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Austinites discuss creating great public spaces
Monday, June 29, 2009 by Michael Mmay
The Austin chapter of the Congress for New Urbanism held a forum last week where city leaders (including Council Members Randi Shade, Chris Riley and Bill Spelman), academics, planners and activists discussed ways to create new public open space in Austin, and to make the ones we have more interconnected and user-friendly.
There’s a difference between protecting open space and creating public space, a point that is vividly illustrated by
The forum explored other cities, like
Participants at the forum have high hopes that the Waller Creek project could be the kind of “great public space” participants are looking for. Dave Anderson, a member of the Waller Creek Citizen’s Advisory Committee and the Planning Commission, painted a picture of Waller Creek as a sort of central park for
Bobby Garza, an aide in Mike Martinez office and member of the Live Music Task Force, said the city needs to think strategically about ways to make that happen. “The mayor of
And public space doesn’t just have to be downtown. Steve Zettner, a member of Sustainable Neighborhoods of Central North Austin, is trying to create public space in his car-dependent neighborhood. His group did a study, and found that less than 2 percent of Central North Austin streets are pedestrian friendly. They are starting, one step at a time. The group has identified a trail that follows a gully through the neighborhood, and they would like to make it safer and more appealing for families to walk along. It passes by the library, grocery stores and possible transit hub. “We have had very little opposition so far,” Zettner said. “We hope to get neighborhood groups with us, and then we’ll present our vision to the city.”
Zettner said he’s feeling optimistic about the project. “I’m seeing change in attitude in city leaders over last 6 months or year,” he said. “I’m feeling a lot more optimistic about the possibilities.”
Participants talked about creative ways to use public space the city already owns.
The challenge, especially during a recession, is how to find money to pay for public space improvements, maintenance and programming. Alex Tynberg, representing the local chapter of the Congress for New Urbanism, said that
Charlie McCabe with the Austin Parks Foundation said that public space could even be part of the transportation bond that Mayor Leffingwell has talked about creating. McCabe said we could think about transportation broadly, and include “bike lanes, trails and other connectors.”
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