Category Archives: Development

Austin and Gentrification

I just posted a comment on a speakup austin! in response to a request for subsidizing business development in East Austin. And it got me thinking about explaining in black and white, why new development is the only way to get affordable housing in central Austin and stop gentrification.

I think ultimately there is no way to provide enough affordable housing through subsidizes. Nor is there a way to stop building of condos and boutiques in East Austin through bans or code enforcement. We’ve been doing that, and in the past decade we’ve seen the African American population pack up and leave and the colonization by whites.

We have to attack the real problems of Austin:

  1. The majority of Austin wants to live in zip codes 78704 (Bouldin, Zilker, Travis Heights), 78701 (Downtown), or 78751 (Hyde Park).
  2. There is not enough affordable housing in Austin, and not enough public will to spend the kind of money it would take to build hundreds of thousands of units of subsidized housing.

The answer has been staring us in the face, but seems unattainable. Provide more housing in 78704, 78701, and 78751. That’s where people want to live. So provide them housing. This will pull hipsters back out of East Austin leave more housing for the poor. Because the hipsters want to live off South Congress, and 2nd Street, and off Duvall.

Encourage the destruction of old apartment buildings and replacement with ones that double or triple the number of residents. Provide incentives to replace Hyde Park’s old suburban style office buildings with ground floor commercial with residential above. Allow automatic up-zoning of single-family lots to multifamily to allow duplexes and four-plexes. We need more housing and we needed it a decade ago.

Will this create changes in the neighborhoods? Absolutely. But in case you haven’t noticed there’s already been changes in the neighborhoods. Hyde Park, Downtown, and 78704 are almost entirely white, and the median income of whites living in Austin is $90,000/year. The neighborhoods have already turned into upscale white suburbs. If we’re going to fight to keep Austin weird we need to get the artists and weirdos back in there. And we’re going to need a lot more housing to do so. Pretending we can keep Austin weird by subsidizing housing for 10 artists is just silly.

Common wisdom is that families won’t live in apartments or condos. But 78741 says that they will. We just need more condos or apartments that are 2br+ and that can be had for less than $1000/month. And we’re going to need a LOT more apartments, before we start seeing those prices again. The first hundred-thousand are going to be $2000/month. The next hundred-thousand may be $1500/month. But if we keep building we’ll get there. And we can’t get dismayed by the initial high prices. Because the demand for a $400,000, 600 square foot condo just shows how much building we have to do.

Or we can keep doing what we’re doing. You can’t afford to live in central Austin right now can you? And the prices are still going up. Do you have a better solution?

Better Know the Opposition

or why I’m voting YES on Prop 1

I ran almost 9 miles yesterday. I went from my neighborhood, took the Country Club Creek Trail under Pleasant Valley to the Hike and Bike trail, ran to IH-35, crossed, and came back home.

I was running along the trail that the Amli South Shore has put in.

Tangent: That is a really nice piece of trail. They have it running from the street all the way to the shore. It adds about twice as much to the trail as if you were walking on the sidewalk. They have a firepit, lounge chairs, and park benches. All public property from what I can tell.

And I got spit back out on the sidewalk. Where I ran into a huge sign:

Vote No on Prop 1. Wrong priorities, Wrong Time.

Which is kind of interesting because it was right outside an apartment complex. I’ve highlighted it below in red.

I had to draw in the Amli South Shore and it’s trail. Please excuse the rought drawing. Of course the apartment complex in question is against completing the trail. They head out of their complex to the right and they’re on the trail. They head out to the left and they’re on the trail, and inside their complex they have their own private boat dock. Their land is completely at grade, and to complete the trail would simply involve removing two small pieces of fence. But instead the city has to build a boardwalk around this property to connect two pieces of trail.

Of course these people are going to be against the bond. It allows the public to use what they’ve been treating as their own private property. I get to run on sidewalk so they can have a private boat launch.

This isn’t where all the boardwalk money is going though. There’s a stretch under IH-35 that’s never going to be possible to complete without a boardwalk. The grade running from Joe’s crab shack to the McCombs Business School is a pretty insane change in elevation and barring dynamiting the cliff face, we’re not getting a trail on it.

