City officials have released a draft of the broad new 30-year plan for downtown Austin development. While just a draft, the new plan paints a picture of the Austin of the future as a more dense and livable City that evolves to include as many as 700,000 new residents over the next 3 decades. If the plan is well received, the draft will be subject to public comment and a City Council vote before becoming final by next spring. After that, the City will spend as long as a year putting the policies and ordinances in place to realize the plans objectives.
According to the Statesman, “the proposed, 197-page “comprehensive plan” would be the city’s official philosophy for managing a booming population and the new housing, businesses, shops and restaurants that will come with it. The plan, dubbed Imagine Austin, envisions mixed-use development along corridors serviced by transit and new centers of housing and commerce miles north and south of downtown.”
A few observations from the plan:
– Austin’s historical growth has been poorly managed: a lack of density has meant high community costs for roads, water, and infrastructure, rapid consumption of natural open space, social segregation and isolation, and negative impacts on public health, air quality, and water quality.
– 700,000 people are predicted to move to Austin over the next 30-years which will cause all sorts of new problems
– The plan calls for more density in central neighborhoods despite the objections of single family home owners in these areas and fears of rising costs.
– According to the Statesman, the report says “Austin has among the nation’s worst traffic congestion, an increasingly strained water supply, rising housing costs, a reliance on low-wage jobs that don’t keep pace with the rising cost of living, and a sense of loss about a simpler Austin of the past.”
– The report recommends that the City use zoning and taxation to shape Austin into a more densely-packed and walkable City
– The report does not assume that additional rail or transportation investments will be made.
It’s hard to know what impact the plan will have. According to the Statesman, “The last such comprehensive plan, passed in phases in the 1970s and updated in the early 1980s, was promptly left on a shelf to gather dust. Instead, the city adopted numerous smaller-scale plans, from those charting the course of individual neighborhoods to one governing the city electric utility’s 10-year environmental goals.”
In general — the plan is a strong vote in favor of the dense, lively, walkable downtown that most central residents seem to favor. At this point in the evolution of downtown, it’s hard to imagine any other path forward. The big question, is how the rest of Austin — especially close-in neighborhoods, will evolve in the future to support a thriving, growing downtown central core.