Friday, September 29, 2023

What was wrong with the Zilker Park Vision Plan? PARD poverty.

The non-profit Austin Parks Foundation needs to tell the story that the City of Austin underfunds our park system. This concept is foundational for the non-profit in order to solicit donations from private donors.

In my opinion, the PARD/Planners of the shelved Zilker Park Vision Plan adopted the APF's mission as the PARD platform and agenda. No longer should PARD’s O&M and ecological remediations be funded sufficiently by the normal City budget process and periodic bond elections. For Zilker Park, PARD's new ZPVP was going to take care of that by recommending new management by a new non-profit, Zilker351. Or management by the existing non-profit, Austin Parks Foundation. Either would do.

I believe that the current leadership of PARD wishes to promote the narrative that the department is locked in a culture of “park poverty.” 

Non-profits like the Austin Parks Foundation and Zilker351 will never be advocates for the people’s mission to have more natural parks: 

Our Parks, Our Future, Community Engagement Themes 

Ten themes emerged from the numerous community engagement events and
surveys completed as part of this planning process. Those themes along with the priority needs and citywide analysis form the basis of the system-wide recommendations to follow. 

Natural Experiences 

People expressed a desire for parks that feel more natural.
This includes undeveloped, wild natural spaces; rustic finishes instead of paved areas, and more native plants. 

Unstructured Spaces 

In general, people cared less about spaces for specific programming, opting for more multi-use spaces and preserving green, natural, and open spaces. 

Green Infrastructure 

There was an interest in proactively using green infrastructure in parks to build a more resilient city. This includes stormwater management, flood protection, heat island effect mitigation, drought tolerance, and native planting/habitat areas. 

Rather than performing essential ecological restoration to protect the green of our parks, non-profits like projects where donor’s names can be put on the final product. See Waterloo Greenway as an example:

I ask you to examine the Austin Parks Foundation website:

 “Why give to APF?” at this link:

APF 1-2-3 reasons to donate

How PARD/Planners twisted those words in the ZPVP:

"1. Austin is growing"

Population growth” was the reason given by the PARD/Planners why the park should have a 5,000-seat amphitheater on the Great Lawn -- a geographic area that could easily have become a 50K-seat venue. This was decided without consulting the principle stakeholder: Zilker Theater Productions. And — the inevitable logistical element was added — a 1,000-car parking garage to serve the amphitheater. The next element: a landbridge to connect the garage/amphitheater. These concept/projects were unrelated to the peak-use and overcrowding problems that trouble Zilker Park.

"2. Parks are underfunded"

 "Parks are underfunded" was why the park should be under the management of the recently-formed Zilker351, a "non-profit" group with a professional parking garage architect on its board of directors. 

"3. Inequitable park access" 

 "Inequitable access" was the logic behind why Zilker Park should be become "accessible for everyone in Austin" with new parking garages -- as if Zilker Park, by definition, currently offers inequitable access. 

Many of us wondered: How could a parking garage make the park more equitable or accessible? We could never understand that equivalency.

The PARD/Planners intentionally demoted the feedback of the nearby neighborhoods like Bouldin, West Austin and the ZNA. They strove to create an alternate reality: A false narrative that Zilker Park was in a war pitting one Austin neighborhood against another Austin neighborhood. 

They tried to divide us to win.

PARD certainly knew — but didn’t want to tell the public —  this simple truth: Zilker Park is overcrowded for about 54 days out of the year, and most visitors to the park on crowded summer days are TOURISTs. 

It was never about the “controlling influence” of rich vs. poor, or nearby vs. distant neighborhoods. Zilker Park simply becomes inaccessible on days when it is a tourist attraction for visitors to Austin from all over the world.

Unresolved by the ZPVP:

The tension between conflicting goals remained unresolved in the ZPVP:

To be welcoming to all and support:

  1. Ecological health of the park, and
  2. Access to the park for everyone.

Under PARD’s current operational narrative of “park poverty”, it has become difficult to determine if our city's parks are managed with an intent for care -- or -- with an intent to demonstrate damage in order to secure private donations and economic leases of parkland and facilities. The citizens of Austin desperately need a consciousness of abundance for our Parks Department. 

Sunday, September 17, 2023

A Conversation About Capacity

Zilker Park would like to be welcoming to all. 

