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Thread: Envision Central Texas

  1. #1

    Envision Central Texas

    Two weeks ago, I participated in an Envision Central Texas workshop, which was part of an ongoing process (conducted by Fregonese Calthorpe Associates) to plan for growth in metro Austin and surrounding areas (1.25 million more people in the next 20 to 40 years, according to projections). It was my first exposure to regional planning (I hope to be an MLA/MRP student in two or three years), and I really found it fascinating.

    I thought it was especially interesting that when participants presented their scenarios (basically, where to put all the new people), many of them avoided taking a higher density "smart growth" approach because they thought it was unrealistic. Affordable housing is certainly a concern in Austin, but it surprised me that so many people who had shown up to "envision" the region's future weren't willing to consider an alternative to more and more strip malls and low-density subdivisions.

    We were told that the five-county region will lose half of its remaining agricultural land (and 20% of its woodlands) within 20 to 40 years if present growth trends continue. I hope we can do better than that.

    I'd be very interested in reading the perspectives of anyone else who has participated in Envision Central Texas, Envision Utah, or any similar process. Thank you!

  2. #2

    Registered
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    I've participated in the Common Ground regional planning process underway in the Chicago area, conducted by the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission.

    I don't profess to know the Austin area or central Texas, but I am familiar with regional planning efforts. As a rule, people in a region will not propose major changes unless there are major concerns that prompt change.

    So while Austin may have an affordable housing problem, residents overall may not see it at a crisis level, and they're pretty much OK with the status quo of strip malls and spacious subdivisions. While Austin may benefit from a regional policy that preserves farmland and natural space, most residents don't feel that the region's growth has affected those yet.

    My own personal theory -- a region kind of has to reach a critical level of growth before it starts looking at Smart Growth initiatives. When housing prices go beyond that of a large majority of people in the Austin area, you'll hear about affordable housing. When the built-up area of the region grows so large that natural areas are threatened and traffic is unmanageable, you'll hear about increasing density as an option.

    For 10-15 years planners and some policymakers in the Chicago region have criticized the lack of affordable housing and the spread of low-density development. But now something is being done, through Common Ground (and other initiatives), because more residents are negatively impacted.

  3. #3
    Central Ohio is just starting a regional planning process. It will be for a 7 county region and is being headed by the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC). It's a very exciting process and I'll be ecurious to see whether the participants are willing to envision alternative development forms.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I've been to Austin and the surrounding area. Some of it is beautiful - the hill country, for instance - and then there is the horrible strip between Austin and San Antonio. As I have travelled more and seen more cities I have begun to suspect a few things regarding density:
    1) Everyone wants to save rural lands - farmland and scenic locales - but they want to live there themselves.
    2) Dense cities either started early (Boston, Chicago, New York, etc.) when transportation dictated density, or are physically constrained (San Francisco, Portland, etc.). The first group is losing density as transportation technology allows people to live less densly.
    3) Water is going to kill the west. Can Austin and the surrounding area's water supply really support another 1.25 million people. In California's Sierras I saw a lot of empty or seriously drawn-down reserviors. Can all of thet population realistically be supported by the available water resource, and at what cost to the environment? What forms will cities have to take to manage this resource. Water may, in the long run, have the greatest impact on density in some cities.

  5. #5
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    Our cities are pretty free wheeling with water usage. You can't live in many areas without cutting and watering your lawn, yet both of these activities waste water. There are natural "lawns" that cater to the environment, and the well off will always be able to afford bottled water. We've been able to turn toilet water into fresh water, I wonder if we'll ever be able to change sea water into fresh water at a good price. With global warming we may soon have plenty of extra sea water, but that's another problem.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Runner's avatar
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    Radio Limbo,

    Thanks, I did not realize these had been scheduled. I do now, and after checking their web site I will be attending an upcoming meeting. I'll let you know how it goes. They sound interesting but I am somewhat cynical about the outcome. I live in "the horrible strip between Austin and San Antonio" (as Michael Stumpf puts it) and don't think most people around here will ever "get it" or at least not until its too late. I also agree that water will soon be the next great strategic resource.

    In central Texas we seem to have abundance of property owner's rights wackos, anti-tax (unless it's for highways) groups, etc. To get out of this mess we will have to overcome these idiots and strengthen (no, create, and no CAPCO doesn't count) regional planning (re. urban growth boundaries to start) and escape from the highway lobby. Don't you just love what Hunter Industries is doing with our tax dollars out on IH35... and I still can't believe that Austin followed San Antonio's lead and voted against light rail...

    Meanwhile we motor out to SprawlMart in our gas guzzling SUVs while the sprinkler system drains the aquifer to water our plush lawns around the McMansion...

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Runner's avatar
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    I attended the Envision Central Texas program in Lockhart tonight. I left with a mixed feelings.

    Unlike Radio Limbo's groups, our groups selected the higher density development pattern. However, I am thinking that some of this may have been a NIMBY response from persons who live in rural areas (re. Lockhart) wishing for the newcomers to cluster in existing cities (re. Austin).

    Another interesting point was that additional roadways were not pushed but public transit (especially light rail) was. This from the San Antonio / Austin corridor where light rail was defeated at the ballot box. My guess is that the type of person who would attend one of these workshops would be more inclined to look at options besides the auto for transportation.

    Originally posted by Michael Stumpf
    Water is going to kill the west. Can Austin and the surrounding area's water supply really support another 1.25 million people.
    Water was not discussed as much as it needed to be. I believe Michael is absolutely correct and water shortages are going to be a big problem in this area.

    Overall it was an interesting experience but I still think that without meaningful regional government to back up any plans the plans may just be wishful thinking. On the positive side maybe this will be the beginning of the central Texas public waking up to the need for such regional government.

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