A Parting Plan for Austin's Downtown Parks
Dunkerley pushes new plan to preserve Austin's open spaces
As a parting gift to Austin citizens, retiring Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerley will place on the council agenda today (Thursday) a resolution to create a comprehensive Downtown Open Spaces Plan. It notes that the denser our urban core gets, the more precious and valuable its open spaces become. The resolution directs the city manager to find funding for the plan (possibly tapping the hotel occupancy tax), explore incorporating it into ROMA Austin's work on the Downtown Austin Plan, and assign staff to execute the finished product. If funded in the city's fiscal year 2008-09 budget, work could begin in October.
Austin's historic squares – Republic, Wooldridge, and Brush – long have needed more funding and attention from the city. So have its Downtown waterways, Waller Creek and Shoal Creek, and the unrealized potential of their greenbelt trails. Working valiantly to fill the love-and-money gap have been the Downtown Austin Alliance and the Austin Parks Foundation, which expect to partner with the city on implementing the Open Spaces Plan. Also supportive are the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association, Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Heritage Society of Austin.
A true civic embarrassment of wasted resources is Brush Square, a small green space at Fourth and Trinity that is little better than a vacant lot surrounded by high rises. (Walking past it during the Congress for the New Urbanism, CNU founder Andrés Duany pointed at Brush Square and asked, "What is that?" This reporter responded, "Um, it's a public space.") Recent attention on Brush Square precipitated the push for a comprehensive plan addressing all open spaces Downtown.
Dunkerley, of course, emphasizes the economic development and tourism industry benefits of park and trail improvements. The resolution notes, "The area around Brush Square is the hub of our tourism industry." It's also where Red Line rail commuters will disembark. The DAA notes: "There is a 20% positive impact on property values for properties facing a park. In addition, vital, attractive parks enhance the ability to attract companies (particularly those involving high numbers of knowledge workers, or the 'creative class')." The DAA recently contracted with Ginny Sanders Creative to expand Downtown parks programming to make them lively people places.
Dunkerley is handing the get-it-done baton to Council Member Sheryl Cole, who will pursue the Downtown Open Spaces Plan in tandem with her leadership role on the Waller Creek District.