Prioritizing Pedestrians Over Parking With Proposed Pocket Patio

Prioritizing Pedestrians Over Parking With Proposed Pocket Patio

Lot’s of Ps there.

There’s a new plan in place to put a pocket patio in front of the building at 804 Congress (the Bosche-Hogg office building).  This is the vision of building owner David Kahn, and if it happens we think it will be a major step towards activating Congress Avenue north of 8th Street.

Somewhat similar to the extremely successful patio concept first introduced to Congress Avenue by Royal Blue Grocery at 609 Congress in 2012 (a concept that won the ULI 2013 Award of Distinction for Public Impact), and designed by the same firm (dwg), we expect great things for the Bosche-Hogg patio.

This patio, which will benefit all the pedestrians walking along Austin’s “main street” will also have the effect of eliminating 4 city parking places.  We think this is a small price to pay for better pedestrian experience.

The City of Austin seems to agree:

Downtown Austin is comprised of more than 1,050 acres, the streets add up to 34.5% of downtown and parks and open space only consist of 12.3% of the entire area. In any city, the places between buildings need to be designed for people; well-designed, people-friendly places can beautify our city. A typical metered parking space downtown Austin will serve around 6 vehicles a day, while a parklet can serve hundreds who desire safe, attractive and welcoming public space.

The reality is, there are plenty of parking spaces downtown and the reason that there is a perceived lack of parking has only to do with the underutilization of existing parking garages – many of which remain largely empty for long periods of time.

A 2013 article from Community Impact sites:

According to city staff, in 2012, the average occupancy rate of existing off-street parking was 26 percent, with peak occupancy reaching about 67 percent. Two reasons Riley pointed out for the underused parking include garages that are not open to the public and drivers having difficulty in finding available parking.

We think Congress Avenue is the perfect place for this sort of concept to thrive.   Congress Avenue is downtown’s gem and making it more beautiful benefits the entire city.  Especially in the northern part of Congress, which needs more “non-Capitol Complex” pedestrian life breathed into it. Downtown Austin condos like Brazos Place should be extra supportive of these upgrades to their little corner of the neighborhood. We hope to see more of these concepts pop up.



Visiting Seattle

Visiting Seattle

Jude and I like to travel in December, and we recently took our annual winter trip.  This year’s trip began in Seattle, WA. Neither of us had ever been to Seattle before, and were pleasantly surprised at the cultural similarities that the two cities have, while also, in my opinion, having very different “feeling” downtown areas.  Naturally, we began comparing the two downtowns, and while Austin is doing a lot of things right within the urban-core to make it one of the most desirable places in the country to live, downtown Seattle is also doing a lot of things right, and is anchored by beautiful natural scenery. Our City leadership can look to Seattle in terms of continuing to optimize Austin’s potential, notably their [troubled] effort to tear down the Alaskan Way Viaduct, a hideous highway separating the city from the bay.



But, before I begin really comparing, I think it would be a good idea to start with some historical facts / population stats for both cities:

Population of downtown area:
Austin: around 10,000 (Downtown Austin Alliance), close to 1% of Austin’s total population
Seattle: around 60,000, close to 10% of Seattle’s total population (Downtown Seattle Association)

Public  / Communal Transportation:
Austin: CapMetro Buses, Red Line Commuter Rail, Taxis, BikeShare, Uber, Lyft, Car2Go, ZipCar
Seattle: Metro Buses, Ferry, Seattle Center Monorail, Seattle Streetcar, Link Light Rail, Taxi, Uber, Lyft, Car2Go, ZipCar

Public Market:
Austin: Sunday Farmer’s market in Republic Square park
Seattle: Pike Place Public Market, a permanent installment open 7 days a week

Size of downtown area:
Austin: 9 districts, approximately 1.5 square miles overall (.005 of total size of Austin)
Seattle: 12 distinct neighborhoods, approximately 4 square miles overall (.03 of total size of Austin)

Population Growth:
Austin and Seattle are the two fastest growing cities in the nation.

Notable Corporate HQs:
Austin: Whole Foods, HomeAway, GSD&M
Seattle:, Tableau, Starbucks


The original and, ahem, more anatomically correct Starbucks logo that you see much more prevalently in Seattle

The most interesting of these statistics, to me, is that the relative size and population of downtown Seattle to the overall city is a much higher percentage than with Austin.  One way of interpreting that fact is to say that downtown is a bigger part of the total Seattle experience, and I have a feeling policy and funding follow suit (which brings more dollars and more vibrancy back into their downtown to flow out to the rest of their city).  However, I would say that most people in Austin realize that downtown IS the city’s cultural center and a must see / do.   I think all Austinites can continue to keep that perspective top of mind while encouraging continued growth in our urban core – realizing that a vibrant and engaging downtown brings benefit to the entire city.

