The opening of Waterloo Park in downtown Austin, Texas this August marked the completion of the first phase of the revitalization of a formerly channelized and neglected urban creek running through the heart of the city. While the full Waterloo Greenway Park system—scheduled to be completed in 2026—will stretch approximately 1.5 miles through the eastern portion of downtown to Lady Bird Lake, the 11-acre Waterloo Park anchoring the north end of the project represents the flagship open space along the Waller Creek corridor.
The design team, led by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc. and supported by local landscape architects dwg., won the design competition in 2012 with a vision to transform this blighted creek corridor into a world-class open space and reinvigorated urban ecosystem. Once all phases are complete, the 35 acres of connected green space will be home to a wild array of natural and cultural destinations. Amid epic gardens, miles of trails and paths, and a restored Waller Creek to connect them, various aspects of environment, arts, health, and adventure will converge to create experiences that reflect the city’s diversity.
Funded through a combination of bonds, A TIFF district, grants, and individual and corporate donations, the park came to fruition through a significant public-private partnership between the City of Austin and the Waterloo Greenway Conservancy. The City’s and the Conservancy’s vision focused on transforming the Waller Creek corridor into a connected, inclusive, and vibrant park system grounded by key environmental goals. Building and stewarding an ecologically robust and resilient riparian corridor was the central component driving the park’s development, connecting the city’s residents to nature and thus cultivating the next generation of environmental stewards. With a mission to not only restore the ecological function of the Waller Creek corridor, but to also promote inclusivity in a space not immune to inequitable conflicts of the city’s past, Waterloo Park aims to bring the entire Austin community together and create positive change for the future.
Waterloo Park is a central hub of activity, providing a green respite in a city that is growing—and with an urban core that is intensifying—at record pace. The Park is made up of more than 1.5 miles of new tree-lined hike-and-bike trails and spacious lawns for fitness activities, picnics, and concerts. It is a place to celebrate Austin’s love of nature, the outdoors, fitness and wellbeing, and being at the gateway to the Red River Cultural District, a destination for live music and performances.
The Park captures and treats all the water from the structures in the park and, in combination with using the city’s reclaimed water service, waters the vegetation in a highly sustainable way. Bio-swales, rain gardens, and wetland terraces throughout the park are designed to reveal the importance and beauty of green infrastructure while immersing visitors in the native flora and fauna of the Waller Creek habitat. Ensuring universal accessibility and navigating over 40’ of grade change throughout the park, the elevated serpentine Suzanne Deal Booth Skywalk weaves through and above seating areas, the limestone amphitheater Lebermann Plaza, and a series of rolling gardens inside the Luci and Ian’s Family Hill Country Garden. The Hill Country Garden contains over 90,000 native plants and over 500 new trees and wildflowers, recalling the Hill Country landscape of central Texas. Eight significant trees were transplanted into the park including the massive 44” caliper live oak that weighed over 300 tonnes and was moved seven blocks from the Capitol Complex to the park.
Under the shade of these magnificent trees, custom playscapes inspire the imagination in the Kitty King Powell Lawn. A cantilevered semi-circular lawn hovers over the creek, forming part of a carefully sculpted greenspace that faces the Moody Amphitheater, a stunningly artistic open-air event pavilion designed by Thomas Pfifer and Partners that has already hosted major concerts and a wide range of public events since its opening. The Love, Tito’s Lawn is a perfect place for kids to romp and play, picnics, yoga in the park, art installations, or, during concerts, for 5,000 people to sit under the stars and enjoy the spectacle of this world-class music venue.
“Waterloo Park is an exciting addition to Austin’s treasured outdoor destinations, one that underscores our community’s love for nature, music, and the arts,” said Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison. “Particularly as we emerge from the challenges of the pandemic, we know just how valuable outdoor spaces are to our health and wellbeing. This Park will connect our community not only to the rich history of the land, but to one another, while creating a safe, inclusive space that supports a more equitable Austin. I can’t wait to enjoy all that Waterloo Park has to offer.”
Waterloo Park represents a new vision for equitable urban park space in Austin by connecting communities through art, environment, and educational and cultural programming. The Park’s remarkable story of transformation highlights the power of parks and urban ecology to be a catalyst for economic and environmental revitalization in the public realm.
Location: Austin, Texas, USA
Lead Landscape Architect: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.
Local Landscape Architect: dwg.
Architect (Performance Venue): Thomas Phifer and Partners
Architect (Parkland): Michael Hsu Office of Architecture
Bridge Design/Structural Engineering: Architectural Engineers Collaborative (AEC)
Civil Engineer: WGI
Soil Scientist: Olsson Associates
Registered ADA Specialist: Altura Solutions, L.P.
Geotechnical Engineer: Terracon
MEP Engineer: EEA Consulting Engineers
Irrigation: James Pole Irrigation Consultants
Lighting Design: Tillet Lighting Design Associates
Public Space Management: ETM Associates, LLC
Local Ecologist: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Environmental Consultant: ACI Consulting
Structural Waterproofing: Simpson, Gumpertz & Hager
General Contractor: DPR
Client: Waterloo Greenway
Image/Photography Credits: Waterloo Greenway, Lauren Slusher Photography, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.