Thursday, January 31, 2008

Responses to the Chronicle's "mixed-use" anniversary article

The Chronicle today had a really interesting article today about the major neighborhoods' reactions, thus far, to vertical mixed-use development. If you care at all whether or not Austin becomes a vibrant, dense, urban city with a liveable future, or if it becomes the suburban nightmare of Houston, you might want to check it out.

Each neighborhood in Austin, as I understand it, was given the option of analyzing and scrutinizing each VMU development, and possible location on each of the commercial corridors, and either approving them, partially approving them, or totally opting out.

I don't really understand this stuff enough to be able to comment too much, but this guy has an excellent and articulate analysis, and then this guy posted a pretty great letter that he emailed to city council about it.

It seems that some of the more predictable neighborhoods opted out entirely of the VMU process: Hyde Park, namely, which doesn't surprise me. Hyde Park used to be my favorite neighborhood in town, and now I kind of hate it. For some reason, it feels like people there are waiting to die. Allandale, another one that opted out, not suprising, given their vehement resistance to Wal-Mart's development of Northcross (though it seems that some developers have some pretty exciting sounding ideas for the Village on Anderson Lane, including building tons of apartments, filling it up with business, and keeping the Alamo Drafthouse as an anchor). Bring it on, I say. Cuz, you know, I hate parking lots more than almost anything. Allandale, at least to my novice ears, had a good reason, though:

A primary Allandale concern was how density increases would translate to traffic congestion: failed roads and intersections, spillover traffic clogging neighborhood streets, slow emergency-response times, slowed buses. As residents rightly point out, without linking new transit to VMU, congested streets are the inevitable result of densification. The new Cap Metro Red Line will stop at North Lamar and Justin Lane; that transit station is spawning Crestview Station (a VMU project) but currently offers no circulators to Allandale.

"We believe that insufficient time has been allowed to adequately determine the interrelated impacts of VMU on the neighborhoods of Austin," Allandale objected. "A complex new process requires neighborhoods to respond with a well-thought-out plan, yet we are given only the power of suggestion and a 'one shot deal' without the power of determination."

It sounds good; at least in theory. Maybe it's bullshit, I don't know. At the very least, at least they're talking about public transportation, parking and congestion. All legitimate concerns.

West Austin, predictably, has also been very resistant to the change, and I know for a fact has shot down multiple proposals for multi-family units to go up in the area (primarily in Tarrytown, if I'm not mistaken). It frustrates me.

Part of this I think is classic classism ("If we allow an apartment complex in the neighborhood, lower income people might live here!"), but I also think a lot of it is just an unwillingness to acknowledge that Austin is a big city now. It's no longer the quaint little college town of the 1960's and it never will be again. Sorry, folks, but that's the breaks. The more you resist the change and try to keep things as they are (were), the more you're going to make Austin into exactly what you don't want it to be: Houston. Or Dallas. Or wherever. It seems to me that Austin has an historic opportunity here, and an extremely small window in which to either make or break it. We have to decide right now what kind of city we want to grow into: something progressive, dense, walkable, more eco-friendly, vibrant, exciting, attractive, and habitable; or a sprawling, land-consuming, faceless, boring, plastic, congested, polluted (and still expensive, no matter how you slice it), dead suburb upon suburb?

You can't stop the growth, despite what certain overrated local celebrities might think. But you can decide how that growth is going to occur and help do it right. If you still want suburbs, there's always West Texas.


M1EK said...

The Allandale concern is complete bullshit - there's good transit service on Burnet Road today; and it's slated to be one of the higher priority corridors in the future. The rest of it is the same whining they've used against every single effort to densify anywhere in or near their neighborhood for years - which is why I never believed RG4N with their supposed VMU plan for Northcross, by the way; their track record is 100% opposed to such development, no matter what, no matter where.

ryan said...

Unfortunately, that's kind of what I expected. I've met a few folks on the RG4N committee, and they made me nervous.

But I was trying to give them the benefit of the doubt.