Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Observations 9th St - 12th st

Mass Observation 1:
September 1st, 1:15 pm. With no stairway in sight approaching the east side of Waller Creek in between 12th and 11th street, Kelsey and I slid down a self-appointed entrance of a steep dirt slope. The creek was still. Approaching the water, we could hear a small stream to our left (south), and the water to our right (north) remained unmoving and silent. Separating the movement stood a stone bridge, connecting a path to the other side of the creek. The other side had an established stairway and a sign set on a plaque against the stone saying “Convention Center,” “Town Lake,” “Historic 6th Street,” and “Waterloo Park,” next to arrows, all pointing out and away from the current area. Two items near the stairway showed recent activity: a cigarette butt lay with its fresh ashes still spread out from the end and fresh dog feces entertained flies.
The water North of the bridge lay still sitting in thick moss, weeds, and unlevel rocks that looked confusingly similar to concrete. All plant life grew unmaintained. They overgrew their designated spot on the hill, onto the paths and into the water. Later down the path, a chain fence confined insecure rocks on the West side of the creek. Doing that also restricted and confined the plant life to the sides. The plant life underneath the fence looked smothered, dark, and entangled, dead and alive. The water that moved, moved because of a drain right next to the bridge. The birds gathered at the bottom, pranced around and drank to refresh themselves. Moving south down the stream, the water went from two inches to about one foot. The water here was clear, rippling, and flowed with a quiet rhythm.
Fishes could be found residing here, but only upon close speculation. Close speculation would mean leaning over the ledge that was about twelve feet from the water’s surface to see anything that could be in the water. I couldn’t put a name to the type of fish that swam in these waters. They were a dark gray and measured in length from two to five inches, and from a quarter inch to inch wide. Small schools of fish would slowly glide around in the shallow depths of the water. The largest fish, the master fish, remained stationary at what looked like could’ve been home base. That home base was an area that caved in an inch lower, in a way that was rocky and nest-like.
The creek floor, when not consumed by overgrown weeds, was a beautiful mossy landscape. Forgotten rocks, man holes or utility holes were overgrown with this moss and created a smooth look covering different shapes of various sizes. Under this landscape, I discovered the first pair of jeans. They lay discombobulated, forgotten, and eaten by layers of moss. Whether they had been there long started to become questionable when twelve feet away, another pair of jeans was discovered hanging neatly from a tree branch. This pair did not seem misplaced. They were wet, but out of the water and folded as though on a hanger. We continued down the path, although it was shadier and less trodden by civilians. It did seem that someone who had several pairs of jeans had occupied this space recently. Because, alas, two more pairs were found, drifting in puddles near the entrance of the tunnel.
Although hesitant, my partner and I ventured on through the seemingly unsafe tunnel. It was hidden from street view and all nooks and crannies were engulfed in aged and overdeveloped cobwebs. Graffiti marked the old architecture. We did not stay long in the dark and stuffy enclosing, but continued on to follow the water of Waller Creek.

