The intersection of Enfield Road, Baylor Street, and Parkway near Castle Hill in Old West Austin wasn’t much to look at until the city built a pedestrian crossing there earlier this year. The crossing included a central island, known variously as a “safety island or “refuge island” — a street design feature intended to increase pedestrian safety by dividing the lane and reducing the amount of time a person crossing the street is exposed to traffic.
They usually aren’t much to look at, but this pedestrian island was designed by the city to include a small patch of green space. To residents of the neighborhood, that meant a blank piece of sod at best, and a snarl of unmaintained weeds at worst — their confidence in the city’s ability to keep the tiny plot regularly mowed was understandably a bit low.
Instead, the neighborhood informally adopted the space and transformed it into Austin’s smallest park, called BEPI Park for “Baylor Enfield Parkway Intersection.”
It appears the city was more than happy to allow the park to remain, with Mayor Steve Adler issuing a proclamation declaring the space a “cultural gem of the city,” and designating its opening day of June 26th as “BEPI Park Day.” Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Tovo even participated in the park’s ribbon cutting ceremony.
BEPI Park opened five months ago, so I thought I’d stop by and see how it’s holding up these days. Even though it’s still 80 degrees outside in November, it looks like the park’s celebrating the fall with a collection of pumpkins and other seasonal gourds. Turns out the neighborhood even celebrated Oktoberfest there last month!
Although this might sound like just another classic “Keep Austin Weird” story, the neighborhood’s creation of the park is a friendly form of what’s known as tactical urbanism — the practice of private individuals or groups taking urban design into their own hands, modifying the city around them to better meet the perceived needs of the community. Tactical urbanist practices vary in scale, intention, and legality, but BEPI Park is one of the lucky projects embraced by the folks in charge.
Of course, this raises an important question — why aren’t we making these all over town?