Thursday, September 19, 2013

Austin Museum Day: Exploring Austin's Treasures with Kids

Austin's Bob Bullock Museum
This Sunday, September 22nd, is Austin's Annual Museum Day, a free, citywide discovery of museums in the area. I pulled up the list of participating museums and realized I had not heard of half of these museums. It looks like some are open just for this special day and are otherwise closed to the public.

Here are some of our family's favorite museums to visit with kids:

  • Texas Memorial Museum (this museum always reminds me of the 1970s; maybe it is all those dioramas lining the walls; it isn't the American Museum of Natural History or the Exploratorium by any means, but it's our only science museum for kids in the city so we'll keep happily visiting it)
  • Blanton Museum (offers several wonderful kids' programs)
  • Children's Museum (soon to re-open as the Thinkery)
  • Umlauf Sculpture Garden
  • Mexic-Arte Museum
  • LBJ Presidential Library (actually, I have been there but have not taken my kids yet; it is on our list!)
  • Lady Bird Wildflower Center
  • The Contemporary Austin

And here are some museums on the Museum Day list that I have never heard of before but am interested in checking out on Sunday with my kids:

2013 Austin Museum Day: List of Participating Museums

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Carving Out Urban Spaces for Parklets, POPOS, Pocket Parks, and More

When it comes to creating greater public access to parks and public spaces, there are lots of innovative things happening around the United States and world. Mexico City is transforming spaces under highways into public playgrounds and outdoor cafes, Pacoima, California, is transforming the lots of foreclosed homes into pocket parks, and Los Angeles has launched a "Streets for People" initiative to transform under-utilized areas of street scape into high-quality public spaces. The city is also working to create 50 new pocket parks in underserved communities.
Yerba Buena Gardens playground--built on the roof of the Moscone Center
Yerba Buena Gardens playground--built on the roof of the Moscone Center in San Francisco
On our family trip to San Francisco last month, we had lots of time to explore the city's wonderful parks, including the lovely Yerba Buena Gardens playground built on a rooftop (see above). (San Francisco, by the way, ranks second in the country on per capita spending for parks and recreation.)  I also had one morning to myself--a glorious 3 hours away from my kids--to observe first hand many other ways in which San Francisco has carved out dozens of new public spaces in a dense urban environment. This particular tour of mine focused on the city's parklets, POPOS, and alleys. More on alleys in a later post.

Parklets: San Francisco is the national leader when it comes to creating parklets--parking spaces that have been transformed into activated public spaces. Through the city's "Pavement to Parks" program, 38 parking areas have been converted into parklets since 2010, with the costs typically covered by the surrounding businesses. I visited about a dozen of these parklets during my walking tour, using a map created by SF Great Streets. None of the parklets I saw were being used as play spaces and did not seem targeted towards children at all. The primary uses for the parklets appeared to be extended outdoor dining and seating areas for adjoining businesses, along the lines of Austin's only parklet--the successful Royal Blue Grocery parklet on Congress Avenue. It seems like the parklet model is something that could also be used to carve out micro play spaces for children, along the lines of the pocket parks we saw in Barcelona last summer placed along major boulevards (see below), or the "urban" sandboxes I blogged about here.

parklet in San Francisco
Parklet in San Francisco
parklet in San Francisco Little Italy
Parklet in San Francisco--Little Italy
Pocket park for children in Barcelona
Pocket Park for Kids in Barcelona
POPOS: San Francisco has 68 POPOS, which stands for "Privately-Owned Public Open Spaces." I had never heard of this acronym before visiting the city. The open spaces range from parks and plazas to terraces, pedestrian walkways, and urban gardens--all of which are open to the public even through they are privately-owned and privately-managed. Many of the POPOS in San Francisco exist because of public open space requirements for new developments in the City's downtown plan. A local group has created a wonderful inventory of these spaces to raise public awareness about them, and there is even an interactive website (and soon-to-be app) with information about the POPOS. Here are a couple of the POPOS that I came across in San Francisco:
A Privately-Owned Public Open Space, or POPOS, at 555 Mission in San Francisco
POPOS pedestrian arcade and dining area at Embarcadero Center in San Francisco

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Austin's New Budget for Parks

Little Zilker Park
Little Zilker Park
The Austin City Council adopted its 2013-14 budget today. Good news on the parks front! The adopted budget includes $3.6 million in additional funding for parks, trees, trails, and swimming pools, thanks in large part to the grassroots advocacy of Great Austin Parks and supporters such as Councilmembers Tovo and Morrison. In the Trust for Public Land's most recent park survey, Austin ranks #54 in per capita spending for parks and recreation, with funding at $68 per resident, compared to the national median of $82. Even with the increase in parks funding adopted today, Austin will still likely rank in the bottom half of cities when it comes to per capita spending on parks and recreation. But with the vote today, we can hopefully nudge up a couple notches on the list (and since the new budget includes an allocation for 49 more police officers, maybe the existing parks will at least feel safer??).

Unfortunately, the budget adopted today does not do much to address another huge need in the city: creating new parks in underserved low-income neighborhoods. More than half of Austin residents are unable to access a park on foot (or wheelchair or stroller), including thousands of children in low-income areas of the city. Hopefully we can take greater strides to address that equity gap in next year's budget.

Tomorrow I will be posting on what some other cities, most notably San Francisco, are doing to creatively carve out new public open spaces.

Butler Park in Austin
Butler Park

Zilker Park kite day
Zilker Park
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