Mass Observation 2:
The paths that followed southwards started to become more open for regular passersby and occupants. Leaving the tunnel, my partner and I were led to a more tolerable area of the creek. There wasn’t as much trash or other items in the water. Stone walls rose out around us and enclosed the area. Looking up, we saw that there were venues, such as the restaurant Serrano’s. We took note that the area greatly resembled that of the Riverwalk in San Antonio. A platform was to our right (south) and a dining area with yellow umbrellas to our left (north).
A stone staircase not far along took us right in front of the entrance of Serrano’s. We ventured onto the patio, ensembled with an array of tables and chairs. It then became apparent that the platform that we saw was a stage set up for events that occurred from the restaurant. The creek ran in between the stage and the audience. The stage was relatively small and could be guessed that it served for minor groups of performers. The backdrop was a stone building that met the street on the other side. Three doors covered the stone wall. One door came with a tiny closed balcony, another directly in front of the stage, and the last stood at the top of the stairs that led to the stage from the other side of the creek. The bridge was curved as well as the arch for the doorway. The audience seating consisted of rows of stone benches with floors of rock, soil, and grass. Birds congregated here.
It didn’t take long for a staff member, who didn’t have much to do anyway, come greet us. He wasn’t bothered when we told him we didn’t need anything. He did, however, encourage our research by inviting us inside to look at the picture albums of the events that took place. Walking into the Mexican restaurant, we were greeted and politely directed to the photo album table. Weddings were the main type of event that the restaurant hosted. In fact, only weddings were documented to have happened there. The coffee stained photo albums were plentiful in images of happy, nicely dressed people, situated in the theme decorated interior and patio of the restaurant.
We moved on. We approached the creek’s division into three tunnels, and only one being set with a path, we followed through an area that seemed forbidden. In fact, signs along the inside of the tunnel read, “No trespassing.” The walls were inconsistently painted in random sections, presumably only serving to cover graffiti. Beyond the tunnel there was a tranquil set of divided streams and more paths. The walls around the Waller creek path, which had enclosed and disconnected us from the street level, started to widen and become a more shallow transition to level to the surrounding open area. Lighting was placed here, and the light poles were covered in a history of vines.
We then found ourselves, again, under a bridge. At first glance at the surroundings, it seemed like a gathering place for the homeless. There were bits of concrete and rocks everywhere, with small nooks that stored personal items such as a water bottle and some clothing. A sound of the drain dripping water created a relaxing ambience. A shoe print in wet gravel gave evidence to recent activity. There were various trash items scattered about the ground, such as a styrofoam take out dinner of something that was red. The styrofoam was chipped away and scavenger ants consumed what they could.
The last setting before reaching 9th street was an area that ran through the back of the City of Austin Utility Waller Creek Center, as told to us by an employee on his smoke break. This area was more expanse as well as more maintained. The trees that grew here had deep roots and were apparently claimed by the city with silver numbered tags. The nearby building was tall and fairly modern looking. The employees gathered outside were quietly curious as we passed and the informant lingered closely until we asked what the building was. In the yard, there was a statue produced by John Christensen. The statue was an odd organic shape. Part of its base extended out as though it was meant for seating. We ventured on over a wooden bridge with iron railings to rise up out into the street. Sunlight found us as we ended our observation adventure.

Waller Creek: 1st of September 2010


Between 4th and 5th Street, from 2-3pm:

I arrive at the 4th Street Bridge on my bicycle. I lock it up and look out over
the creek that is surrounded by the city on all sides. I walk off the road, step and
climb down the banks into the mostly dry creek bed. The water is murky, oily and
stagnant in some places where the ground is level. There is a very narrow flow in
the stream where the floor slopes downhill. In almost every direction I see that
the water and ground are both littered with cups, cans, pieces of broken glass
bottles, wrappers, bags, articles of clothing, and other various trashed objects.
There are random components of man-made structures that have become
part of the land such as metal rods, concrete chunks, torn fabrics along with metal
fence parts and pipes. I find more random objects including a lone shoe under the
bridge and a fair amount of graffiti on the walls that support the bridge. There is an
opening in the wall where street-water slowly trickles down from a tunnel into the
creek.
I make my way upstream, hopping from rock to rock to avoid stepping in the
dirty shallow water. I see people looking down at me from a deck of “Palm Door” (a
business that hosts weddings and other events) about 20 feet above me jutting out
over the creek bank. On the west side of the creek there is a large tree who’s trunk
and old roots protrude out over the water about 10 feet from the bank. Below the
tree some large water dwelling rodent (possibly a muskrat) scurries into the bushes.
In the tree above me I see a small red bird; as I look in its direction I can almost
pretend that I am in a natural rural area instead of the middle of the city because
there are no manmade things in sight. As I turn I see the reflection of a tall building
in the water and reality comes back immediately.
I hike further and find two condom wrappers on the ground; I contemplate
what an uncomfortable place that must have been for the people who used
their contents. Nearby I see a turtle slip into the water from atop rock.
Up ahead I can see the 5th Street Bridge arching over the water, appearing to
have a much more consistent and intentional appearance than the hodgepodge 4th
Street Bridge. The symmetrical arch is constructed of large rocks cut into regular
blocks. It is unlike the previous bridge that had only flat walls made of these rock-
blocks along with slabs of concrete intersecting each other at varying angles and
other inconsistent materials.
Once I am under the arching bridge I can hear the twitter of bats that live in
its crevasses. Near the ground there is a large opening to a tunnel system; smelly
water trickles out of it into the creek bed. I see that on the north side of the 5th
Street bridge the creek is in a very different world; there are no plants or trees
or rocks or muddy banks along the edges of the water as there are south of the
bridge. Instead there are 20-30 foot high concrete walls that lead from the water
up to a walkway on either side. Large buildings line the walkway; some are hotels.
I ponder how I might go further in that direction without walking in the filthy
water. I attempt to traverse the underside of the bridge but it is too difficult. My
professor shows up behind me and takes a photograph of me photographing the
pipes that run underneath the bridge. After he leaves I climb back up to the street
and look down at the creek from the sidewalk of the 5th Street Bridge. I climb around
on the man-made overhangs on the north side of the bridge but soon choose to leave
so that I may explore other sections of Waller creek.