But no one enjoys overcrowding at a tourist attraction like Barton Springs Pool in Zilker Park. Here is a recent TripAdvisor review of Barton Springs Pool:

How can we ensure that the park offers "access to the park for everyone in Austin" while preserving the ecological health of the park and improving visitor experiences with less crowding? 

I suggest for 2024: Prepaid reservations and timed-entry.

In summer of 2023, the ecology of the park suffered greatly due to overuse. Climate change hit hard with extra hot temperatures and drought. Poor parking lot locations caused turf damage from uncontrolled pedestrian pathways over 10.5 acres of compacted soil. 54 peak-use days presented possible violations of fire marshall code of capacity limits (approx. 4.5K max capacity inside the pool fence) on days when over 11.5K visitors entered the pool (July 2nd, 8am-10pm). A potential safety issue: If pool patrons are not counted as they exit -- and they aren't -- then we don't have a way to know if the fire marshall's capacity has been exceeded within the pool's fence.

My recommended solution: On peak-use hot summer weekends in Zilker Park, the water-zone must be managed as if it has a capacity limit. Access can be offered equitably, but not every resident and visitor to Austin can come to the park on that one day. Prepaid timed-entry reservations to the pool offers benefits to the visitors' satisfaction, less queueing time for cars and admissions, and parking options can be designed to minimize pedestrian pathways on vegetated soil. Car parking reservations will help control the number of visitors in the creek.

Just FYI, the following park facilities have a maximum capacity.

• Hamilton Pool Preserve in Texas has a capacity limit of 750 people per day

• McKinney Falls State Park in Austin has a capacity limit of 2,000 visitors per day.

• Enchanted Rock State Natural Area in Fredericksburg has a capacity limit of 800 visitors per day.

• Pedernales Falls State Park in Johnson City has a capacity limit of 1,000 visitors per day.

• Garner State Park in Concan has a capacity limit of 2,000 visitors per day.

• Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Canyon has a capacity limit of 3,000 visitors per day.

• Big Bend National Park in Terlingua has a capacity limit of 400 visitors per day in its Chisos Mountains Lodge.

Austin's own Emma Long Metropolitan Park has a PARD-managed advance reservation system. Cars are not permitted to queue at the entrance when the parking lot is “full.”

We've got this! We can make the park experience so much better for visitors while protecting the sensitive turf, trees, and aquifers. Let's make 2024 better with prepaid reservations and timed-entry.

Thanks -- dp

Photo journal:

Sunday, September 10, 2023

High priority: Informal pathway erosion is now dangerous for pedestrians. Please add berms and three sets of stairs ASAP.

In June 2023, the Polo Field was again opened and used as a weekend overflow parking lot. The surrounding area was never designed to accommodate pedestrian traffic from the Polo Field: In fact, there are not even any sidewalks.  

This map shows areas currently in a state of severe erosion due to pedestrian foot traffic:

Here is what the Zilker Park north entrance looked like in April 2023:

Compare to September, 2023:

Here is what the children's Zilker Playground looked like in April 2023:

Compare to September 2023:

Photos on Labor Day 2023:

September 2023, severe erosion shows exposed pipes:

Informal pathways from the Polo Field show severe soil erosion and compaction after summer of 2023:

The following eroded zone is between the Rugby Field and Barton Creek:

Below, a slippery slop beside Barton Springs Pool recently caused a man to slip, fall and break his arm.

We alerted this man just in time. In good spirit, he chose to take extra precautions:

Further erosional areas inside the pool grounds will be vulnerable to the next heavy rains:

Suggestion: Add three sets of stairs as soon as possible to prevent injury of pedestrians. Add temporary berms in all areas where topsoil is at risk of further erosion due to rain.

High priority: Unsafe dust conditions on Butler Landfill Gravel Lot (complaint filed with TCEQ 9/8/23)

Location of Butler Landfill Gravel Lot:

I have filed a complaint regarding the dust condition on the Butler Landfill Gravel Lot to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Dust in the air is unhealthy for humans. I am asking Council and PARD to perform some sort of remediation so that this surface is not dusty for park visitors who drive their cars onto this surface in summer 2024.

Explaining the Parks Board Coup of May 2023

The Parks Board experienced an unprecedented coup in May 2023, the month when they approved the Zilker Park Vision Plan.  We ask:   Who on t...