The ONE & ONLY Way To Activate Downtown Austin Parks On A Regular Basis

The ONE & ONLY Way To Activate Downtown Austin Parks On A Regular Basis

Have you been to any of downtown Austin’s parks recently?

I walk near and around them almost everyday. Yet, they fail to draw me in.

Over the last couple of years, Republic Square Park has received a nice face lift.  Smart people and private money ensured the auction oaks are preserved and cared for.  Add to that good programming such as the Alamo Drafthouse’s Movies in the Park and the Saturday morning farmers market.

Republic Square is doing the best of the downtown parks.  Still, most of the time downtown Austin’s parks are empty.  That’s the unfortunate truth.

And, this is the reason:

During the week (daytime) Republic Square Park offers nothing to attract workers, visitors, or residents. It is neither a conduit nor a destination for most people.

Here’s how we fix it.

The intersection of two downtown arteries (W 5th Street @ Guadalupe) is the place of highest visibility for the park.  For that reason, the northeast corner of Republic Square Park feels to be the natural “main entrance”.  Yet, most of the park’s seating is way over there, in the opposite corner from where most people address the park(!?)

Republic Square Park All Downtown Austin parks can serve more people, more often, by taking a lesson from the Old Bakery at 10th Street @  Congress Ave:

The solution is to embrace concessionaires.

A cafe, taco stand, more seating, and Republic Square Park becomes a daytime amenity for lots of people.  If you’ve been to Mariano Park in Chicago then you know this works.

Actually, we only need to look a few blocks away for a success story.  La Boite Cafe at the Old Bakery is a perfect example of concessionaire transforming a park.

la boite cafe coming to downtown austin, txPrior to La Boite opening up in the Old Bakery site (which is a downtown park), that “park” contributed nothing more than being adjacent to a neat old building.  Now, this park occupies a space in my brain as a place I could go… that I’d want to visit… in the morning… on a work day.

I bet La Boite could place another of their modern container-cafes in Republic Square Park and make an incredible business. Convert a couple of parking spots running parallel to the park to 15 minute customer service spaces. Then there’s even more opportunity to attract people into the park.

Again, the solution to attracting lots of people into downtown parks is to embrace concessionaires.

A single well planned concessionaire offers us something to do… something to eat… an opportunity to sit/relax amongst other random people.  Concessionaires can complement their surroundings. They contribute to safety (or the feeling of safety, which is arguably more important towards activating the park).

What do you think?  PARD is hosting an input session on July 19th.

Share Your Ideas for Republic Square Park

When: Thursday, July 19th at 6p.m.

Where: Ballet Austin, 501 West 3rd Street

Austin Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) and their team of consultants are hosting a meeting to explore several alternatives for improvements to Republic Square Park. This small downtown park serves the needs of downtown residents and employees and is host to many signature events such as the SFC Farmers’ Market and Movies in the Park. The consultants will present alternatives for the park based on feedback from community and stakeholder meetings in April and May, as well as an online survey. Alternatives will address the design of the park as well as ongoing operations and management.

Parking: Metered parking is available in the vicinity of Ballet Austin. Limited parking is also available on a first-come first serve basis at State Garage L at 333 Guadalupe Street (4th & Guadalupe). Tell the attendant you are attending the Republic Square Community Meeting.

About Jude Galligan

Jude Galligan, REALTOR, Principal of TOWERS Realty and publisher of Downtown Austin Blog (aka. "DAB"), spends his time matching remarkable people with remarkable properties in Austin’s urban core. A resident owner in downtown Austin, Jude has served on the Board of the Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA) and the City of Austin Downtown Commission. Contact Jude.


  1. Great post, Jude.

    Maybe I’m wrong, but putting the convention center with the loading docks facing palm park may be the worst offender of them all – what person in their right might wants to use a park located between an interstate highway and a convention center loading dock? I hope the new fairmont hotel, if it does happen, doesn’t do more to isolate that piece of downtown park land.

    When I see discovery green in Houston I see a number of missed opportunities around the convention center and nearby hotels here in Austin.

  2. Statesman article about Republic Square getting a facelift

  3. Good post Jude. At one time I owned a catering business and also had a New York hotdog stand on 6th street. I continually asked the parks department why no one could not have push cart vendors in parks. Their answers where always some beauracratic non-sense. I argued you can charge me and others a monthly fee that can help pay for maintaining the park, while making the park more friendly as a gathering point for families and people taking a break in the city- as opposed to the current use as mostly a refugee post for vagrants . I also pointed out that it seems to work out fine for world class cities like Chicago, New York, Paris, etc.. Ever been to that little place called…Central Park?! They would hear nothing of it. It simply wasn’t their “policy”. It was a surreal experience. I cheer you Jude for tabling the argument an hopefully enough people will join the chorus to change some of our city’s stranger ways. But it falls in nicely with “Ideas” like making comuter trains that do not
    connect airports and universities, but instead connects places where no one goes because it was “cheaper” or putting a multimillion dollar homeless shelter right next to an established entertainment district. Go figure…

    • Thanks, John. Yep, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Half-baked efforts yields half-baked results (transit, shelter, or parks).

      Analysis paralysis. Design by consensus. Both yield inferior amenities for Austin’s citizens.

  4. Terry M. says

    Good post, Jude. I agree with Aaron who said there needs to be a more family friendly park. I would even go further:

    • the more urban an area, the more structured (I am not saying less trees and landscaping), meaning more places that invite people of different interests or needs. If you want families downtown, think of these parks as “common backyards” to be used by everyone.
    • child friendly places need to be at EVERY park downtown. Having just one defeats the purpose, as many moms will not have the time or patience to settle into a long walk to give their children a short playtime.
    • A playscape is not enough. Several big needs:
    • there needs to be an area that is fenced — not high or intended to be a big barrier, but one that is 36″ or 42″ designed to allow the children to run an play, without Mom or Dad worrying that the child will run in the street.
    • inside that fenced area, a paved play area — to ride trikes big wheels, razor scooters, etc. these kids like and need to move. Allowing them the (safe) freedom to do that is big.
    • Sitting areas in the shade where parents can safely watch their children play. They need shade several months out of the year or they won’t go. And they will not sit there unless they can easily watch over their children.
    • Food and drink vendors bring people. They need lots of shade to sit.

    Thanks for bringing this discussion to the forefront.

    • Great suggestions, Terry.

      Family friendly improvements like these are critical to getting people interested in parks. I bet there’s enough demand in downtown for a Kickstarter campaign, such that many private donors can get excited about progress and contribute.

  5. Aaron R. says

    Great post and suggestions, Jude. I’d like to add that while I’m a huge fan of downtown residential living, I don’t think the city is recognizing the importance of developing (and maintaining) downtown parks. Despite a rising number of families and children moving into the area, downtown lacks a family-centric park. Duncan Park would be the perfect place for this type of opportunity. I can’t think of another city with a strong residential downtown base that does not have at least one family friendly park, cool playscape, etc. Hopefully, Austin swings in this direction (pardon the pun).

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