However, despite their difference in scope – downtown Seattle and downtown Austin do have similarities. For instance, where downtown Seattle has graceful Gulls, whose calls evoke the sounds of the calming sea that traces the edges of Seattle’s downtown,…downtown Austin has Grackles.  (Okay, so Seattle wins that one.) Where downtown Seattle has insane hills that are the stuff of sleigh-riders dreams, downtown Austin has a gentle southeastern slope that makes outdoor activities a dream. Downtown Seattle has the Needle, downtown Austin has … the Austonian.  Downtown Seattle has a crazy Gum Wall, downtown Austin (well, close to downtown) has a graffiti wall (Hope Outdoor Gallery).

The examples above are a little in jest – but I will say that the culture of downtown Seattle did, in fact, feel pretty similar to downtown Austin.  For one, the city is very dog friendly.  Dogs were everywhere.  Additionally, many of the restaurants and night-life spots in downtown Seattle could have just as well been in Austin.

The natural surroundings, however, could not have been more different.  There were mountains viewable from downtown Seattle, as well as an active ocean port.  The weather is very rainy and generally much colder than in Austin. Likely, because of the weather (and maybe the hills), I did not see NEARLY as many folks jogging or bicycling around downtown Seattle, where in Austin, that’s the definite norm. One thing that REALLY struck me is that downtown Seattle and downtown Austin are very close to the same age, both “founded” in the mid-1800s. Downtown Seattle had a broader historic feel, but Austin is simply effervescent with youth and new growth.

The public transportation was robust and almost effortless (at least to us) in Seattle.  Also, downtown Seattle had more shopping – department stores and mom and pop shops happily co-exist in downtown Seattle.

Nordstrom Rack right next to the Monorail

Nordstrom Rack right next to the Monorail

Additionally, and this is a very timely issue for Austin, but busking in Seattle certainly felt MUCH more professional than what I see in downtown Austin…here’s one of the many talented street performers sprinkled around downtown Seattle. It’s important to note that Seattle has some very lax regulations on busking, however. In Austin, I think it should be monitored and systemized more than it is, and stakeholders like DANA agree (the City is currently obtaining more stakeholder feedback before re-presenting their proposal on busking regulations).

Now, it may sound like I just think Seattle is the greatest thing since sliced bread and why don’t I just marry Seattle because I love it so much….but, it’s not like that.  I LOVE downtown Austin, I really do. I believe we are a relatively “new” downtown (in the modern sense) and an incredibly fast growing one, at that. And the opportunities that brings for those of us in on the ground floor of this burgeoning downtown are incredible. And it only benefits us to look to more established downtown centers across the country and take what we can from those that have done it before.  City leaders and policy influencers are already doing this, of course – but it never hurts to keep it top of mind.

And, I think it’s important to note that more isn’t ALWAYS better.  For instance, the amount of vagrancy in downtown Seattle was frankly overwhelming.  Austin certainly has vagrancy issues as well, but, at least, anecdotally, Seattle felt FAR worse. And, there’s controversy as to whether Seattle is really doing their best to solve the problem in a sustainable way.

From searching a few online sources, Seattle’s cost of living seems quite a bit higher than Austin’s.  Most online source quotes that housing is at least 25% higher in Seattle than in Austin. This figure does not compare the downtown areas specifically, but I would think there is some disparity there.

In the last 90 days, downtown Austin’s median sold pricing is observed to be $490 per foot.  Semi-reliable online sources quote a recent median sales price for downtown Seattle the last 90 days at around $475 per foot.  So, if this is accurate, it may be that downtown Austin, is in fact, the more expensive housing market, at least at this specific point in time.  One reason for that may be the relatively lower inventory.

I think looking to Seattle can really help those that are shaping the new downtown Austin – especially in terms of public transportation, the city’s relationship with its natural surroundings (the Waller Creek redevelopment and Shoal Creek Conservancy efforts certainly are on the right track), and the SCOPE of downtown in relation to the size of the overall city: encourage vertical development in the urban-core, in order to preserve the beauty of our hill-country.

One thing is clear, Austin is a fabulous place to live – and it’s sunny.  Seattle can keep all that cloudy gloom for itself.

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!

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!



Last Minute Christmas Gifts You Can Buy Downtown

Last Minute Christmas Gifts You Can Buy Downtown

Christmas is in four days, y’all.  If you want to live dangerously – you can try doing your last minute shopping online and cross your fingers that it gets shipped to you in time OR you can go to the mall and get something completely lackluster, but why risk it?

You can pick up unique gifts right here in downtown without biting your nails about when it will arrive.  One of the many benefits of shopping local.

But Amber, you say, I don’t have the time to visit a lot of unfamiliar stores, look through all their wares, and make a decision.  Never you fear – Amber is here! I’ve done a little of the heavy lifting for you, and below provided you a curated list of some cool shops and some cool stuff they’ve got so you can run in, get a special gift, and run out.

REMEMBER – Check the websites for the store hours!  If you are unsure about something, probably also a good idea to call ahead!

My list, of course, is not exhaustive – if you know of a cool downtown / downtown-adjacent shop – feel free to tell us in the comments below!

[Read more…]