7 Ways To Make Downtown Austin Even Better

7 Ways To Make Downtown Austin Even Better

“Dude, I’ve got these ideas, so many ideas burnin’ through my skull…”

Living in downtown Austin is great and like anything else, over time, you begin to form ideas on what could really make it better.  Not all of these are my original ideas – but they are all notions that I would support.

1) Downtown Austin Needs A General Store

We need a friggin’ Target, not another boutique doggy day care!

We’ve written about both of these things before, and it seems like quite a few folks are hopping on the urban Target concept (Target Express) bandwagon.

Target Express

Rendering of a Target Express concept – which is geared toward city dwellers

2) Building Spirit

The Grand Illumination in Richmond Virginia

It would be cool to see downtown Austin condo buildings unite for certain holidays (or for other specific reasons / causes).  One idea that I’ve seen floating around is allowing units within the buildings to decorate their respective balconies for the winter holidays, and perhaps do a neighborhood wide contest. Politics aside, it would be wonderful to see a coordinated effort to get people into the general spirit.

photo by Jessica Kilma

photo by Jessica Kilma

Halloween is also a wonderful opportunity for residents of downtown Austin condos to invite families within the community and otherwise to enjoy traditional trick-or-treating. The Shore, in coordination with DANA, has participated in a small scale version of this with much success (Although, I’m a bit biased, as this is an effort that I personally started).  Honestly, I’m not sure who gets more from this particular event, the families or the residents.

3) Ice Cream Truck with a Downtown Route

This kid went to the Rick Perry school of eating.

I would LOVE for downtown to have a traditional ice cream truck that regularly drives around the neighborhood (and perhaps have a route with specific stops so people could plan their ice cream indulgence).

There’s a stationary stand that just popped up next to Downtown Burgers on Cesar Chavez across from the Austin Convention Center, but it’s just not quite the same.

Stationary Ice Cream Goodies Offered While They Last on Cesar Chavez, Across from the Convention Center

Stationary Ice Cream Goodies Offered While They Last on Cesar Chavez, Across from the Convention Center

4) Boat Taxis / Gondolas to Cross Ladybird Lake

This isn’t as crazy as it may seem.

Before the 20th century, getting from downtown Austin to the South bank of the colorado river was done largely by… ferries!  It’s true, and you can see a historic plaque telling you about it on the hike & bike trail as you pass the Four Seasons hotel.

Bring it back!  Sure would make it fun to check out the hot spots on the South Austin.

5) Swimming in Ladybird Lake


And, while we’re talking about the lake, I want to be able to swim in it, gosh dangit!  Full Kramer style.

Sure, it’s filled with trash, old steel rebar, and dog poo.  Those are solvable problems! Every few years Lake Austin is allowed to drain in order to clean up the duck weed.  So, what’s stopping this from happening on Lady Bird Lake and then get volunteers to remove debris?

KUT recently wrote an article explaining why it’s illegal to swim in the lake, and it’s chock full of great information.  The article, however, lacked any proposed solutions that would make the lake swimmable. :(

6) Non-terrifying Public Restrooms (Pay Per Use) like the Germans have


One of my favorite things about Germany is the preponderance of pay restrooms in public spaces (like rail stations, malls, etc).  McClean is among the most well-known of these types of facilities, and they are great. These restrooms require a very small fee (about $0.50) for use, and had attendants.  The restrooms were sparkling.  McClean’s motto is “clean, safe, and served” and that is 100% accurate in my experience.

I want some of these in public spaces downtown – like, real bad.  I am often petrified to use public restrooms in downtown Austin, and I can’t be the only one.

Recently, we discussed a new alley activation movement, and our friend and contributor Fred Schmidt highlighted the need for good, safe, public restrooms.  Seems like this idea could help make that a reality.

7) Personalized Mural Art for Condo Building Parking Spaces

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This one is a little out of left-field – but I just think it would be oh-so-cool.

With all the pretty new buildings popping up in downtown – the fact of the matter is that their corresponding garage spaces remain ugly – particularly on the “inside.”  Wouldn’t it be neat if each condo owner had the opportunity to work with an HOA approved artist to paint a personalized (within HOA set guidelines) mural in their parking space?  If a lot of owners got on board – it would absolutely TRANSFORM the ugliest parts of the condo buildings downtown into something unique, funky, and amazing.  Not to mention how it would be a wonderful opportunity to support local art in a truly cool way.

