- 2012 to present
A street patio is defined as an extension of pedestrian space that enlivens the public realm. Scattered along Congress Avenue, Austin’s street patios occupy former parking spaces; each patio is leased, built, operated, and maintained by the adjacent local business. The street patios provide new spaces for community interaction, support local businesses, and encourage walking, biking, and the use of public transportation.
As you stroll along Congress Avenue, you may notice that the angled parking spaces along the street are replaced in some instances by small patios, seating areas, and landscaping. Referred to by many names—including “street patios”, “pocket patios”, and “parklets”—these miniature gathering spaces represent a larger movement to tip the balance of downtown Austin’s scarce public space away from cars and towards people.
The street patios are a prime example of “tactical urbanism”, a movement that has gained steam in recent years as a way to reclaim public space in cities. Tactical urbanism is comprised of low-cost, temporary changes to the built environment that are intended to improve city streets. By utilizing places where sidewalks are narrow and other public and pedestrian space is lacking, these street patios bring vibrancy, amenities, and people back into the equation. They support local businesses, create a sense of place in neighborhoods and business districts, beautify the streetscape, and create walkable destinations for residents.
The City of Austin’s Street Patio Program represents a successful collaboration between private business and the city government, who have a shared interest in improving the quality of Austin’s main street. In this case, parking spots that may have benefited only a handful of individuals per day have been leased to the adjacent businesses, which foot the bill for transforming them into public amenities used by hundreds of people. For the City, this is a cost-effective way to partner with local businesses to activate streets, create more vibrant neighborhoods, and promote economic vitality.
The street patios are each designed to reflect their particular locations. The patio next to Royal Blue Grocery, completed in 2012 as a pilot project, utilizes rustic materials to create a garden-like café setting. The custom precast concrete wall that snakes in front of 823 Congress plays off the building’s white concrete columns. And the patio in front of the Scarbrough Building—the largest street patio to date—incorporates Art Deco elements into the design of its metal guardrails. Despite the fact that these street patios are all designed for quick disassembly, for the time being they are here to stay. – Bud Franck
Adam Barbe, Jason Radcliff