Between 3rd and Red River Street, from 3-4pm:

I arrive at the 3rd Street Bridge. I find a sidewalk on the northwest side of
the bridge that is fenced off to prohibit access. I step over a broken part of the fence
and look down at the creek bed. I see that it extends part way under the sidewalk
because of massive erosion. Underneath the cover of the partially overhanging
sidewalk there is a small pile of clothing and bags, indicating that someone likely
camped there.
On the southwest side of the bridge I discover a body of water that is
not directly a part of the creek. I find a sign that explains that it is a wet pond: a
manmade body of water that collects runoff and filters out pollutants before the
water flows into Waller Creek. Near the sign there is a fence that inhibits access
to the creek from the sidewalk, however upon crossing the 3rd Street Bridge I
find that the east bank has no fence, so I am able to walk down into the creek bed.
There is an open field (Palm Park) that runs along this side, between the
creek and Interstate 35. It has a swing-set, a shallow drained swimming pool,
a couple tables and benches and a structure that appears to be a restroom. I
walk further and see a sidewalk that leads half way down to the creek bed but
abruptly ends, dropping off where it has broken and been washed away by past
flooding. I choose not to walk further along the edge of the park because just
ahead there is a man sleeping on the ground and I do not wish to disturb him.
I walk back the way I had come and encounter a fellow with a shifty vibe and
slightly manic demeanor who asks if I’m taking pictures; I answer that I am taking
pictures; I continue walking; he asks another question but I don’t fully hear it; I
ignore him and cross back over to the west side of the creek.
I follow the sidewalk downstream and notice some fish swimming in the
creek. I arrive at the Red River Street Bridge. There is a stack of seven pennies
on the low wall; I toss one in the creek leaving the stack as six. I look down
and see three young women on a sidewalk that runs along the creek below the
bridge. I call out to them; we have a brief conversation from which I discover
that they are UT architecture grad students who are studying the creek as I am.
At this point I have been out in the heat for hours and am longing for a swim;
I hop back on my bicycle and set out for Barton Springs.

Observed

September first was a humid day to be outside, especially in downtown Austin--there isn’t much airflow around Interstate thirty-five. Near Fourth Street I found a pair of bridges crossing Waller Creek, or more accurately the large crevasse that seems to have been carved by the small trickle of water beneath them. The bridges are divided by material and motor. Concrete for bicycles, rocks and steel for the train. Tar and rock for cars. And finally wooden planks for pedestrians. I walked across the street and jumped over the railing and found a dirt path leading to a patch of shade and broken concrete. Plastic bits of straws, cups, Doritos bags, and other unidentifiable bits of trash intermingled with the dried leaves on the ground. There is a definite crunching noise with each step I took as I tried to reach the edge of the steep bank along side the crevasse. Tiny particles of dirt and leaves found their way into my sandals, which only increased my unease about this place. There are a million reasons why Waller Creek is not a pleasant vacation from my usual class time.

