If you’ve been to our website recently you will have noticed a new and exciting addition to our homepage: the Palm Park Picnic.
Who better to talk about the event and how it fits into the conservancy’s mission than John Spong: Texas Monthly Senior Editor and husband to Waller Creek Conservancy board member and picnic chair Julie Blakeslee of Big Red Sun?
“The best way to explain the restoration/reimagination of downtown Austin’s long-forgotten Waller Creek is with reference to the High Line in Manhattan. In 2006, after a 7-year joint effort by private foundations and the city of New York, work began to transform the 1-mile stretch of abandoned, elevated freight train line on the lower west side into a linear park. Today, it’s 2/3 completed, and its long flow of greenspace and public art installations attracts neighborhood locals and foreign tourists alike. They come to soak in a new perspective on The City, to admire the High Line’s design, and to use it the way parks have always been used, as a place to renew community ties, or to just sit and reflect.
That’s what’s in store for Waller Creek, a resource most folks in Austin don’t even know exists. The relevant stretch winds 1.5 miles south from Waterloo Park (15th and Red River) to Lady Bird Lake and–by pulling in existing parks like Waterloo, Palm, and the beach head at the lake–spans over 28 acres. In recent decades that space has been home to flash floods, impromptu trash dumps and hobo camps. But in 2009, the city began construction on a storm water tunnel that will take the creek bed out of the flood plane. And last October, the New York designers responsible for the 85-acre, waterfront Brooklyn Bridge Park (Van Valkenburgh/Phifer), won a competition against 30 other international teams of architects and landscape architects for the chance to reimagine the Waller Creek corridor itself. Their plans envision a sustainable greenway serving all of Austin, one that will unite neighborhoods on both sides of IH-35 and link downtown businesses to the UT campus and Brackenridge Hospital, all in a design context on par with The High Line, Chicago’s Millennium Park, and Paris’s Promenade plantee. In short, they’re going to change the face of downtown Austin.
But as high-falutin’ as all that may sound, the project is in large part about a simple concept: Parks, and what they mean to their communities. So this spring, the foundation riding herd over the project, the Waller Creek Conservancy, will introduce the coming rebirth of Waller Creek with a good, old-fashioned picnic. The date is 13 April (raindate: 20 April), and the location is Palm Park (E. Cesar Chavez and IH-35). It’ll be a hybrid fundraiser/friendsraiser, with picnic baskets for purchase by chefs from Jeffrey’s, Justine’s, the Carillion, Lucy’s Fried Chicken, the Salt Lick, Counter Culture, and Easy Tiger. Noted Austin artist/designer/builder Jack Sanders, a graduate of Auburn’s Rural Studio who now teaches at UT, will create an installation with his team from Design.Build.Adventure. And families from all over Austin will come spread blankets, sit with their neighbors, listen to music, and enjoy the first of many wonderful nights on the banks of Waller Creek.”