Naked City

Mission: Grow Smart

The Envision Central Texas project -- an attempt to produce a conceptual plan for future growth in the Austin area -- kicked off in earnest last Friday with a planning workshop at the Austin Convention Center. The 300 attendees' mission, should they choose to accept it, was to figure out where in the five-county metro area to squeeze in an estimated 1.5 million more people. That would double the current Metro Austin population, which is what prognosticators expect to happen in the next 20 years.

Some of the community leaders and activists in attendance -- along with some who refused to attend -- choose not to accept that mission, and are blasting ECT as a tool of pro-growthers who want Austin to boom more than it can or should. While most attendees seemed more sanguine -- growth is inevitable, if not desirable -- the task of accommodating the hordes was not easy for anyone. Each small group at the ECT workshop was given a package of chips -- stickers of various sizes representing different kinds of growth, from downtown-dense to strip-mall sprawl -- and had to put them all on the map. (Some refused.)

Despite a fair diversity among the crowd, some obvious themes emerged from the groups' final results. Many groups followed a growth strategy of densifying existing towns like San Marcos, Bastrop, and Pflugerville, and creating more urban nodes within Austin itself, rather than allowing sprawl to fill in the spaces between them. Others went whole-hog to densify the Austin urban core; but very few chose anything that looks like the growth pattern we've seen in the past 20 years.

ECT is holding more workshops in October in Austin and around the metro area (in Bastrop and Georgetown Oct. 14; at the Travis Co. Expo Center and in Dripping Springs Oct. 15; and in Lockhart and at the Burger Center on Oct. 17). The October workshops will focus in more detail on each locale's relevant sections of the metro area. As they've done in similar projects in Salt Lake, Nashville, and elsewhere, the project's consultants -- superstar planners John Fregonese and Peter Calthorpe -- will synthesize the results into several alternatives from which citizens choose a preference, probably early next year. Visit www.envisioncentraltexas.org for more details, and we'll have more on ECT next week.

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