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Sunday, 20 April 2008

Interesting Urban Spaces Part 2 - Austin’s South Congress District

A huge thing Austin has going for it is fun.

Keep Austin Weird” is the unofficial city logo and you’ll see it on billboards, shirts etc. You can see from their website that they track everything from strange art exhibits (including back yard art) to film showings.

The SoCo (South Congress) district is an example of that fun spirit. Similar to Osborne village in the type of shops and restaurants, setting, clientèle and closeness to the downtown core.

Austin South Congress

From talking to the folks that worked at the motel I stayed in, 30 years ago SoCo was one of the most crime ridden, dangerous parts of Austin. That brought land values down and artists, small “quirky” businesses and other entrepreneurs moved in due to low land values (sound a little like our Main / Higgins today or Osborne Village of the 70’s ?).

Austin Texas - South Congress

The shop owners along Congress go out of their way to have fun with it – it definitely keeps some of the ‘weird’ in Austin with their attitude and signage ! Among them were the Austin Motel owners - from quirky art to fun attitude - I highly recommend the place if you are ever in Austin.

Austin Motel

Austin Texas - South Congress

Some more of the fun attitude that is part of "SoCo":

Austin Texas - South Congress

Austin Texas - South Congress

Austin South Congress

Austin Texas - South Congress

Austin Texas - South Congress

Austin Texas - South Congress

From an urban space point of view, South Congress has its good and bad. For bad, the street is very wide at that point (6-8 lanes). On one side they allow vertical parking that gave the impression of a narrower street. Oddly, sidewalks are extremely narrow and in some places disappear all together into dirt or, as below, ends completely when the restaurant sets up their patio. I found it an odd problem not to fix - too much street and too little sidewalk !

Austin Texas - South Congress

Austin Texas - South Congress

Austin Texas - South Congress

The retail was a mix of the mundane and the truly neat. In almost all cases they were built to the sidewalk with only the odd empty lot or building set back from the street.

Austin Texas - South Congress

Austin Texas - South Congress

Austin Texas - South Congress

Austin Texas - South Congress

Austin Texas - South Congress

I really liked this pairing of stores:

Austin Texas - South Congress

Austin South Congress

Austin South Congress

The district was surrounded by residential. That, too, was mixed. Some gentrified properties, some exclusive looking condos. I doubt that too many of the old residents are still living in the ‘hood.

Austin Texas - South Congress

Austin Texas - South Congress

Austin Texas - South Congress

All in all there was nothing incredibly unique about the area - similar areas exist over and over in North American cities - but it had a great, fun feel to it making it a great urban space.

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