Public Notice: How Small Is a Small Area?

Out of the ruins of CodeNEXT and into the next round of city planning drama... CodeWHAT?

Public Notice: How Small Is a Small Area?

That rather peculiar question is liable to grow into a great debate as we move out of the ruins of CodeNEXT and into the next round of the ongoing city planning drama which, for now, we'll call CodeWHAT?.

Since the early 1990s, the city and what is now known as its Planning and Zoning Department have organized and overseen a neighborhood planning program, intended to guide development regulations and related matters within each neighborhood. Over the years, they've developed some 54 neighborhood plans (NPs), covering – at this point – a majority of the city population, if just a fraction of the full land area. As with a lot of projects, it proved easier to create the plans than to keep them updated to best coordinate with one another and reflect changing conditions. An audit last year blasted the program's oversight, both by the city and by the various plans' contact teams – neighborhood groups which have considerable control over enforcing and amending (or not) their plans, but which themselves get little oversight or help from the city.

Almost all the plans pre-date the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan, and the city's last couple of growth spurts, and there's never been a concerted effort to bring them into line with any of those developments. So an NP may abut a major transit corridor, which has its own planning process going on (see below), but not itself be updated to reflect those plans – or, for that matter, be in sync with the NP that's right across the street from it.

So it's not surprising that the plans themselves have been a target for urbanistas who see them as impeding progress and have come to loathe the entire concept. Meanwhile, for more than two decades, the city has been creating new plans and empowering contact teams to manage them within this structure. So it's somewhat unsettling – perhaps on both sides of the debate – that the city is now making overtures about a new kind of Small Area Planning. That concept was front-burnered a couple of weeks ago in a commissioned study presented at City Hall by the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the Urban Design Committee of AIA Austin. The planning areas would be a good bit larger than the ones we've so far created, and defined perhaps with more of an eye to their function within the city, rather than their function as a discrete neighborhood. With the larger scale comes a better chance to create and connect the "complete communities" that are a cornerstone of Imagine Austin. But these plans would take a couple of years each to produce, and we're starting from scratch, so this approach won't produce quick results.

So what of the 54 existing plans, not to mention transit district plans and myriad others, many of which have force of law? Though no one seems to have the political or organizational will to update and incorporate those into the new plans, it'll be hard to justify scrapping them altogether.

After all, the intro to the current neighborhood plan map promises that the existing "plan boundaries were drawn and modified based on logical and efficient geographic areas, and approved by City Council." Who's to say the new boundaries (drawn by the same entities that created the old ones) will prove that much more logical and efficient?

More Transportation Planning: Capital Metro's Community Conversations continue, gathering feedback on their Project Connect long-range transit plan, while Austin Transportation Department staff present and discuss their own Austin Strategic Mobility Plan. This week, they're in Council District 5: Sat., Nov. 17, 10am-noon at ACC South Austin, 1820 W. Stassney Ln.

Meanwhile, ATD has added new ASMP Office hours at various Austin public libraries to discuss the ASMP:

•Fri., Nov. 16, 1:30-2:30pm, Cepeda Library, 651 N. Pleasant Valley

•Sat., Nov. 17, 10:30-11:30am, Manchaca Road Library, 5500 Manchaca

•Mon., Nov. 19, 6-7pm, Univ. Hills Library, 4721 Loyola

•Tue., Nov. 20, 6:30-7:30pm, Carver Library, 1161 Angelina

See more on the two plans at and

Turkey volunteers needed: Operation Turkey is a homegrown Austin institution, a 100% volunteer group delivering Thanksgiving meals to the homeless and less fortunate. They have meals available for delivery and need volunteers to help prepare, package, and deliver them; see for details.

Turkey Trotters needed: Thursday is Thanksgiving (early this year); which means the ThunderCloud Turkey Trot; see our Community listings, or

The city of Austin Parks and Recreation Department is offering the final online survey for Brush Square Master Plan – home of the historic Susanna Dickinson Museum, O. Henry Museum, Austin Fire Station 1, and the Austin Fire Museum – and is looking for Austin residents' input. Take a look at the future vision for the square and give PARD your feedback by Sunday, December 2, at

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CodeNEXT, city planning, Planning Department, Imagine Austin, Austin Strategic Mobility Plan, Project

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