Some buildings are starting to get on board with general murals in their garages in “common” garage spaces (like entries and elevator bays – see above slideshow for a couple of Austin examples) but this would be an amazing extension of that effort in my opinion.  Many urban cities have been doing similar concepts for years – the concept I’m describing would be a slightly different version of what’s already being done (and, for the record, I would support these concepts, too!).

What ideas do you have for downtown Austin?

Learning About Austin’s Urban Cemeteries

Learning About Austin’s Urban Cemeteries

When I lived in downtown Atlanta, one of my favorite restaurants was a nearby pub and seafood place called Six Feet Under in Grant Park. The restaurant was right across the street from a cemetery, and, rather than being grossed out at the thought of eating so close to the many corpses buried across the street, I found the view rather peaceful and beautiful.  I enjoyed going to their rooftop deck, ordering a beer, and gazing upon all of the serene tombstones.  With a strange-in-a-good-way feeling, being in the presence of so many that had lived before me helped me feel part of something larger, and put the petty problems of the day in perspective – a reminder that I was part of something much more significant.

Cemeteries are, I believe, an important part of the urban landscape; but a part of the urban landscape that I don’t think many people living in dense urban cities actually think about.  Austin seems to be on the cutting edge of trying to leverage aging infrastructure (or, if you’re into puns like me – “dead weight”) into a modern productive asset, and the current discussions surrounding a cemetery “master plan” are part of that process.

oakwood-cemetery-entranceCemeteries do not just take care of themselves.  There’s an entire system and economy behind operating these pieces of land. There are privately owned cemeteries, and there are municipal cemeteries, which have a basic function of providing affordable burial and related services for those in the community. Here in Austin, Travis County is responsible for providing burials for the indigent population.

Of the ~300 known cemeteries in Travis County, the City of Austin only owns five of them: Austin Memorial Park, Evergreen, Oakwood, Oakwood Annex, and Plummers. The City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department took over maintenance of the cemeteries in 2013.  A 2006 article in the Austin Chronicle explains how these City cemeteries “work” and some of the inherent challenges of running a cemetery:

Part of the difficulty in maintaining Oakwood lies in the fact that, although the city owns the property, caring for individual plots is the responsibility of the families of the people buried in them. As Jay Stone, manager of Austin Parks and Recreation’s financial services division, put it, “It’s no different [from] when you purchase your home. You do the upkeep.” Oakwood – and the city’s four other cemeteries – are like their own neighborhoods within the city. Think of the plots as people’s lots, the graves and mausoleums as people’s houses, and the tombstones and other markers as fences (hence references to the cemetery in old newspapers as “The City of the Dead”). The hole in this rationale, says Dale Flatt, president and co-founder of Save Austin’s Cemeteries, is that many of the families of people buried in Oakwood have long since moved away. In terms of long-term care, those graves have essentially become abandoned houses.

The City of Austin has never had a plan regarding the management and upkeep of municipal cemeteries, and it was the recent announcement of gathering public input for the City’s inaugural Cemeteries Master Plan that got me thinking about the business and real estate of cemeteries.  The fifth and final public input meeting is on Saturday, January 24, 2015, from 10:30am-12:30pm at the Austin Public Library, Carver Branch, 1161 Angelina Street. At that meeting, the Master Plan team will present the draft plan.

The two nearest cemeteries to downtown Austin are

  1. Oakwood Cemetery at 1601 Navosota, 78702, and the Oakwood Annex, City-owned and managed
  2. The Texas State Cemetery at 909 Navasota, 78702.  This is the impeccably manicured burial site of Stephen F. Austin, General Albert Sidney Johnston, Governor Allan Shivers, Governor John Connally, and Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock.

Oakwood and the Oakwood Annex rarely see new burials, and are deemed as historic sites.  Yet, the cheap chain-link fence that wraps the land has been an eyesore for years.  Between the two separate but adjacent sites rest over 35,000 buried bodies!  Oakwood is Austin’s oldest cemetery, established in 1839, when the City was originally platted.  Susanna Dickinson is among other notable Austinites buried there.

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When I read articles online about the urban cemetery as a concept, the theme from the articles was that space for a traditional burials is becoming limited, and urban cemeteries and burial practices are evolving to take into account those needs.

Interestingly, “stacked” burial plots are actually NOT allowed in Austin (I guess the City is presenting obstacles to urban density even in death, wakka wakka).

