Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

Inside the Austin City Limits

Dateline: 10:32 pm April 3, 2008 Filed under:

Here in Austin for the 16th Congress for the New Urbanism conference, I am doing things a little differently. Usually when attending a conference, I choose a hotel preferably within walking distance of the convention center. With my recent good luck with the vacation rentals website (see my recent post on Santa Cruz and San Francisco), instead of a hotel I looked for a studio or one bedroom rental of some kind.

Well, I lucked out! I found a little studio, just off 6th Street and about two miles west of downtown. It is actually the finished attic level of a home, complete with a kitchenette, bathroom, bedroom with a mini desk, and a wonderful deck under some lovely shade trees. My place is in the Old West Austin Neighborhood, which is a collection of lovely old bungalows on narrow streets, hills, ravines, and a strip of commercial and industrial uses experiencing redevelopment.

I took the express bus from the airport (the Flyer, essentially a nonstop to downtown in 15 minutes for 50 cents) and the Silver Dillo (one of the several free buses serving areas within a mile of downtown) out to the apartment. May I just say the Austin bus service is, well, above average and easy to navigate. Many of the bus stops have not only times but maps showing the route – very helpful to an out of towner.

I got settled and took a walk around the ‘hood, the core of which is on 12th Street and West Lynn. There is a quaint commercial node with a still-functioning pharmacy and soda fountain, called Nau’s. I had a bite to eat at Zocalo, a delicious Mexican restaurant. Also at this little commerical node is a nursery, a dry cleaner and a coffee shop called Caffe Medici. This area is also the original settlement of the city’s first black community, established not long after the Civil War. I encourage you to explore the Old West Austin Neighborhood if you have the chance.

After dinner I wandered down to 6th and Lamar to the famous Waterloo Records to buy the new REM CD and the Whole Foods flagship store (a mixed-use, LEED certified project) for a few groceries. I found myself wandering the 80,000 square foot store among vast displays of exotic foods, quite lost in organic amazement. They even have an in-store wine bar. The outdoor patio is perhaps my favorite part of the development, a pleasant public space full of people hanging out at 9PM on a weeknight.

Today I rented a bicycle thinking it would make the trek back and forth from the conference easier. I was right, although the route is a bit convoluted. From my little flat, I must cross a busy street, pass under a building, up a wheelchair ramp, over another busy street on a pedestrian bridge, down a worn cowpath to a sidewalk that leads under a railroad bridge, over a rickety pedestrian bridge crossing a creek, under a maze of freeway overpasses, then down to a pleasant gravel path along Lady Bird Lake in to downtown. I love it – a wonderful way to get around. It is quite freeing to exlore a new city on a bike.

Tonight I headed back to my little apartment to sit on my deck and enjoy the night air. It dawned on me that I was living the new urbanism. All these practitioners are meeting here this week to try and create good cities, and here I was in the middle of it. I am in a relatively dense neighborhood with tons of character. I took transit, a bike, and walked, all through a mixed use neighborhood with restaurants, a grocery store and open space. Sounds like new urbanism to me!

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.