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Waller Creek runs a serpentine path through the middle of modern Austin, starting north of the University of Texas campus and running through downtown before flowing into Lady Bird Lake. For much of Austin's history Waller Creek was something of a nuisance, often subject to severe flooding and causing disruption to downtown businesses. At times, it has also acted as a dumping ground for the city's more unsavory waste. Today, however, a historic partnership between Waller Creek Conservancy and the City of Austin has turned what was once Austin's headache into a beautiful opportunity for the city. The Waller Creek Conservancy was formed, in partnership with the City of Austin, as a non-profit with the mission is to create and maintain a chain of extraordinary urban parks around a restored Waller Creek for the benefit of all.
The Conservancy's mission is to renew the natural environment, promote play, health, wellness, economic vitality, and mobility, and engage the community through outreach, education, cultural events, and the arts. After a public engagement process, the competition jury selected a proposal for a chain of parks by the renowned landscape architecture firm Michael van Valkenburgh and Associates, Inc. (MVVA) as the new vision for Waller Creek. The Waller Creek Design Plan was adopted by the Austin City Council in 2013.
Running from Waterloo Park at 15th Street to Lady Bird Lake, the new Waller Creek parks district will include more than 37-acres of newly designed and connected urban parks and public open space, and more than three miles of new hike and bike trails, along with engaging art and educational programming. Founded on the bedrock of great design, the revitalized Waller Creek will renew the natural environment, foster the creative arts, and nourish authentic and uplifting experiences that reflect Austin’s diversity and dynamic spirit.
On this tour, we’re visiting the Waller Delta. At the mouth of Waller Creek where it meets Lady Bird Lake, the Waller Delta is the deepest, most ecologically diverse section of the creek. A series of lightweight suspension bridges provides new vantage points and invites exploration of the creek beneath. A floating Pontoon Bridge serves as a vital connector from Waller Creek and the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail to South Austin, extending new opportunities for walking, running, biking, socializing, and commuting.
On view through the end of 2018, Ai Weiwei’s Forever Bicycles (2014) is located at the delta. This artwork is part of a two-part outdoor exhibition of large-scale installations by the Chinese artist and political activist and is presented by a unique partnership between the Waller Creek Conservancy and The Contemporary Austin. The second sculpture, Iron Tree Trunk (2015) is on view at the The Contemporary Austin’s Betty and Edward Marcus Sculpture Park at Laguna Gloria.
Incorporating more than 1,200 bicycles in a striking composition, Forever Bicycles recalls the Dada-esque “readymade” sculptures of twentieth-century Western artists such as Marcel Duchamp, which remove an everyday object from its expected environs and reconstitute it into something new by displacing its original function. Ai Weiwei’s sculpture takes as its subject the Forever brand bicycle, once ubiquitous on the streets of Beijing. A means of not only transportation but also social mobility and a coveted luxury item when the artist was growing up in China, in contemporary times the Forever bicycle has given way to aspirations of car ownership. Given this context, the installation here imparts poignant commentary through 1,200 of these nostalgic objects assembled into a gorgeous, dizzying sculpture, whose wheels are now frozen in perpetual cycle.
Cover photo by Ray Clark via Flickr