Park in Fact As Well As in Name?
Editor’s Note: Every April for 10 years, Hyde Parkers were amused or confused or sometimes totally fooled and outraged by articles published under the pseudonym of Rollo Treadway. We now know their author was in fact John Kerr, a longtime resident of Hyde Park who sadly passed away this past August. His April pieces were such masterpieces that it just seemed right to give them a second life. The one below was first published in 2007, and reprinted here with minor modifications. Enjoy.
About a year and a half ago, at a monthly HPNA meeting, neighbor Sophie Forsythe proposed turning the stretch of Avenue G between Shipe Park and the Ney Museum into a public space. With the approval of the general membership, a “Paseo Committee” was formed to explore various possibilities. After several encouraging meetings with public officials, the proposal was dropped when vocal opposition developed among some of the neighbors.
However, unknown to the neighborhood, the planning at the city’s Transportation and Land Use Department continued on. The department’s initial recommendation, released in early March, goes far beyond the concept explored by the Paseo Committee and proposes to close all of the lettered north-south avenues in lower Hyde Park, routing vehicular traffic through substantially widened and improved alleys.
The idea is new but not unique. Three other small, upscale communities have undergone similar transformations: Carmel Palisades in California, Grosse Pointe Estates outside of Detroit, Michigan, and Turtle Cove in Dallas. The overwhelmingly positive response of those communities, despite bitter initial opposition, convinced Austin officials to proceed with the project.
Heading the Transportation & Land Use planning team was Ed Reisenweber. A graduate of Stanford’s regional planning program, Reisenweber said the idea was the brainstorm of Stanford’s legendary regional planner Akiro Tanaka, who came up with the idea after viewing the impressionistic 1982 environmental documentary, Koyaanisqatsi. “We all watched the film together,” said Reisenweber. “Tanaka was just blown away. He said he suddenly realized that automobiles and transportation corridors are utilities, just like sewer and water lines. They are absolutely essential, but social interaction and neighborhood aesthetics are best served by keeping them out of view.”
As currently envisioned, alleys would be widened 8 feet on either side and paved. Those between Guadalupe and Avenue A, Avenues B and C, Speedway and Avenue F, and Avenues G and H would run one way north. The other alleys would run one way south. Speedway would remain open to two-way traffic as would all the numbered side streets.
“This is already going on in Austin on a smaller scale,” said Reisenweber. “Look at Central Market or Hancock Center. Imagine how messy it would be if all the trucks unloading merchandise for those stores parked in the regular parking lot. All we’re doing is taking that idea one step further.”
Under the new plan, all vehicular traffic, including UPS and FedEx deliveries, emergency services, and parking would be made through the alleys and the numbered side streets. The Avenues between 38th and 45th Streets would be closed to all except pedestrians and cyclists.
If approved by the neighbors, construction would begin shortly and be completed by the start of the HPNA Historic Homes Tour. Costs would be shared between federal, state and local government agencies. Hyde Park residents would be expected to provide between 2 and 5 percent of the costs, depending on negotiations still underway.
“This is major surgery,” Reisenweber said, “especially if you have to move or shorten your garage. I don’t want to underestimate either the challenges involved or the emotional gratification of the final result.” That sentiment was shared by Richard Tumlinson of Turtle Cove in Dallas. Contacted by phone for this article, he agreed with Reisenweber’s assessment. “It was a royal pain in the keister, I guarantee you,” he said. “But then when it’s over, you look out your front door and ‘Voila!’, a Zen garden.” He said all his neighbors were struck by the sense of calm that descended over a once busy street. Neighbors along his stretch of Lilac Lane pitched in to build a planter down the center of the street, planting it with plumbago, daffodils, and azaleas with a drought-tolerant miscanthus grass border.
The city is putting substantial resources into selling the concept, which it would like to replicate in several other Austin neighborhoods. It is offering to send up to four tour buses to Dallas in early June to allow interested Hyde Parkers to see the Dallas project first hand and talk with the neighbors there. Buses would leave from the Hyde Park Baptist Church parking lot at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning and return by 6 p.m. that evening, with the city providing a box lunch. At the May HPNA meeting, Reisenweber and his team will present the plan, answer questions, and sign up neighbors for the Dallas trip. A final vote is scheduled for the July meeting.
Reisenweber said the final outcome would make Hyde Park “a park in fact as well as in name,” but added he was anticipating opposition. “Anytime you try to take a forward step, there will always be a small but highly vocal clutch of mossbacks, naysayers, enviromaniacs and little old ladies in tennis shoes that comes out of the woodwork to fight you. I don’t expect this will be any different.”