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Wednesday, July 5, 2017 by Sommer Brugal

New proposal connects residents to transit corridors via parklands

Austin residents are calling for a more compact and connected city. Thanks to a proposed strategy to reimagine the use of parklands around the city, Sustainable Neighborhoods might have the solution residents are seeking.

Steve Zettner of Sustainable Neighborhoods presented the organization’s suggestions to the Parks and Recreation Board at its June 27 meeting. He described strategies for ways public spaces could be used to support transit hubs along the city’s corridors.

“We generally think of park space as serving a recreational benefit,” said Zettner, “(but) I think, in the context of (the) development we’re seeing in the city, we need to reimagine parks also as (offering) certain connectivity, providing transportation benefits as well.”

He defined a transit park as an area that uses different kinds of spaces arranged in a way to provide high-quality connectivity to corridors for transit.

While a number of areas around the city have sidewalks and ample space to walk from one location to another, Zettner said the city needs more areas that promote neighborly interactions, casual conversations and safe areas for children to play.

Zettner said the West Mall on the University of Texas campus was a good example of a transit corridor, as it has a transit station at the entrance of the walking path. With a transit destination on the corridor, he said the space provides users with a higher-quality experience, while also connecting them to different areas of campus.

Board Member Francoise Luca asked if there were any studies that showed the economic impact a project like this might have in certain corridors. She believed a corridor like North Lamar would welcome a transit park, as it would help boost the area’s economy as well.

While Zettner was unaware of a study that considered transit parks as a means to boost the economy, he did cite general findings that suggested parks increased premium property values within a certain distance.

“Another argument for this approach is that you’re stabilizing the long-term tax base of these areas by providing a strategic amenity in these places that become the centers of their communities over time.” Zettner said parks, if maintained, provide that benefit.

Still, Vice Chair Richard DePalma remained conflicted.

“We have limited funding within parks, and our rating for trust for public lands seems to be stagnant,” said DePalma, “and part of that is because we don’t have capital infrastructure to be able to invest in the playgrounds that we need and a lot of the other amenities that we just don’t measure up.”

He mentioned aquatics to further his concern, stating that the city of Austin is facing a critical issue in that regard.

“When I think about where we spend our money going through the 2018 bond, I would love to spend some money in this area, but I want other departments to be able to come to the table because it’s also benefiting them.”

DePalma said if the board saw something it could leverage for other departments, he could see the city supporting it. But if the suggested proposal simply moved parkland-dedicated dollars away from kids’ amenities to transit, he would focus on providing for the city’s children instead.

In response, Zettner said it was important to see both transportation and green spaces as one entity.

“The more you tie the value of your parks to solving the transportation function, the more of a constituency you’re going to be able to get,” said Zettner. “By using a green space to get to where I need to go three times a day, I might be a lot more concerned about that feature and wanting to support it.”

DePalma agreed, saying Zettner’s reasoning provided a strong argument.

According to Zettner, the information presented in favor of transit parks is supported by what residents say when asked what it would take for them to use public transit spaces. He cited the city’s mobility cost survey conducted last year to support his claim.

“Two themes appeared across the city regardless of district,” said Zettner. “We want safe connections and we want them from our neighborhood to the corridor.”

Zettner said the transit parks model and proposal incorporates both of those themes.

Photo by Guðsþegn made available through a Creative Commons license.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Parks and Recreation Board: The city’s Parks and Recreation Board members deal with the acquisition, development, improvement, and maintenance of Austin’s parks and playgrounds.

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