The recent planning effort by the City of Austin designating a large swath of downtown near I-35 as the Palm District has always felt a bit inexact for us, rolling the Rainey Street District, the area around the Austin Convention Center that also contains the plan’s namesake Palm School, the entertainment district along Red River Street, and the Innovation District near the new Waterloo Park into one distinct region despite the distance and differences between the adjacent areas — we’re talking about a slice of the city running from the lake all the way up to 15th Street.
Still, the overwhelming size of this region means that the major themes of the final plan have the potential to shape future growth here in a big way, so this Friday we have a modest request for you. We kind of ran into the deadline on this one, but it turns out the City of Austin is looking for public feedback on three scenarios for future growth in the Palm District, concepts developed using previous community input — and today, October 7, is the last day you can fill out the survey. Whoops.
Thankfully, it’s a quick job, taking you only a couple of minutes. It’s even quicker because out of the three scenarios presented, “Live,” “Work,” and “Play,” the answer is clear. The difference between the three concepts is the percentage of space dedicated to mixed-income housing, office space, and cultural uses — “Live” has a larger percentage of housing, “Work” has a larger percentage of offices, while “Play” amps up the cultural uses and open space.
These scenarios are graphic representations of potential future growth in the district. The graphics include sites that are controlled by a variety of public and private entities, and not all sites are under the direct ownership of the City of Austin. The scenarios are intended to provide an aspirational view of how the district could change over time, and do not bind individual property owners or the City of Austin and partner agencies. Implementation would require a range of actions by the City of Austin and its partners. This is a district-level visualization, and additional analysis would be needed to determine site-specific possibilities.
— City of Austin, Palm District Planning Initiative
We’ll show you the details of all three scenarios below, but we don’t really need to. First, go ahead and click here for the survey and vote for the first option, “Live,” because it’s the one with housing. It’s kind of a no-brainer, in a city where working people downtown can’t afford to live near their jobs. This option does include market-rate housing, as you’d expect from valuable downtown land, but also substantial low-income and mixed-income residences — that’s what we need, vote for that.
Scenario 1: Live
- Taking advantage of density initiatives, the Live scenario significantly increases mixed income housing to support the building of a more vibrant and diverse community.
- Strategic placement of goods and services including pharmacies, mixed-scale groceries, and eateries within a ten minute walkshed of each other.
- The Live scenario interventions propose repurposing surface lots and parking garages to provide largely public-owned land for more services and housing.
- In support of new Project Connect rail lines and the Waterloo Greenway trail expansion for bike and pedestrian connection, the Live scenario also proposes the use of a public transportation circulator to move residents along Red River and connect them to key cultural sites like Waterloo Park, the Red River Cultural District, and the Mexican American Cultural Center.
- The Live scenario envisions Palm District as an area with all day activity, including a range of cultural and necessary elements required to thrive in the area. Potential I-35 Cap & Stitch development can support in building more service provision for the growing resident population.
Scenario 2: Work
- The Work Scenario creates new office and mixed use opportunities throughout the district, with the goal of introducing more daytime, evening, and night activity across Palm District.
- Strategic placement of work-centric services like printers, cafes, and dry cleaners around proposed sites of new investment
- This scenario offers more creative workspaces and flexible office environments to support the district’s growing resident and workforce, and also create new work or practice spaces for Palm District’s creative and innovative industries.
- The Work Scenario leverages the I-35 Cap & Stitch to envision new business incubation space, gathering places, employment opportunities that will encourage new economic and community activity. The 11th and 12th Street Cap & Stitch areas offer strong links to the neighboring Innovation District.
- Creek-side real estate is also seen as an opportunity area for more mixed-use, mixed-height development that encourages ground floor commercial areas for a more vibrant neighborhood identity.
Scenario 3: Play
- The Play scenario maximizes greenspace in the area, spotlighting the influx of investment in Waterloo Greenway and making additional recommendations for programmed open spaces, like skate parks and recreational play spaces for people of all ages and abilities.
- The scenario proposes more small scale commercial, entertainment, and open space spaces on the I-35 Cap & Stitch to build E-W connection.
- In support of new tourist and entertainment investment, bolstering the existing music and cultural assets in the area, the Play scenario also introduces two new hotels between 6th and 7th streets incorporating entertainment spaces.
- This scenario also calls for the strategic repurposing of existing government buildings between 10th and 11th streets to meet housing and office needs in the area.
- The Play scenario envisions Palm District as a city-wide destination that celebrates the area’s rich history through street-level intervention. Additional recommendations include expanding area-wide interpretive signage and creative placemaking that acknowledges the rich cultural heritage of the district.
All that stuff sounds nice, but we need housing. The repurposing of largely public land like surface lots and parking garages for affordable residences is something Austin could do right now, and pushing for that option in the Palm District plan ought to send a message: Housing, housing, housing. Do we make ourselves clear?