Large chunks of broken concrete are littered across the bank, as if perhaps there used to be a sidewalk or a manmade bank. To my left there was a chain link fence set up perpendicular to the creek. The fence is fighting to remain upright against the force of a bright green vine with heart shaped leaves. On the creek side, it has been almost completely defeated by the vine. Where the fence is still upright thee is a small rectangular cutout about four and a half feet tall. The cutout must be a frequent visitor’s entrance to the creek; perhaps a homeless person uses it to access the water in the creek for a shower or a swim. I could see evidence of encampments from where I was perched. A blanket depresses tall grass in what must have been a resting spot for a weary soul with low standards for comfort.

Bugs also inhabited the area. I have seen small blue dragonflies, tiny black ants, and pale yellow butterflies as well as some strange water dwelling creatures that skim the surface of the water a few feet below where I was perched. I was probably 10 feet from the murky brown water but I could still smell its stench. The smell was similar to rotting vegetables: musky, moldy, it even smelled warm. Protrusions from unknown sources broke the surface of the water; covered in algae they are unidentifiable. Could have been trash; maybe it was branches. It was all the same to the black and green speckled turtle I saw swimming among the muck. He bobbed his head a few times, presumably eating the bugs that danced on the surface. Then he was lost beneath the filth; and my eyes started to look for other signs of life in what should have been a lush and vibrant creek bed.

I watched as three cyclists zip across the bridge on Fourth Street to my right. All three were adorned with helmets and bright athletic wear. Presumably they travel this way regularly, guessing by their forward gazes and speedy pacing. None appear to notice me, or the abandoned creek below. Beneath the bridge there was a gallery of graffiti, scribbled and looped. Another cyclist. The graffiti was an unintelligible mix of letters and symbols written mostly in white spray paint on the concrete below the bridge. I could make out a strange cat-girl creature. There was a short—probably one foot tall—fence under the bridge constructed of wooden stakes sunk into the earth and a black fabric lying across it. The tiny fence seems to be failing at holding back anything but the black plastic tarp it is made out of. White belts hang from the bottom of the bridge—there went another cyclist. Across the creek is a large tree-about a foot across in diameter-broken and folded in half. Its branches reach down towards the water. There was a variety of plant life around the creek where I sat, unkempt and overgrown. More strangely, at this point I noticed that there was a bone sitting next to me. Upon closer inspection (but not too close) I realized that it was probably from someone’s food and not something that died there. I think it was a rib. People must come down to the creek fairly often, I could see dirt paths leading to the water, the grass had given up growing where frequent visitors broke it down. The construction buzzing behind the trees across the creek was more audible than the creek. Behind me there is a small parking lot. I found a solitary shoe and a random sock. Thirty-five can clearly be heard behind me. One more biker. One more shoe.

On the other side of the bridge

The earth below the bridge had been strengthened with concrete walls on either side of the creek. As the wall extended out from under the bridge, the concrete turned into a wall made up of different sized stones with tiny green sprouts peeking out from between the mortar. A square hole in the middle of the stonewall appeared to be pouring green slime onto the wall below it and down into the tall green grass growing in the creek. The back of a building hung over the banks on the opposite side of the creek. The building was plain and bare. There were no balconies or windows overlooking the water—I don’t know why anyone would want to overlook this water. Farther down the creek, I could see a wooden patio leading to a side door, but there aren’t chairs or patio furniture outside on the deck. The space beneath the building was visible from the bridge; it was full of rebar and concrete pillars holding up the wooden patio. A rocky manmade wall kept the western bank from continuing under the building. Empty branches hung vertically over the shallow creek; as if recent weather had rendered them broken and bare. The brown water was not so deep on this side; I could almost see the bottom. It was a rock bottom creek, covered in slick algae. It was so shallow that it looked like tiny waterfalls were flowing just a few inches down, over the broken concrete and boulders on the bottom. There was a metal railing between the creek and myself; the railing was about waist high on me (and I am five feet and six inches). It was hot to the touch; but vines still managed to grow around the metal bars. If I had crossed that barrier, I could walk down a precarious dirt path to the creek. But the prospect was not too enticing because the trail looked like it had been slipping downwards, eroding away. It seemed to have evaporated from beneath the trees lining the bank. The roots intertwined where the ground used to be and created a cave like space. I could hear birds crying, definitely not songbirds of any kind. Highway Thirty Five and the construction on the other side of the bridge are the most prominent noises I can hear. The sound of the trickling stream could barely be heard over the city sounds. Then the grating of gravel as I took my notebook and left.

