urban design in texas
December 26, 2012 9:41 PM   Subscribe

Cool parks, public spaces and green/urban design in Austin, TX? Houston, TX?

Hey all,

I'll be visiting Austin and Houston in mid-January for a couple of days in each. I'd really like to check out some cool urban design/parks while I'm there. But I _won't_ have a car with me and won't be able to rent one either.

So far I have:


-Umlauf sculpture garden
-zilker park
-lady bird johnson wildflower center (I don't know if I can even get here...public transit actually won't take me and I'm too poor to pay for a taxi)


-Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park
-Discovery Green
-Market Square
-Cullen Sculpture Garden
-Sabine-to-Bagby Promenade/Buffalo Bayou Promenade
-Raymond and Susan Brochstein Pavilion

Any other travel trips/places to see appreciated as well! Thanks!
posted by bluelight to Travel & Transportation around Austin, TX (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Hey, I'm from Houston and now live in Austin. Feel free to ask me if you have more detailed questions.

Both towns are rough without cars, unless you're doing urban things. Biking is a nice option, but if you're biking out to LBJ Wildflower center or Wild Basin, you should probably already own several bike jerseys.

Going to add some things, in case you come up with a way to get around:
-- Mt. Bonnell
-- Wild Basin
-- The Green Belt is a 7 mi. hiking trail that runs from Zilker to a number of other parks.
--Zilker Botanical Garden
-- The Arboretum at Memorial Park (and Memorial Park itself)
posted by Mad_Carew at 10:40 PM on December 26, 2012

I only have visited Austin, and only briefly, but Barton Springs was fantastic and getting there was an easy and fun bike ride on the "Hike and Bike" trail that runs along Town Lake.
posted by silvergoat at 12:00 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

In Houston --
Rothko Chapel and the Menil Collection are set into a really nice setting, it's really, really well done, lots of live oaks on the grounds, which are about the friendliest trees you can imagine, the large branches sweep low, inviting you to at least touch them if not clamor onto them. If I go to Houston, I go here.

Between the chapel and the collection and then a few other outlying buildings, it takes up maybe two blocks in a sweet residential neighborhood. Everything there always free, no admission charges, though they'd almost certainly take a buck or five.

Maybe a mile or two from the Menil Collection, and right across the street from The Museum of Fine Arts is the Cullen Sculpture Garden. Very well done, great pieces, laid out perfectly nice.
posted by dancestoblue at 12:08 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing the Menill grounds and Discovery Green in Houston. Discovery Green in particular has some art installations that really reminded me of Millennium Park in Chicago. I live in Houston and don't have a car. I have not tried to get to the Menill via public transportation but I use the 81/82 bus lines (they overlap) which goes from downtown all the way down Westheimer which should get you pretty close to both places. They run pretty regularly, too.
posted by anthropomorphic at 4:33 AM on December 27, 2012

I assume that you will have access to the Metro rail. That is a worthy trip by itself, to see a slice of Houston. The two adjacent stops, for the Museum District, and for Rice University and the zoo, are worth your consideration.

There are sculpture gardens, and rose gardens. Also, water features and the Japanese gardens. Ride the little train at the zoo.

Rice University is worth a stroll, for the many grand live oaks. Also, there is a variety of architecture.

Downtown, as you head west along Buffalo Bayou, you will see additional parks and open spaces. If you can get to Bayou Bend, see the lovely gardens.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 6:34 AM on December 27, 2012

In west Austin, you've got Mayfield park & nature preserve right next to AMOA/Laguna Gloria. The grounds a Laguna Gloria are absolutely gorgeous.

There's also the jogging trail around Town Lake (Lake Lady Bird Lake). I like to park under the Mopac bridge near Austin High when I go down there.

There's a small but nice outdoor area behind Central Market on N. Lamar at 38th st. You can get lunch/dinner there, eat outside & wander a bit.

The austin Nature & Science center is part of Zilker park, & it's kid-oriented, but it's nicely designed. People forget about it because it's kinda out of the way.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:38 AM on December 27, 2012

The park area at Auditorium Shores has recently been expanded -- I keep forgetting about that. The fountain & pond on the S. side of Riverside Dr. are supposed to be really nice, though I haven't been.

The Pitch & Putt course on the west side of the train tracks from there is privately owned, but is a pretty amusing way to spend an hour or two. No golf skills actually necessary.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:42 AM on December 27, 2012

In downtown Houston, you're missing Tranquility Park and Sam Houston Park, which are close to each other and very different from each other.

The Brochstein Pavilion, already on your list, is on the other side of the library from the Rice academic quadrangle, which is worth a look if you're there already. But continuing from Brochstein to the southwest, you're spitting distance from the Jamail Plaza, which incidentally is next to the Turrell Skyspace, which might be worth seeing at sunrise or sunset if possible. Given your itinerary, it's likely you'll either approach or leave campus from the northeast and so pass near 45-90-180, a sculpture by Michael Heizer on the engineering quad also worth seeing--classes are occasionally held on top of 180.

There's light rail that goes from downtown to the Museum District / Rice area, so that makes sense to me, but the Waterwall is far from everything else on your list, so I hope you're getting a friend to drive you past it on the way to shop or eat dinner or something, rather than taking a bus or a long hike out just to see it. Honestly, some videos on Youtube do a pretty good job of showing what it's like. It's a nice thing, but it's in a postage stamp of greenspace--really just an appendage to a skyscraper. The Fort Worth Water Gardens by the same architect show what might have been.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 6:50 AM on December 27, 2012

Seconding Barton Springs! And while you're there, why not party at the Moon Tower next door?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:04 AM on December 27, 2012

In Houston, you can rent bikes at West End Cycles, which is close to Memorial Park. They can also give you a map of local bike routes. Many of the places listed above are accessible fairly easily by bike, including Disco Green and the rest of downtown, as well as the Museum District.

You might want to check out Rice Design Alliance to see if they're doing any tours or lectures while you're here (it's also a good resource for ideas to explore on your own). There's also Houston Mod, which focuses more on MCM stuff, but also does occasional tours and open houses. And the be-all-end-all is HAIF.
posted by Brittanie at 12:15 PM on December 27, 2012

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