PARD Releases Draft Long-Range Plan

“Our Parks, Our Future” charts course through 2028

Pease Park (photo by John Anderson)

The city’s Parks and Recreation Department released the first draft of its new long-range plan on Tuesday, July 30, following a series of community meetings to gather feedback on what Austinites want most to improve in their parks. Residents are encouraged to check out the plan for themselves and leave comments through Sept. 9.

The long-range PARD plan, called “Our Parks, Our Future,” outlines goals for the upcoming decade through 2028, the centennial of Austin’s park system. Those goals include increasing the amount of and multipurpose use of parkland, improving accessibility, improving non-natural (urban) public spaces, and increasing and changing programs to meet the demands of the community.

The process to update PARD’s previous long-range blueprint, which was adopted in 2010, began last year. Beginning in November, the department and its consultants held 17 community meetings throughout the city. The last of these took place July 25 at the Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex in East Austin and July 27 at the Zilker Botanical Garden. Kim McKnight of PARD said these high-traffic locations were chosen to reach residents who would not otherwise have time to attend a meeting. At the Millennium, the project team set up large displays outlining the plan alongside free snacks, coloring pages, and a game of cornhole, encouraging visitors to add their input on sticky notes.

Some of the major elements of the plan include adding from 4,000 to 8,000 acres of new parkland (equivalent of up to 22 Zilkers) and more off-leash areas for pet owners, expanding the Historic Preservation and Heritage Tourism Program, and increase the number of park-aligned farmers markets and community gardens. Detailed recommendations drill down into the specific park needs of six Austin regions – north, east, southeast, southwest, west, and central – based both on current and potential PARD assets and the demographics of each area. “Different populations have different parkland needs,” McKnight said. “It’s a very customized plan that really speaks to the differences in the area and the people and we’re really proud of it.”

With the city facing a projected $58 million budget shortfall due to the property tax revenue caps adopted by the Texas Legislature earlier this year, McKnight said the department will have to be creative in how it funds these goals. At the Millennium, residents raised concerns over the cost of implementation; McKnight and her colleagues said PARD will prioritize projects depending on each year’s budget and have considered different fundraising options, but have not estimated how much it all will cost. “‘That’s just not what this plan is trying to take on,” said John Gibbs of WRT, the lead consultant for the plan, during his presentation. “The plan is trying to establish what are our priorities, what is that vision. It will obviously be a lot of hard work on the dollars front, absolutely.”

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