Waller Creek revitalization kicks off strongly, but not without consequences

Jasmine Patience

Although Austin has an environmentally friendly culture, Waller Creek is currently a shabby and dilapidated excuse for a natural landmark.

However, with some elbow grease and extra effort, the creek has the potential to connect East and West Austin in immeasurable ways. Due to Waller Creek’s flood-prone nature and the rampant growth of Austin, it is a trash-ridden shadow of its once exuberant existence, flowing through the city into Lady Bird Lake. The Waller Creek Conservancy, a non-profit organization based in Austin, is working diligently to give the creek a new reputation.

Peter Mullan, CEO of the Waller Creek Conservancy, is optimistic about the undertaking of this endeavor and expects it to benefit the city in a variety of ways.

“The Waller Creek project hits the triple — bottom line of economic development, environmental sustainability and social benefit,” Mullan said.

From the addition of 37 acres of public park space, to three miles of trails and an outdoor theater, the project almost seems too good to be true. According to the Conservancy, the venture is expected to cost approximately $230 million and is set to take until 2025.

On top of the already hefty costs, the majority of Waller Creek runs through lower income neighborhoods. In a guest lecture given by Mullan at UT, he stated there was concern new additions to the creek would create a vibrant center point to these less fortunate parts of Austin, but increases in rent may force these residents to leave the area altogether. However, the Conservancy says it is heavily dedicated to maintaining the integrity of Austin and making citizens of all backgrounds welcome. Mullan said the project will be well worth its price as the new creek is expected to be a great financial asset to the city of Austin.

“Waller Creek will be a regional destination that will catalyze new development on the east side of downtown,” Mullan said. “But it will also enhance retail and tourism business throughout downtown.”

Given the apparent trash build up in Waller Creek, there is a clear need for an environmental makeover and the Conservancy is swooping in at just the right time. Mullan’s hope is to develop a more sustainable environment that supports all form of life within the creek.

“Replanted stream banks will enhance water quality and storm water management and create environments for enhanced insect, bird and animal habitats,” Mullan said.

Biochemistry freshman Rachel Nolte frequently passes by the creek and is concerned about its current state.

“It makes me sad because there’s always trash that falls in there,” Nolte said. “But no one goes down to get it.”

While the maintenance of the creek that runs through campus is the University’s responsibility, the Conservancy hopes that its plans to clean up Waller Creek will inspire UT to do the same.

Dr. Stephen Sonnenberg, a trained psychiatrist and professor at UT, greatly supports the health benefits the project will create. Sonnenberg says the project will substantially improve the health of the community by granting people access to the park for exercise and giving rise to spaces for cultural performances.

“Because then people are able to be more empathic with each other, more supportive of each other, and when people live in that kind of a comfortable and happy environment, it reduces stress levels and makes for a healthier population,” Sonnenberg said.

Mullan shared Sonnenberg’s vision for a Waller Creek that will forge a stronger community.

“Waller Creek will be a new kind of public space for Austin — one that both prepares the city for its urban future but also taps into core and longstanding Austin values,” Mullan said. “It will be a public space that brings the entire community together.”