A little “spooked” (I can’t help myself.) and looking for answers, I called up Kim McKnight (a City employee who is facilitating the discussions around the Austin Cemetery Master Plan, and who has a background in urban revitalization), and she assured me that there is not really a threat of that happening in Austin for the foreseeable future.  However, she did say that part of the purpose of the Master Plan was to find ways for the municipally-owned and operated cemeteries’ use to evolve and perhaps generate some revenue.  She was VERY quick to clarify that the City does not view cemeteries as being the same as other parks, and that they should not be used as traditional recreation spaces, instead stressing “we can do a better job of activating those cemeteries so that they have some relevancy.”

Right now, only two of the five city-owned cemeteries actually brings in revenue.  The master plan seeks to address funding issues to create a sustainable model to keep these historic sites beautiful and maintained as a part of the larger community.  With Oakwood in particular, the City is not only looking at ways to activate the space, but is also considering creating additional burial options like cremation.  The Oakwood Annex is being considered as a site to hold a columbarium.

provided by Kim McKnight - City of Austin, Parks and Recreation

Oakwood Chapel, photo provided by Kim McKnight – City of Austin, Parks and Recreation

The master plan also seeks to tackle the issue of restoration / renovation of the sites.  One interesting project in Oakwood is the planned restoration of the Oakwood Chapel, with the intention to use the space for programming once it is renovated.  Charles Page a significant local architect who also designed the bandstand at Wooldridge Square and whose sons were partners in the well known firm PageSoutherlandPage, built the chapel in 1914.  The master plan will also address how to properly maintain gravestones and monuments, and provide irrigation solutions.

Unique Grave Markers at Oakwood, photo by Taylor Martinez

Tree care is also vitally important, and the City has forked over major funds for a tree inventory and assessment study.  Interesting aside – apparently foxes live in the Oakwood Cemetery – who knew?!



*A big thanks to Kim Mcknight for spending a good amount of time with me on the phone to talk about cemeteries and the Master Plan, and who also provided some of the pictures and resource links.

Handful of This Week’s Downtown Austin Events (and one on the East Side)

Handful of This Week’s Downtown Austin Events (and one on the East Side)

DANA Urban Core Happy Hour
Sunday, November 16, 2014 – 2pm-4pm
Hotel Ella

RSVP Required.


DANA members and guests are invited to enjoy the hospitality of the recently revamped Hotel Ella.

On the menu:

  • Truffle Risotto Cakes
    Crab Cakes with Lemon Aioli
    Chorizo stuffed bacon wrapped dates with piquillo pepper sauce
    Antipasta Buffet Bar with imported cheese, house cured meats, preserved local fruits, and peppered flatbread with assorted crackers

+ complimentary beer, wine, and cocktails!

Creek Show, Light Night
Thursday, November 13, 2014 – Sunset ’til Late
Waller Creek (between 5th street and 7th street)

Event website.

"Flow" installation, Design Workshop

“Flow” installation, Design Workshop

As the sun sets on Waller Creek, five site-specific light installations will be revealed. These installations, all created by Austin-based architects and landscape architects, will illuminate Waller Creek in new and exciting ways. See the designs, hear local music and learn more about the future of Waller Creek.

East Austin Studio Tour
2 Weekends: November 15-16, November 22-23 – 11am-6pm
Various locations

Event website.


Big Medium presents the 13th East Austin Studio Tour! EAST is a free, annual, self-guided art event occurring over two weekends in November, providing the public with an opportunity to meet the makers: the local artists and artisans who leave a lasting imprint on Austin’s vibrant, dynamic culture. Tour-goers are invited to discover new artistic talent, see working studios, learn about artists’ tools, techniques, and inspirations, and explore unique exhibition spaces and local businesses.

One of the artists we love to support, Hallie Rae Ward, will be showcasing her work at Createscape Coworking.  Check it out!

Some Downtown Austin Events – Family Friendly

Some Downtown Austin Events – Family Friendly

Three family-friendly downtown Austin events happening next week, in no particular order….

Event 1

Trick or Treating with DANA at The Shore Condos, Thursday, 10/30/2014 – 5:30-7pm

Pretty self-explanatory.  This event is restricted to downtown residents and their children (or grand-children, etc) and should be absolute cute overload. RSVP required. Click link above for details and RSVP. Here are some pics from last year’s event:

Event 2

DANA Garden Day, Near Pfluger Bridge, Saturday, 11/1/2014 –  9am

Calling all city dwellers! You may no longer have a garden to tend, but come get your hands dirty and meet your neighbors as we beautify part of the hike and bike trail near the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge. DANA adopted a garden on Lady Bird Lake (Cesar Chavez side of Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge). It’s a busy spot on the trail and will be enjoyed by all that pass by.

