Let’s begin with a safe (and selfless) assumption. With downtown Austin rushing to the west, Shoal Creek is the heart of the city. Shoal Creek gives pedestrians, hikers, walkers, bikers, and such (those who are not in a motorized vehicle) continuous access to the important sections of central Austin – Lady Bird Lake, the downtown residential area, the downtown business district, the capitol and capital complex, and the University of Texas campus. Neighborhoods such as Clarksville, Old Enfield, Pemberton, Judge’s Hill, Bryker Woods, even Tarrytown have direct connections to the creek.
Shoal Creek has a constituency that is blossoming, and given Austin’s commitment to downtown density that constituency will only continue to expand. Shoal Creek is a critical quality of life asset that has been overlooked until now. Let’s dream.
The bridges of Shoal Creek are of inestimable value. Of the seventeen bridges between West 45th and the mouth of Shoal Creek, only one (West 15th) is not dated to the Great Depression or earlier. However, as pointed out in the situation analysis, these bridges are obscured by rank vegetation, low or no lighting, graffiti, and trash.My first recommendation is to restore Shoal Creek’s bridges. Remove the layers of graffitti and tagging, as well as the paint that covers such marring, and restore the stone work that characterizes that era. List the bridges on the National Register of Historic Places. The bridges should be lit above with period (yet green) lighting, and the undersides should be lit as well. The shoaling and invasive vegetation around the bridges should be removed, allowing for a free flow of the creek and an unobstructed view of the bridges themselves. The first bridge that should be restored is the oldest – West 6th. This stone masterpiece dates to 1887. With the new Cirrus Logic development nearby, and both GSD&M and Whole Foods in the neighborhood, the restoration of the West 6th Street bridge should be given top priority. While on the subject of bridges, I have already written about the West 3rd Street Trestle. The development of the trestle as a High Line-styled venue is a priority project as well. In fact, a perfect package of projects would be the restoration of the West 6th and West 5th bridges, and the resurrection of the West 3rd Street trestle.
The restoration of a sustained flow is discussed in the situation analysis. However, let’s emphasize that point again. A reinvigorated creek flowing beneath and through these restored structures will directly affect the lives of thousands of downtown residents. As has been seen in a number of studies, such improvements also enhance adjacent property values and the city’s tax base. Investments of this sort pay for themselves.The recommendations relating to Pease Park have been compiled in a seperate section. However, I would like to mention the recommendation to build an amphitheater on the east side of Shoal Creek around the current volleyball pits. This amphitheater could be constructed in a way that it also serves as overflow water detention. With the addition of a pedestrian bridge across Shoal Creek in this area, events will have a significantly expanded area and added carrying capacity.
Why not art, lots of it? Is Austin destined to be artistically depauperate? What about public art stretching along Lamar on the east side of Shoal Creek or in Duncan Park? What about a mural arts program such as that in Philadelphia? Murals under select bridges would be a vast improvement over graffiti, and they can be treated with graffiti-resistant coatings. Rather than the kits that are now installed in our parks as playscapes, why not playable art?In addition to expanding the public use east of Shoal Creek, there are areas north of Pease Park that are little used and appropriate for low-impact recreation such as hiking and birding. An example is the area west of Split Rock between the Janet Fish Bridge and West 31st. The bluffs here are the most impressive on Shoal Creek, and the forest below is one of the most impressive on the creek. This area is perfect for a nature trail, one that wends its way along the bluffs and through the woods.
On the subject of trails, the Shoal Creek Greenway is in dire need of a sustainable trail strategy. An excellent example is the strategy developed by the Friends of the Wissahickon in Philadelphia. As mentioned above, the current trails are unevenly surfaced and in many places exacerbate erosion and sedimentation. Rather than address these issues in a piecemeal fashion, let’s develop a strategy for the entire trail complex which includes sustainable trails, signage, and lighting.An enhanced Pease Park, restored trails and bridges, and downtown amenities such as the West 3rd Street Trestle should interconnect to offer the city a new venue for events and entertainment. Lady Bird Lake, Auditorium Shores, and Zilker Park will always be the venues of choice for large-scale, tourism-driven activities. Shoal Creek and Pease Park, however, are perfectly scaled for the citizens of the city. The new amphitheater would be ideal for children’s theatre, for example. What about reviving the Clarksville Jazz Festival? Music, art, food, and a dizzying variety of cultural events are compatible with the newly enhanced Shoal Creek and Pease Park. And, of course, Eeyore’s Birthday should continue to be a highlight, but will now able to expand to the east side of Shoal Creek as well.
Finally, the key to success in this effort is inviting the public to get involved. Shoal Creek is our creek. The new Trails2Go SmartTrail for Shoal Creek will soon have a new component that will allow users to send photographs, video, audio, and text illustrating and describing their experiences on the creek. See something amiss? Alert us to the problem. The city has no staff for continuously monitoring the creek, so let’s do it ourselves. The following are links to both iPhone/iPad and Android versions of the Trails2Go app and its SmartTrails such as Shoal Creek. It’s free!