Top 9 Developing Stories
1) PLANNING-A-GO-GO This year saw a harmonic convergence of major planning efforts shaping the region. If properly synced up, they could herald a tipping point – a course correction for Central Texas' future. The city of Austin is progressing on a comprehensive plan, Strategic Mobility Plan, Downtown Austin Plan, and Waller Creek District Master Plan; it also completed a Comprehensive Housing Market Study. Travis County embarked on a comprehensive planning effort too, and it's preparing a master plan for its central campus Downtown and other facilities. To aid in wise land conservation, we also gained the completed Central Texas Greenprint for Growth.
2) THINKING COMPREHENSIVELY Notable unto itself, Austin finally began the process of creating a new comprehensive plan. The last one was adopted in 1979. Consultant WRT was hired and began work, a citizens' advisory group (which ballooned to 38 members) was named, and an Imagine Austin campaign kicked off.
3) MULLING 'GOOD' DEVELOPMENT Are central Austinites determined to remain anti-developer, no matter what? That's still a question as we uneasily embrace new development patterns. This year saw increased acceptance (or at least discussion) of national models for density-over-sprawl embraced elsewhere: New Urbanism, transit-oriented development, and form-based code.
4) SPRAWL AND GROW Round Rock grew by 8.6% – making it the second fastest-growing city in the nation, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures released in July. Other 'burbs grew fast, too. The change for Austin was just 2.5%; that translated to a net gain of more than 18,000 people, making us the No. 9 city for population gains nationwide, and now the 15th largest U.S. city, according to U.S. Census Bureau 2007-2008 data released in August.
5) DODGING THE BUBBLE Development was mostly not happening in 2009, thanks to the financial market's meltdown. Building cranes are becoming an endangered species Downtown. Nevertheless, Austin enjoyed some of the most stable home values in the U.S.
6) PUBLIC-PRIVATE PROJECTS PLOD ALONG Mueller, which took more than 15 years to break ground, enjoyed steady 2009 progress and earned sustainable neighborhood certification. The design process for the new Central Austin Library began – after the city took nearly 10 months to finalize the architects' contract. The $300 million W Austin Hotel & Residences project on Block 21 finally started construction, then lost its financing, then found replacement financing. All is silent on the Green Water Treatment Plant redevelopment, awarded to a Trammell Crow team; sealed negotiations continue, but no deal was inked. Worst of all, Seaholm is still a year away from breaking ground. The city's public-private deals drag out forever – suggesting the need for tougher "do it or lose it" contracts.
7) A TRANSPORTING YEAR The new Austin Transportation Department made rapid strides on mobility: a more sustainable roadway, bikeway, walkway, and transit system. It completed a circulation study of Central Austin that confirms roads leading into Downtown can't handle any more cars – we need other modes. It launched a Strategic Mobility Plan and an Urban Rail Program. We gained miles and miles of bike lanes. In progress: preliminary engineering and environmental work needed to allow a November 2010 transportation referendum, to include rail and other projects.
8) DOWNTOWN PERCOLATES Despite the recession, loads of people still patronize Downtown entertainment, dining, and drinking venues. Only about 400 under-construction condo units remain unsold. On the Downtown Austin Plan, major components completed in 2009 include a parks and open space plan, a transportation framework plan, an affordable housing and density bonus strategy, and a proposal to protect the Warehouse District. But the 'Dillo died, commuter rail never arrived, and the long-discussed rail transit for the central city remains uncertain.
9) PARKS AND OPEN SPACE BLOOM New director Sara Hensley hit her stride in the Parks and Recreation Department; she even managed to forge an amicable resolution of the controversy over removing aged Barton Springs trees. The Walk for a Day trail became real, receiving more than $400,000 in federal funds. The Lady Bird Lake Trail saw many improvements; the boardwalk plan progressed – but wasn't awarded any federal funds. The new PARD boathouse got a design rehash and a promise to open bidding to more potential users. The Austin Parks Foundation completed Phase I renovations of Republic Park, while Waterloo Park began a place-making intervention from Project for Public Spaces. Plant a New Year's tree, people!
Katherine Gregor, Fri., June 29, 2007
Katherine Gregor, Fri., June 1, 2007
Katherine Gregor, Fri., Feb. 16, 2007
Mamma Jamma Ride Kick-off Party at Saengerrunde Hall
at The Marchesa Hall & Theatre
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