People of Austin Profile Series
Peter Mullan never considered moving to Texas an ambition. A native New Yorker, Mullan spent a decade working for Friends of the High Line, an expansive urban parks project that runs along the west side of Manhattan, and a big inspiration for the Waller Creek vision. But when the Austin-based Waller Creek Conservancy launched a nationwide campaign in 2014 to find a CEO, Mullan decided to pursue the opportunity. Considering his impressive resume and his experience with public works, Mullan was a natural fit for the organization. With Mullan now in place, the WCC is about to kick the massive Waller Creek revitalization project into high gear. Over the next few years, Austinites can look forward to improved infrastructure, new attractions and more events like November’s enchanting Creek Show light installation. Mullan says he hopes Waller Creek brings the same sense of community and revitalization to downtown Austin as the High Line did for Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. And though Mullan has only called Austin home for a few weeks, he’s already fallen in love with the people, the culture and the city itself. With all eyes on Waller Creek, we chatted with the new CEO to find out a little bit more about this newly-minted Texan.
SO WHAT WAS IT ABOUT THE WALLER CREEK PROJECT THAT COMPELLED YOU TO PICK UP AND MOVE TO AUSTIN?
It’s very rare that you get the opportunity to participate in projects that have major transformative [effect] on a city. I had that with the High Line, and thought that was a once in lifetime opportunity. Waller Creek has the same potential for change.
THE HIGH LINE WAS A MASSIVELY SUCCESSFUL PUBLIC WORKS PROJECT THAT CHANGED THE LANDSCAPE OF NEW YORK CITY. WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN DURING YOUR DECADE WITH FRIENDS OF THE HIGH LINE THAT YOU WILL BRING TO WALLER CREEK CONSERVANCY?
There are many lessons. One, is it’s important to recognize that these projects have to be community-based efforts [and] engage lots of different kinds of people. That is their power…it makes the project more successful because people have ownership of it. These projects are not for the next five years, they’re for the next 50 years…you always to have to remember that.
WHY DO YOU THINK AUSTINITES HAVE TAKEN SUCH AN INTEREST IN THE WALLER CREEK PROJECT?
I’ve been amazed at the people in Austin that I’ve encountered. People are so welcoming, and willing to engage and generous of spirit; I can’t say enough about the people I’ve met. The culture of going out to restaurants and clubs to hear music and being outdoors; there is an inherent publicness to the culture of Austin. People are physically engaging with the city in all of these different ways.
YOU’VE ONLY BEEN ON THE JOB FOR A FEW WEEKS, BUT WHAT KIND OF PRESSURE ARE YOU FEELING?
You wanna show results, [like] getting a piece of Waller Creek open to the public as soon as possible. There are lot of things we’re doing, and that we can do, like the annual [Waller Creek] Picnic on April 18. [Ultimately,] you have to have courage, you have to recognize that it’s gonna be hard, hard work, because these projects are hard to get gone. You have to be in for the long haul.