A little over two years ago today, we wrote about a very cool Alley Activation project done by Art Alliance Austin. In the article, we said that many cities around the world are starting to embrace alleys as more than just loading / unloading and trash dumpster zones. We think that for certain alleys, the concept of revitalization and activation makes a ton of sense.
One such alley in the Rainey district of downtown Austin is getting a second look, compliments of the City’s recent acquisition of funding to pave what’s currently little more than a dirt passage littered with dumpsters behind all of your favorite Rainey Street bars. The alley goes from River Street to where the construction for the Millenium Rainey apartments begin (Millenium Rainey received an alley vacation so they were able to build right over the alley).
We think this is very exciting for the neighborhood not only in the broad sense of representing “out-of-the-box” thinking to maximize public space within the limited confines of an urban area, but more practically and specific to the location – we think this activation may have the effect of “bringing in” the businesses on East Avenue that currently face I-35, encouraging more serviceable and integrated uses to make them fit into the neighborhood they inhabit, rather than being hunkering warehouses with chain-link fences, or out of place and isolated highway bars like the ill-fated Agora.**
The establishments on East Avenue are technically part of the Rainey Neighborhood, but many couldn’t feel more incongruous with their surroundings.
We encourage those interested in upgrading the alley to come to the Mexican American Cultural Center at 600 River Street on On April 7, from 9am-7pm. The City is inviting the public to come and give input on current uses of the alley and solicit constructive ideas for future uses that also preserve the “essential service functions” of the alley. Feel free to share constructive ideas in the comments below, too. We’ll be dropping by the Open House and are happy to share any cool ideas on our readers’ behalves!
**Legacy leather bar Chain Drive is currently residing in part of the structure at 84 East Avenue today. It was formerly tucked away and hidden in plain sight on Willow Street off of Red River before being pushed out – likely due to parcel consolidation for the Waller Park Place / Waller Center. Even though it’s not a bar we personally visit, we’d actually like to see it stay around for posterity, if nothing else.
Fred Schmidt says
Interesting post and “movement,” Amber: alley activations. However there is one critical aspect and function of our alley’s that is not being discussed: public urination (to be blunt).
Austin has no public restrooms for the massive food-and-beverage based collective of burgeoning “entertainment districts” that have evolved: Rainey, East 6th, West 6th, 2nd Street, Warehouse, SoCo, Eastside. We fill guests with pint and after pint of delicious craft brews, then give them absolutely no place to relieve themselves if they failed to do so (or weren’t yet ready) before leaving the establishment of their imbibing. That solution is currently our alleys.
San Antonio Riverwalk, which handles comparable amounts of pedestrian traffic to our Downtown, has multiple public restroom facilities. Austin is finally building public restrooms along our heavily used Lady Bird Lake Hike Bike Trail. But we still have no plan, and very little discussion, regarding a network of safe, lit, attended and regularly serviced public restrooms within each of our popular entertainment districts. A logical space in which to house such facilities would be in a direct-street-accessible corner of many of the parking garages being built or already in existence.
The most-asked question fielded by the staff of our downtown retail stores is: “Do you have a restroom?” (…right along with: “Can I recharge my phone in your electrical outlets?”) During a big event like SXSW those questions surface a dozen times an hour. As someone who routinely rides his bicycle through our Downtown alleys as shortcuts around street vehicular traffic congestion, I can tell you that all of our alleys are rife with the stench of urine.
Let’s finally solve the giant need for public restrooms first, then move on to the more pleasurable opportunity of creating engaging alley activations.