You could say that the Hike and Bike Trail around Lady Bird Lake is the heart of Austin, Texas. The ebb and flow of runners and cyclists of all ages making their way along the 10 mile trail is like blood coursing through veins.
With the boardwalk now finished, the 1.3 mile gap at the south shore is closed and the loop is complete. So now what?
Enter the Waller Creek Conservancy, a nonprofit partner of the City of Austin, established in 2010 with a mission to transform and sustain Austin’s Waller Creek. The Waller Creek Conservancy is in the process of revitalizing the area that runs from Waterloo Park at 15th Street all the way down to Lady Bird Lake, connecting to the Hike and Bike Trail.
The area now feels like its been abandoned with cracked sidewalks and overgrown grass everywhere. Development has never taken off due to the area’s flood prone nature. So prior to any renovations by the Waller Creek Conservancy, the City of Austin has to complete a $146 million dollar flood control tunnel that will flow 70 feet below Downtown Austin. This flood mitigation plan will allow for the development of 28 acres of prime waterfront real estate.
Waller Creek Conservancy in Action
I spoke with Meredith Bossin, Director of Programming at the Waller Creek Conservancy, about the need for a nonprofit to raise private dollars to improve public spaces. “The City’s resources are stretched in many different directions and the dollar amount per acre that the Parks Department can devote to City parks is not nearly enough to create and maintain signature park spaces. Think about Waterloo Park as it has existed previously – that is the standard of care the City can afford using public dollars alone.”
Meredith compared Waterloo Park to signature parks in other cities, like the High Line in New York City or Discovery Green in Houston. But in Austin, the job won’t be done even after renovations are complete. The Waller Creek Conservancy will be charged with the maintenance and operation of the adjacent parks in perpetuity, making the organization one of the only true conservancies in Texas. Even so, there are other models around the country we can look at for comparison. The Central Park Conservancy in New York City completely transformed Central Park from its blighted state in the 1970’s to one of the prime tourist attractions in the city.
The Waller Creek Conservancy has accomplished a fair amount in its short history. You may recall the international design competition (the first of its kind in Texas) held in 2013. Designers from around the world clamored at the chance to leave their mark on the downtown area of a major American city. The nonprofit has also raised nearly $4 million in philanthropic gifts and pledges.
This Is No River Walk
Although we will gain 1.5 miles of real estate along a creek, this will not be another River Walk. “The Waller Creek Conservancy’s primary objectives are to restore the health of the creek, create a continuous and accessible trail network and create a chain of signature park spaces for all of Austin to enjoy.” Meredith said.
While the organization expects the area to become a tourist destination, the experience will be one of reconnecting with nature in an urban setting. You can imagine the vast different between the Waller Creek concept and San Antonio’s River Walk, where commercial development and a concrete lined waterway are the defining features.
Short term goals for the Conservancy include launching a multi-million dollar capital campaign to continue to raise funds for the improvements. They are also looking to hire a CEO to be the face of the program.
On November 13, 2014, Waller Creek Conservancy will host the Creek Show Light Night. As the sun sets on Waller Creek, five site specific light installations will be revealed. The installations are being created by Austin based architects and will illuminate Waller Creek between 5th and 7th Streets. Creek Show is free and open to the public.
@Crafty_Ed wants to know:
Do you think a nonprofit should raise funds to improve public spaces?
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