Housing and
Urban Development] as part of the new communities program.”
began working full time for The Woodlands in 1972 after graduating from
Harvard. He was charged with helping to fulfill Mitchell’s vision for
The Woodlands: maintaining the image and qualities of the natural
environment after development.
"One way [we
achieved the vision] was creating forested preserves along major
roadways and collectors,” Heineman said. "If you do that, your major
thoroughfares are parkways rather than shopping centers.”
was also responsible for writing the first residential standards in the
1970s and coordinated the first commercial standards for the community
as well. Working with businesses could sometimes be a challenge,
Heineman said, since they were used to having large signs and a location
visible from the street. Such was the case when McDonald’s wanted to
open a restaurant in the Village of Panther Creek.
told [the owner people] probably won’t see the building, but there will
be a sign,” Heineman said. "He finally agreed to do it, and within a
short amount of time his McDonald’s was the second-highest grossing
McDonald’s in the Houston area.”
played a large role in the development of Town Center, which he first
sketched out on an index card in 1972. The 44-year-old drawing mirrors a
close resemblance to what has become Town Center today with both
residential and office space depicted, along with a transit corridor in
the middle, which became the Woodlands Waterway.
the beginning The Woodlands wasn’t designed like a bedroom community,”
Heineman said. "It was designed as a major employment center where you
could live and work. In that respect, it was different from Kingwood and
Clear Lake and other developments in Houston that were
although Mitchell would have been successful building the Village of
Grogan’s Mill where the Town Center is today, it would have eliminated
the potential for a downtown area.
Town Center—the hole in the donut—was held out despite a lot of folks
saying, ‘That land is so accessible, you should be developing it soon,’”
he said. "It would have been most economical to develop and build a
road off the freeway and put a supermarket where Anadarko is now. That
was the philosophy back then: to minimize upfront costs.”
completion of The Woodlands Mall in 1994 marked the beginning of
commercial growth and bringing jobs to The Woodlands, Heineman said.
However, it took about two decades for employment centers to take shape.
talked about The Woodlands being south of Dallas back then,” he said.
"It was a long way away [from Houston]. The jobs and commercial
development followed the residential development. You had to create the
Since the early days of The Woodlands, employees
have traveled across the country and world to study similar
developments and learn from them and apply those concepts to The
"We’ve never rested on our laurels by saying
that what we did back in ’72 was the epitome and we should never
deviate from that,” Heineman said. "We always try to improve and learn
from what works and learn from others. A city is always changing, it
never stays still.”