Urban living

Visionary new plan transforms downtown Austin into urban greenbelt

Visionary new plan transforms downtown Austin into urban greenbelt

Shoal Creek in Austin
The new plan creates a box of green space around downtown Austin. Photo courtesy of Shoal Creek Conservancy/Facebook

Expect downtown Austin to look a lot greener in the future. On October 31, a coalition of local organizations unveiled its vision to create an urban greenbelt in downtown Austin, a five-mile network of parks and natural areas. 

Encircling downtown Austin like a ribbon on a package, this greenbelt connects Shoal Creek, Waller Creek, Lady Bird Lake, and other parks — including Pease and Waterloo — along 15th Street to the north and the Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail to the south. It also ties together Wooldridge, Republic and Brush squares, and creates pocket parks along Congress Avenue. 

The idea came out of a campaign by the Downtown Austin Alliance to create a community vision for the downtown area. That vision set four priorities: a thriving center, growing neighborhoods, increasing mobility, and establishing welcoming places, which is where the urban greenbelt comes in. 

“Great cities have great parks,” said Dewitt Peart, CEO of the DAA, who stressed that the vision is intended to benefit all residents of Austin, not just those who live or work downtown. “We want it to be inclusive and welcoming to everyone.”

Public spaces, including streets, sidewalks, and parks, account for more than half of downtown, and this is the first effort to improve and connect those spaces into a cohesive community. The goal is for the spaces to also include cultural and historical context and experiences.

The vision pulls together planned or ongoing improvements to a number of green spaces, and, in addition to the DAA, includes the collaboration of Austin Parks and Recreation Department, Waller Creek Conservancy, The Trail Foundation, Shoal Creek Conservancy, Pease Park Conservancy, Friends of Wooldridge Square, and Austin Parks Foundation.

Planned improvements include:

  • Shoal Creek Trail: Trail and greenbelt on the west side of downtown, from Pease Park to the Seaholm, are currently in the midst of improvement and enhancement.
  • Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail: The Trail Foundation has launched 15 projects, including signage, restrooms, new trailheads and access, and ecological restorations.
  • Waterloo Park: Improvements currently underway at Waterloo Park include an amphitheater, gardens with oaks and native plantings, wetland spaces, lawns for gathering and activities, and trails within the park.
  • Waller Creek: Projects are currently underway along the creek. Improvements also are planned at Symphony Square, Palm Park, and points in-between.
  • Congress Avenue: Plazas and pocket parks along Congress Avenue will create walkable urban space and add green and open areas for work and leisure activities.

Add in Wooldridge Square and Republic Square, places that already have been restored and improved, and Brush Square, targeted for improvements in two phases in coming years, and green space becomes easily accessible from anywhere in downtown.

The public can support the urban greenbelt vision through the volunteer events and fundraisers of the various conservancies and foundations involved.

“Austinites crave great public places,” said the DAA’s Molly Alexander. “If you provide them, people will come.”

Come on down, Austin.