More than a century after Andrew Jackson Zilker donated approximately 350 acres of land to the City of Austin to create what would eventually become the city’s favorite metropolitan park, we find ourselves in an embarrassing predicament — Zilker Park has never had a master plan! Well, there have of course been plans over the years, but not quite a master plan, at least in the modern egghead parlance of the community development process known as comprehensive planning.
We’re obviously joking about the embarrassing part, since the park has done quite well for itself. Still, the city’s population growth and associated heavy use of Zilker for plain old recreation and the laundry list of special events it hosts every year — when there isn’t a pandemic, that is — has exposed a few cracks in its infrastructure and facilities, some of which are older than your parents.
Last year, City Council tasked our Parks and Recreation Department with the negotiation and execution of a contract with a consulting firm — reportedly local outfit Design Workshop — to begin the process of crafting a Zilker Metropolitan Park Vision Plan. The city itself can explain this for you better than us:
The Zilker Metropolitan Park Vision Plan is a community-driven planning process to establish a guiding framework for the restoration and future development of Zilker Metropolitan Park. It is the first comprehensive planning initiative to encompass the park’s 350 acres and associated facilities.
— City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department
That’s a very ambitious and equally vague pair of sentences, so we’ll do our best to figure out more precisely what that means. This plan, in keeping with its “comprehensive” focus, will remind you of just how many separate sites and facilities make up Zilker — the city’s description of the plan lists “major facilities and amenities including, but not limited to, Barton Springs Pool, Zilker Botanical Garden, Austin Nature and Science Center, Zilker Clubhouse, Girl Scout Lodge, Sunshine Camp, Zilker Hillside Theater, Zilker Caretaker Lodge, Umlauf Sculpture Gardens, and McBeth Recreation Center, the Butler Hike and Bike Trail, and Barton Creek Trail.”
We’ve already seen the enormous potential, if not yet the results in every case, of fixing up many of these facilities in recent years — think about existing plans to rehabilitate sites including the Zilker Clubhouse, the Zilker Cafe, the Barton Springs Bathhouse, the park’s miniature train, and so on. Presumably we’ll see more upgrades like these imagined for other facilities at Zilker, and the new plan will work to organize them into a single cohesive vision — while also addressing recent local topics of discussion like the environmental impact of the park’s increasing list of special events and the controversial issue of cars parking on the fields directly east of Mopac.
The city’s request for qualifications (RFQ) document released as part of the search for a consultant on the project last year describes some goals in slightly more explicit detail:
At least a few of the items on the long list above should strike your fancy if you’re a frequent Zilker visitor, particularly the topics related to mobility for bikes and pedestrians — it’s not always easy to get to the park despite its central location. Now that you have perhaps a slightly less vague idea of what this plan might contain, we hope you’re invested just enough to provide the city with your feedback.
Remember, community engagement is a huge part of this planning process, especially in the early stages of design, so do us a favor and click here to fill out the project’s initial survey. One of the highlights of filling this out is seeing other people’s answers — we’re big fans of the comment suggesting that the city should extend the Zilker train system’s tracks across the river all the way into downtown to bring people into the park. If that’s not comprehensive planning, nothing is. Get to it!