A pic from a DANA Garden Day of yesteryear...

A pic from a DANA Garden Day of yesteryear…

If you are interested in volunteering, please just email DANA at info@downtownaustin.org so they can send you additional information if necessary.

DANA Garden Day
Saturday, November 1, 2014, 9am-12noon
About 999 W Cesar Chavez
map   transit

Event 3

Movies in the Park in Wooldridge Square – Beetlejuice, 10/29/2014 @ 7pm


The 2014 Fall Movies in the Park series continues on Wednesday, October 29 with Beetlejuice at 7:00 p.m. This week is sponsored by the Downtown Austin Alliance and will change things up by moving to Wooldridge Square.

Movies in the Park is a series of free films brought to you by the Austin Parks Foundation, and presented by the Alamo Drafthouse. The 2014 Movies in the Park theme celebrates the Alamo 100 – a list of 100 movies deemed essential by our beloved Alamo Drafthouse. The last movie of the season will be The Dark Night on November 13 at 6:15 p.m. in Republic Square.

Dogs, picnics, and lawn chairs are welcome. Alcoholic beverages, glass, and styrofoam are not permitted in the park. Recycling bins are provided, but we ask that you help us out by packing out all of your own trash. Smoking is also prohibited in the park, per city law. In case of rain, please visit http://austinparks.org/moviesinthepark.html for updates.

Downtown Austin Voting Guide

Downtown Austin Voting Guide

We know you’ve heard this a bajillion-million times, but this year’s election on November 4, 2014,  is VERY important. Particularly for Downtown Austin, as the new 10-1 district system has the potential to really adversely affect policies that support a vibrant and growing downtown.

First things first – when, where, and how to vote:


The actual election is November 4, 2014, but EARLY VOTING starts Monday, October 20, 2014, (prompting some discussion between Jude and I as to what the real difference is between early voting and just regular voting).  Early voting runs through Halloween this year.


Early Voting Locations: Oddly, there are no stations officially defined as “Early Voting” stations in downtown proper (weird, huh?) – but there are some MOBILE Voting locations downtown for Early Voting (sheesh – confusing, I know) – here are a few:

  • Mon 10/20/14 THROUGH Fri 10/31/14, 8am-7pm: Mobile Voting Station at ACC Rio Grande (1212 Rio Grande) – no voting station on Sun 10/26, and hours are 9am-6pm on Sat 10/25
  • Tues 10/21/14, 1pm-3pm: Mobile Voting station at Lakeside Senior Center (85 Trinity)
  • Mon 10/27/14 THROUGH Fri 10/31/14, 7am-7pm: Mobile Voting station at Austin City Hall (301 W 2nd)
  • Tues 10/28/14, 8am-5pm: Mobile Voting station at Travis County Commissioner’s Court (700 Lavaca)
  • Wed, 10/29/14 & Thurs 10/30/14, 8am-5pm: Mobile Voting station at HM Sweatt Travis County Courthouse (1000 Guadalupe)
  • Fri, 10/31/14, 8am-5pm: Mobile Voting station at the Sam Houston Building (201 E 14th St)


On November 4th:

  • Austin City Hall (301 W 2nd) – 7am-7pm
  • ACC Rio Grande (1212 Rio Grande) – 7am-7pm

Here’s a LIST of all the mobile voting locations, sorted by date. For a comprehensive map of ALL Early Voting, Mobile Voting, and Election Day Voting locations – click here.


Now, as to the ballot itself – we won’t go into every race, in the interest of everyone’s sanity, but, we will give an overview to  a couple of the downtown-related / pertinent issues:

There’s the General Gubernatorial ballot which has things like US Representatives, State Representatives, Judges, and County offices….

Then, there’s the CITY Ballot which will have some very important races for Downtown on it:

  • For District 9 (the district which includes downtown Austin), we personally support Chris Riley.  The Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association also supports this candidate.
  • For Proposition 1 (the “rail bond”), while there is quite a bit of debate about this bond, we think it’s important to note that the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association has given $4,000 in funds to the Let’s Go Austin political action committee, who has campaigned to support the bond. The Downtown Austin Alliance and the Austin American Statesman also support Prop 1.

Also, here’s a handy dandy tool you can use to remind your friends to Go Vote!