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Council OKs design to redevelop Waller Creek into a series of parks

Friday, October 19, 2012 by Michael Kanin

Members of the Austin City Council Thursday OK’d a design for the long-awaited re-imagining of the green spaces along Waller Creek.


A panel of jurors picked the winning team, headlined by New York- and Massachusetts-based Michael Van Valkenburgh & Associates, before the Council vote.


With the design selection stage of the project now complete, team members will gather documents to help determine complete cost estimates.


The City of Austin is on the hook for costs associated with creek-side stabilization and some work along Sabine Street. However, the nonprofit Waller Creek Conservancy will raise most of the funds for the design elements of the project. The conservancy has partnered with the city to revitalize a 1.5-mile stretch of Waller Creek from about 15th Street to Lady Bird Lake.


City taxpayers have already sprung for a massive tunneling project underneath Waller Creek. That effort is designed to reduce flooding in the area – something that will remove 28 acres of valuable downtown land from the floodplain.


The selection of the design caps a nearly year-long process. “Today, we glimpse a transformation of Austin through a new community gathering place,” said Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole in a statement released after the vote. “This design team selection illustrates our City’s desire for great civic space, unique culture and opportunity for interaction with nature. We look forward to each new milestone of this development.”


Cole has been a major force behind the upgrade of Waller Creek as was Betty Dunkerley, who retired from City Council service in June 2008.


The winning design team’s plan would create a chain of parks along the renewed Waller Creek with five connected areas. These include a “lattice” area of six trail bridges that span Waller Creek near where it empties into Lady Bird Lake, a grove of live oak trees near Palm Park, a re-imaging of the Interstate 35 embankment between 4th and 6th Streets, a “refuge” and island park in the middle of the creek constructed around an expanded 8th Street bridge, and a bandshell pavilion near the entrance of the Waller Creek Tunnel. Existing green spaces on the route include Centennial, Waterloo, and Palm Parks.


The team offered a dreamy statement about their design in a summation document posted on the Waller Creek Conservancy’s web site. “The Waller Creek project presents designers with an urbanist’s dream: a diverse and complex city fabric is the starting point for a process of discovering how to reach the peak of this city’s potential for fostering a high quality of life,” it reads. See the design concept on the conservancy’s website.


The Van Valkenburgh team is co-headlined by New York-based firm Thomas Phifer and Partners. Other members of the team from Austin include attorneys at Metcalfe, Wolff, Stuart & Williams, the landscape architects at DWG, engineering by Big Red Dog, and Weird City author Joshua Long.


Other notable Van Valkenburgh projects include the reclamation of a former railroad line that cuts through the west side of Manhattan called the High Line. Phifer’s efforts include Rice University‘s Brochstein Pavilion.

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