Creating Community

(This article appeared in Mueller Living, March 2017)

Mueller is what happens when we turn off our smart phones. We log into life with actual people who pass by on the way to the park or work. Our real-life LOL’s come with the pitch and cadence of human sounds and facial expressions. In a world that amazes us daily with the magic of technology, we pause and live our lives in community.

Mueller is unusual in that it was built on values of community, sustainability, and diversity, with goals of adding value to the surrounding neighborhoods and the city at large. The surrounding communities worked for years developing a vision for re-purposing this square mile near town. Our streets are named after community leaders and legends. In this way community of the past is the literal underlay of community of the present.

The design helps turn a neighborhood into a community by encouraging our getting to know one another on the way to the mailbox, the store or while walking the dog. Once, I left for the mailbox and returned an hour and a half later with stories, connections and the potential for new friends. I wanted to hit the ‘like’ button on my life. 

Our green spaces emit a magnetic pull, drawing us out of the house and onto paths and porches. The proximity of the commercial area is just easy enough to make us question whether or not to take the car. Bike paths are wide and welcoming. Sidewalks pass through green spaces and offer carpets of crunching sycamore leaves. Trending: Acorn sizes

We are integrally woven into the fabric of East Austin and the rest of the city, so there is a constant expansion and contraction of Mueller. The Thinkery, casually guarded by cement pigs, charms children from all over the city with circuits and shadows, kitchens and climbers. The playground across the road whose dragon, Nessy, playfully beckons visitors is an Austin favorite. Local restaurants and pubs, and the imminent Alamo Drafthouse Cinema add to the expansive nature of our community. 

On weekends Lake Park is studded with birthday parties and family picnics, soccer games and boot camps. (Did I just see bubble football?)  Geese honk and prompt squeals from toddlers. New mothers in yoga togs strike a modified tree pose on the steps of the amphitheater, one hand gently poised on a stroller handle. Grandparents who have moved half-way across the country to live in Mueller, pull grandkids in red wagons and laugh with adult children and friends. 

Sundays at the farmers’ market, the community expands again, this time bringing growers and craftspeople, musicians, chefs and shoppers. We sip coffee, take in the aroma of stroopwafle, while our brain tries to categorize it, and then our eyes water as we follow a scent trail to the brisket. The market is a major sense experience of the Mueller Community. With the sound of local music in the air, we connect with our growers, handle the smooth lines of the wooden spoons, admire the ceramic bowls and taste the cheese bread. The community gently expands to embrace all this activity, and feels like our very own worldwide web.

Visually Mueller is anchored by the hangar, the children’s hospital tower, the airport control tower. Our sculptures of sunflowers, the spore and the spider provide additional wayfinders as we as we wind the greenways, passing the group of birdwatchers on the prairie. (Have you noticed the bright yellow feet of the snowy egret?)

At night everyone returns home either to Mueller or other neighborhoods. We turn off our LED’s and our CFL’s, and adjust the thermostat. Our community contracts to its residential size and we wait for sleep as a line of gentle street lamp bleeds the edges of the blinds. We check our phones.  #doesanyoneknowwhenthealamodrafthouseopens?