With all of the cranes and construction going on downtown, you might not have noticed one of the biggest projects of them all.
Austin will soon be home to the largest urban creek renewal project in the country’s history. Waller Creek, which winds through downtown and connects to Lady Bird Lake, is set to be transformed into a chain of parks, part of a long-term revitalization project. [See more project details here.]
KUT spoke with Peter Mullan, CEO of the Waller Creek Conservancy, to learn more about the project and how the public can get involved in the planning.
What are the goals of this project?
First of all, we’re restoring what has been a degraded natural resource in the middle of the city. Over time, Waller Creek has been … sort of the back alley of downtown, but it's a living, breathing thing.
It’s a living, natural artery, and we’re looking to restore that natural artery and support it and make it sustainable for the long-term. I think we’re also trying to create what will become a beloved public space for all of Austin, and a place that people from all parts of the city will cherish for the rest of Austin’s history.
How will this development impact mobility in Austin?
Physically, Waller Creek terminates in Lady Bird Lake. It runs from the North side of downtown, running south, and terminates on the East side of downtown. So, the new Waller Creek will connect to the hike and bike trail around the lake. And, in that sense, it takes what is essentially a transportation infrastructure around the lake and then extends it up through the city … connecting UT to the lake and really all points in between and, frankly, neighborhoods east and west of it to places that currently don’t feel connected from a pedestrian’s point of view.
How is this going to be different than a project like, say, the San Antonio Riverwalk?
The earlier phases of [the Riverwalk] – and it’s had multiple iterations – but the earlier phases of it had a more commercial focus, and certainly more of a focus on tourism. And, I think for this project, our focus is really on restoring the natural environment and focusing on, 'How do you allow people to experience nature in the heart of the city?' There are so many studies and so much emerging research about the benefits to having a direct experience with nature as a part of your daily life. And – as Austin becomes increasingly dense, increasingly urban – these kinds of natural resources and having access to these natural resources is critical to its future.
What can we expect from these public information sessions?
This project is a public-private partnership between the Waller Creek Conservancy and the City of Austin, but really it’s a public project. It’s for the citizens, and these public projects do best and succeed when they have the broadest possible participation from the public. Not just in their use, but in the making of them. So, we’re really eager to get out into the city – and not just in downtown, but all over the city – and to engage people and engage communities, tell them about the project, but also hear from them. [To learn] what are they interested in about this project, and to learn about how they can be a part of the making of it.
There is a public meeting tonight at 6 p.m. at The Thinkery. Another meeting will be held tomorrow at 6 p.m. at the Ann Richards School. For more information about upcoming public forums, visit here.