Public Notice: Everything in Its Place

Contemplating “urbanism”

Public Notice: Everything in Its Place

The Land Development Code rewrite has taken a bit of a back seat recently as City Council finalizes next year's budget and code drafters prepare for the big reveal. The major takeaways from last week's briefing on transition zones – that the drafters intend to allow more impervious cover*, in apparent disregard of fairly specific Council direction, and that the vast majority of the increases in entitlements will have no affordability requirement, in direct contradiction to Mayor Steve Adler's assurances earlier this year – have gone largely unremarked on as of yet (see "Public Notice," News, Aug. 30). But that will no doubt change, with just four weeks left until the debate starts in earnest.

Next up: Council work sessions are on Sept. 11 and 17, with the public release of the draft Code and citywide mapping still set for Oct. 4.

Coincidentally or not, several local events this week touch on the issue – some more directly than others.

• Zoned Out: The Legacy of CodeNEXT is award­-­winning Austin documentarian Steve Mims' direct response to the debate thus far and the gentrification threat he feels to his Rosedale neighborhood. It's staunchly pro-preservationist and got a rave reception from a near-full house at AFS Cinema on Labor Day, and I heartily recommend it to anyone wondering what all the fuss is about. It's just 29 minutes long, and you can stream it free on YouTube; see

• Owned: A Tale of Two Americas is a dark look at how the 20th century growth of suburbia was intertwined with institutional racism that kept home ownership out of reach for generations of African American families, with effects that continue to this day. It's screening at AFS Cinema this Tuesday, Sept. 10, at 7pm, presented in partnership with the Texas Observer. And if the connections to the current zoning debate are complicated, that shouldn't inhibit a lively post-screening discussion with filmmaker Giorgio Angelini and reps from Texas Housers, Austin Justice Coalition, and Housing Authority City of Austin.

Meanwhile, a couple of giants of the New Urban­ism movement will be in town next week, both giving talks on Tuesday, Sept. 10 at the Austin Public Library. If "New Urban­ism" sounds like a partisan term in the polarized atmosphere of Austin's development wars, well, it ain't necessarily so. True believers on both sides of the Density vs. Preservation chasm might do well to look back to the goals and values that movement is based on, which have more to do with appropriate placemaking than with maximizing capacity.

"The Architecture of the Cosmopolis" AIA Austin's Design Talks series features Vishaan Chakrabarti, author, planner, architect, and incoming Dean of UC Berkeley's College of Environmental Design, who will argue, according to the program, that the tension between "the idea that transit-oriented urban growth leads to positive social, economic, and environmental outcomes" and "communities question[ing] the gentrification impacts of new growth," there exists "an undercurrent ... [that] transcends economic arguments, hinging instead on whether new development reflects the local community, climate, culture, and construction." Tue., Sept. 10, 11:30am-1pm. Austin Central Library, 710 W. Cesar Chavez. $40.

"Towards an Architecture of Place" Later that same day, the Congress for the New Urban­ism Central Texas Chapter (CNU-CTX) presents Cafe Urban, with Stefanos Polyzoides. He and his wife/partner Liz Moule are two of the six founders of CNU (first formed in 1993), and he was a key figure in developing "The Charter of the New Urbanism." That document is worth a read; most every section stresses the importance of honoring "local history, climate, ecology, and building practice," right along with championing "universally accessible public spaces" and pedestrian- and transit-friendly design. As just one salient example, the last of the document's 27 guiding principles reads, in full: "Preservation and renewal of historic buildings, districts, and landscapes affirm the continuity and evolution of urban society." It may be interesting to hear Polyzoides' thoughts on how that's reflected in Austin's current brand of "urbanism." Tue., Sept. 10, 5:30-7:30pm. Austin Central Library, 710 W. Cesar Chavez. Open to the public.

Also from AIA:

ArchiTalks, featuring Nick Deaver presenting on "Land, Building, Spirit"; your $3 donation goes to AIA Austin's Women in Architecture committee. Wed., Sept. 11; doors at 7pm, lecture at dusk. Articulture Designs, 6405 Manchaca Rd. See more info and RSVP at

The BIG GiveI Live Here I Give Here's 12th annual fall fundraiser and party – takes place at Hotel Van Zandt (605 Davis) on Friday, Sept. 6, raising funds to help support over 750 nonprofits across the region. Tickets are on sale now for $175 at

Midnight on Sept. 12 is the deadline to nominate projects for the 2019 Austin Green Awards, which will be presented Oct. 30 "to highlight a next generation of sustainably inspired best practices." More info at

* The original version of this article stated regarding the Land Development Code rewrite that “…drafters intend to allow more impervious cover and will not incorporate the new Atlas 14 flooding info…” into the mapping. That was based on staff reply to Council members’ questions about Atlas 14 at their Aug. 28 meeting, that they “can only speak to the data we have now.” A spokesperson for the City Watershed Protection Department reached out to clarify that “City staff is using the current 500-year floodplain as a proxy for the Atlas 14 100-year floodplain to guide the mapping of the transition zones.” (Indeed, indications are that the new 100-year lines will hew closely to the current 500-year ones).

WPD also took issue with “more impervious cover,” noting that “Although the impervious cover limit may increase for some properties within transition zones, staff is striving to hold impervious cover limits to current levels on both a citywide and watershed basis per City Council direction.” Fair enough (and I reported that in some detail in my initial reporting on the meeting), but the fact remains that they do plan to increase limits from the current 45%, to 50% to 60% in the new “missing middle” zones.

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