Now that another era of silly Austin politics is in the rearview mirror I wanted to take a moment for some reflection on the Zilker Vision Plan and how it spiraled into an abrupt end.
First, I want to state unequivocally that no person, including myself, or anyone that I’ve spoken to wants anything other than a pristine spring-fed pool, clean water, and a gorgeous natural setting to enjoy. It is disheartening that once again what should be an informed discussion of how best to achieve that turns into name-calling, threats, and is distilled into black-and-white narratives of amusement parks or wrecking balls (code next reference). More than being for or against the Zilker Vision Plan, I am staunchly against this type of politics that opposed it - it is destructive and obstructionist and in the end, achieves nothing but the worst of all worlds.
The Zilker Vision Plan was a comprehensive 200+ page document that mentions all sorts of ideas for improvements to Zilker Park for all sorts of reasons. Anyone who says they are 100% categorically against or for this vision plan is probably not being honest or doesn’t know what is in it. Personally, there were things about the plan that I liked (a pedestrian bridge over the water located between Barton Springs road and Barton Springs pool) and there were things I did not like (an amphitheater in the great lawn). But, like all things comprehensive it was easy for those that did not like it to cherry-pick a few things and use them to distill the plan into a few words to turn those that don’t have time to digest it, against it, to serve their own goals.
Upon reflection, I think a core reason why those that launched efforts to destroy the vision plan were so against it comes down to approach. Like wanting the park to be environmentally sound, I think we can all agree that in its current state, the park is hurting. This comes down to the harsh reality that humans are bad for nature. With Austin’s ongoing growth and more and more people enjoying Zilker Park on the regular, you have a deteriorating situation. So what is to be done? On, let’s just call it the anti-VisionPlan side, the objective seems to be to keep as many people away from the park as possible. This leads to the re-wilding campaign. On the, let’s call it the pro-VisionPlan side, the objective is to build infrastructure to manage the people and protect the environment of the park.
Now let’s just be clear one more time, both sides want the same thing. It is how we get there where there are differences. And honestly, there is a place for both approaches. The answer, in my opinion, lies in a hybrid approach where areas can be re-wilded and protected from humans. Whereas, other areas that are enjoyed by many, many people need to be protected by infrastructure to manage those people getting to the park, enjoying the park, and most importantly protecting the natural features of the park that makes it the gem that it is. What is clear though is the politics attacking the vision plan has accomplished neither and simply leaves us more divided than ever with the status quo slowly taking its toll on the park.
I will acknowledge my part in this. My reaction to the hyperbole spun up, falsely calling it a plan for an amusement park or that corporations will own the park, was one of flippant disregard. The parody Instagram account (since removed, example post above) provided comic relief to these extremely false claims being parroted by so many. These MAGAesue platitudes were unbelievable, and yet familiar, in a town of such intelligent and insightful people. As a native and near lifetime resident of Austin, this has all happened before and it will unfortunately likely all happen again. In 1999 the big black signs with white letters reading “costs too much, does too little” opposing the light rail initiative. One that if we’d started then, just imagine where we’d be now in our transit system. In the 2010’s the wrecking balls depicting code next - much of which would have helped drastically with the housing crisis we are currently in. All the same politics. All the same result.
I do believe, despite all the evidence before us, that we are better than that. It is one of the reasons I helped start the Friends of Zilker neighborhood association. A place where true discussion can be had and granular real feedback can be provided to our elected officials for what the people - at least in this neighborhood - want. It was a start. And one which we should re-energize in light of everything that has happened. Perhaps it could have done some good in cutting through the binary polarization and giving some substantial feedback on the Zilker Vision Plan.
Those of you who live in the Zilker neighborhood, if you’re interested in helping Friends of Zilker become more active and providing a counter-voice to these types of attacks, please send me a message and let’s enact some positive change. Peace, love, and Zilker forever