CodeNEXT's Sound Check Gets Under Way

Week of public input events runs until Nov. 21

This week, the folks driving Austin's land development code rewrite, CodeNEXT, have hosted a series of open house events at the Linc, 6406 N. I-35. They want to talk with you and other Austinites about the city you know, with the idea being that those conversations will help them write code that's right for how Austin lives and works.

The open house is called Sound Check. Attending an event Tuesday (Nov. 17) helped me better understand exactly what CodeNEXT and Sound Check are. Up until now, the CodeNEXT team (comprised of staff from architect and urban planning firm Opticos Design, Inc. and Austin city planners) has been gathering information from all the different players who are involved in building or rebuilding the city. This week, the team stopped gathering data, and at Sound Check, started organizing it, synthesizing it, or – to use the preferred metaphor – remixing it, all in one place. On Tuesday I talked with stakeholders from many groups on how the process is going, and a few things are now very clear.

1) The more the public turns out to talk with planners as they work, to convey our understanding of how Austin works and what it needs, the better/richer/more tailored to Austin the final code will be.

2) Affordability is a big source of tension around CodeNEXT. The new code won't change things in this regard, unfortunately. Recall, CodeNEXT is supposed to implement the Imagine Austin master plan. So it mainly deals with altering code to improve transit corridors with currently horrible street­scapes, and to promote good land-use policy in places that can absorb growth, like new developments, and open spaces within existing developments. But in those areas, code can ease the pressures somewhat – if it facilitates two important things:

a) Adding "missing middle" housing types like fourplexes and triplexes through infill and corridors. This will address present "missing middle" housing types that are neither single-family home nor skyscraping high-rise, that renters (or existing owners looking to downsize) desperately need.

b) New housing developments that are diverse in terms of price and type of dwelling. Austin is economically segregated. Shamefully, this segregation has deepened as the city has grown. The new code needs to pave the way for future developments to include many types of housing, and to ensure that some homes, duplexes, and condos have different ownership options.

3) To some insiders, it appears the planning team is focusing on peripheral areas that are undeveloped, and that they're forgetting to scrutinize established areas and map out opportunities there for change for the better. Even rich people in rich neighborhoods can plan smart – and it's smart to evolve now, for the sake of traffic and livability for everyone in 10 years. Opticos Design, the lead on CodeNEXT, needs to assert its leadership in the rewrite process (and leverage the neutral, outsider standpoint that lets it question assumptions) to look for opportunities everywhere – not just in areas where everyone presumes there's the least resistance to change.

4) Let's just say, smart is sexy. Put on your nice jeans and hit up the Linc for a brown-bag lunch or a block-party/pin-up session after work. You can learn about – and help – your city while you mingle with other civically engaged Austinites. The event has an art show-meets-neighborhood picnic vibe to it that's quite pleasant, and you'll be in the company of some of the finest tweed-jacketed, thick-framed-bespectaled, and/or socially conscious, data-crunching, plat map-reading types in Cen­tral Texas. Deep eye-gazing over setbacks small-talk might could be the start of something sustainable.

CodeNEXT's Sound Check continues through Saturday, Nov. 21, at the Linc (formerly Lincoln Center), 6406 N. I-35, facing the access road.

CodeNEXT Sound Check: Thu.-Sat., Nov. 19-21

Thu., Nov. 19:
• Educational Brown Bag Lunch: Thoroughfare Network, noon-1pm
• Open Studio, 1-7pm
• Sound Check Block Party / Pin-Up, 5-7pm. Music: Amy Cook

Fri., Nov. 20:
• Open Studio, 10am-noon
• Educational Brown Bag Lunch: Envision Tomorrow, noon-1pm

Sat., Nov. 21:
• *Closing Ceremony, 1-3:30pm. Music: Bidi Bidi Banda, beginning at 1pm. Presentation begins at 2pm.

* ¡No faltes! Habrá interpretación.

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