Lecture Series: Jay Banner

Monday, September 20, 2010

City announces upcoming closure of Waller Creek Bridge

(forwarded by Lynn)
A section of the Lady Bird Lake Hike-and-Bike Trail near Red River and Rainey streets will be re-routed and a pedestrian bridge over Waller Creek will be temporarily closed starting Sept. 27 when work crews begin widening the bridge.
The bridge will be closed from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday through Oct. 28. From Oct. 29 to Dec. 21, the bridge will be closed 24 hours a day.
The bridge will be widened to 12 feet, allowing for better public access and making the bridge compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. To better accommodate two-way bicycle and pedestrian traffic, work crews will re-stripe the affected section of Cesar Chavez to add an 8-foot travel space adjacent to the sidewalk. Water barriers will separate the motor vehicle lane from the bicycle and pedestrian space.
The project is part of a parkland mitigation agreement between the Waller Creek Tunnel Project and the Parks and Recreation Department. City staff worked with The Trail Foundation and the Transportation and Public Works departments to identify the safest, most convenient route and to evaluate several options for improving public safety.
The bridge renovation will be the first visible sign of construction on the Waller Creek flood control tunnel, a public safety project that will benefit the entire Waller Creek District.
For more information on the tunnel project, visit http://www.cityofaustin.org/wallercreek/.
Contact:
Carolyn Perez, Public Works, (512) 974-7139
Victor Ovalle, Parks and Recreation Department, (512) 974-6745

Real Kevin Lynch


Kevin Lynch
American urban planner and author of The Image of the City.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Flash Floods at Waller Creek

Photos taken between 11:30pm-12:00pm on September 08, 2010.

view of 7th St. Bridge and sections of Sabine Plaza.

wider view of 7th & 6th St.

6th St Bridge

6th St. Bridge in background

flood path near 8th St.




Flash flood warnings (Waller not on list)

Flash flood threat continues today (statesman.com)

Waller Creek Between the convention Center and 5th Stree

Evidence of encampments along creek

Convention center runoff filtering pond

Dead end sidewalks

Low water level

Large tunnels drain runoff into creek

Some few views show no evidence that you are in the middle of downtown

Evidence of the activities people partake in along the creek

Just south of the 5th street bridge

Large tree roots stick out from the land from erosion

People on a deck that hangs out over the creek

Under the 4th street bridge



The 4th street pedestrian/cyclist bridge

Monday, September 6, 2010

Waterloo Park

Along the pathway at Waterloo Park

Pathway along the creek

Homeless people at the picnic tables

Water was actually flowing here!

A bridge covered in broken branches and trash

One of the several bridges over the creek

video
Graffiti underneath the first bridge we found

Friday, September 3, 2010

south of ceasar chavez

map/signage by the "entrance"

under ceasar chavez bridge

sketchy area where we encountered sketchy homeless man

beer bottle, trash, and barely any current.

7th - 9th Street

Evidencing years of downtown Austin's strong music culture.


Stark contrast of the past and future of Red River street which lines Waller Creek




Stubb's stage backs onto the creek.





A sock in the creek. Deodorant also found.


Broken lights.
Low water.
Entrance stairs to walkway. Landscaping!


7th street entrance to Waller Creek path


The only venue which acknowledges its presence by Waller Creek. For lease.



Homeless encampment along Waller Creek. Barbed wire blocked off slope to creek from Red River Street.