Two years ago our organization went through a strategic planning process. From this process we determined that one of our top priorities was to take our main street, Congress Avenue, and really turn it into a great place. We created a leadership team who identified a vision and needs to take Congress from where it is today, which is a good functioning street, to an exceptional destination or place. In Feb. 2010 we held a community charrette/workshop and asked the community their vision. What did they want to see? Using the Project for Public Spaces placegame and bringing in Max Reim of Live, Work, Learn,Play we created a community vision that garnered more interest and support than we expected. From the event, we put together the vision document – a block by block summary of what our community defined as important steps to getting to the vision. The document can be found on the front page of our website at www.downtownaustin.com . From the vision, the City of Austin has created a leadership team to help us define policies that need to be changed so that we can get to the vision. Our role now is to figure out how to engage the private sector not only the businesses but also the 70+ owners on the Avenue to embrace and make change. In Dec. 2010 we held our annual holiday event the Holiday Sing-Along and Downtown Stroll. In Sept. we assembled architects, designers, landscape architects and others to take vacant, underutilized spaces and transform them the evening of our downtown stroll to show what could be achieved with a little time, thought, design and creativity.
I call this a bit of sausage making. We know what a great street is, we know what we want, but how do we get there? Some might say it is a multi-million dollar public investment project to reconfigure the street and present/provide better design. We however don’t want to wait, we need to do something today that can make an impact immediately so that Congress becomes part of our DNA, our ethos. Great streets of the world are not necessarily a public works project. They are defined by uses, retail spaces, outdoor cafes, art, entertainment, the buzz, the vibe and this is what we are striving to change and eventually get to the place of redesign and reconfiguration.
We don’t have the answers, in fact I have many more questions than I do answers. We are trying to figure this out and asking help from experts, from interested citizens, property owners and the City. In fact, if I had a magic wand I want a bureaucracy-free zone on Congress. It is our mission to make this happen, to figure out what low hanging fruit we can start with that makes the biggest impact. We have a retail recruiting effort that has brought 15 new retailers to the Avenue over the past 5 years, we have new restaurants, stores and some energy. However this is the hard part, where do we go from here, what should we do and how can we make this change.
|Provided by Molly Alexander.||Provided by Molly Alexander.|
Letters from Listeners
Looking at this the article in Podcast it is a little misleading – or maybe its the end of a long day for me! They know what they want but don’t know how to get it? Did their community event not engage the owners along Congress Ave? Could they not be a bit clearer on what they ‘want answers for’? Im assuming it not designs for the public realm so much as bring back life into Congress Ave through mixed uses etc. So is it a BID they are after – with near a 1000 of them in the States I would have thought the expertise of engaging and delivering through mechanisms would be readily available?