But what about mobility?

So I found out last night that if I worked downtown (which I plan to do in my next job), I can have a 30 minute commute.


That’s almost entirely on trails. I’ll definitely be doing that. Especially if some of the bond money for sidewalks finally gets sidewalks along Pleasant Valley. This is insane to me. I started making mental notes last night of all the missing sidewalks on Pleasant Valley. Bear in mind this is where the South East HEB is. This isn’t a case of “if you build sidewalks people will walk”. This is a case of “these sidwalks (or lack thereof) are pretty crowded”. I dodged two strollers on my run last night.

But Pleasant Valley is still missing major chunks of sidewalk. I’ve outline the missing stretches in red below.

We should fix this. Just like we would fix a road that people drive on everyday. It’s ridiculous that people in the surrounding area, people who do walk to the HEB, don’t have sidewalks to walk on.

Please. Vote YES on Prop 1

Austin’s past beauty is a myth

I found this picture in the master plan for the new Seaholm development.

old downtown austin

It’s interesting to me because it shows the Austin I remember and not the one that I always hear people waxing nostalgic about. I visited Austin in the late 80s and early 90s and moved here in 1996. I remember it as lots of empty lots that you had to drive past to get to the beautiful places. If it wasn’t developed it was a weed filled lot or someone’s ranch that had been stripped of trees. You can see that downtown is mostly just one story buildings and abandoned lots in the picture.

Has there been a lot of development in West Austin over the aquifer that has been environmentally destructive? Absolutely. But a lot of that nature dates only as far back as the 1980s and is a serious tribute to the environmental movement that emerged around that time. In the 70’s west Austin held a lot of ranch land as you can see in the pictures on this site.

There’s a lot of nostalgia in this town for a past that never was.

Welcome to Ainabulak-3!

So from 1990-1992 I lived in the Soviet Union. My family were officially there as students, so we were placed into foreign student housing in Ainabulak-3. A brand new micro-district in Almaty, Kazakhstan. It was indeed ugly and bleak. Oddly enough in contrast to US development practices they put in the roads last. It’s an interesting practice in a place that has very little rainfall (Almaty is desert). You don’t destroy your roads with construction traffic. So here’s the view out of our back window. The central area became essentially a cul-de-sac. There was a road that curved along one side of it and the central area was used for football and gardens. Essentially a neighborhood park. Of interest are the buildings you see in the near distance. Those are public service buildings. Schools in this case, if I’m remembering correctly.

Here’s the view of the front of the building. I’ve blurred my sister as she tends to not enjoy pictures of herself from this time period. Our building is on the right. The shorter buildings in the near foreground are more public service buildings. If memory serves a kindergarden and grocery strore. In between the six story building and the magazine is a minor arterial with bus service.

So why do I bring this up, other than to show off some pictures illustrating how ugly the Soviet Union often was? Because I was panning over google earth recently looking at the area, and saw the term “microdistrict”. So I looked that up and found this info:

Microdistrict, or microraion , is a residential complex—a primary structural element of the residential area construction in the Soviet Union and in some post-Soviet states. … According to the Construction Rules and Regulations of the Soviet Union, a typical microdistrict covered the area of 10–60 hectares (30–160 acres), up to but not exceeding 80 hectares (200 acres) in some cases, and comprised residential dwellings (usually multi-story apartment buildings) and public service buildings. As a general rule, major motor roads, greenways, and natural obstacles served as boundaries between microdistricts, allowing an overall reduction in city road construction and maintenance costs and emphasizing public transportation. Major motor roads or through streets were not to cross microdistricts’ territories. The entrances to a microdistrict’s territory were to be located no further than 300 meters (1000 ft) apart. Standards also regulated the accessibility of the public service buildings (excluding schools and pre-school facilities) by imposing a 500-meter (1,500–foot) limit as the farthest distance from any residential dwelling. One of the city-planners’ tasks was to ensure that the fewest number of public buildings was built to cover the microdistrict’s territory in accordance with the norms. Typical public service structures include secondary schools, pre-school establishments (usually combined kindergarten and nursery), grocery stores, personal service shops, cafeterias, clubs, playgrounds, and building maintenance offices, as well as a number of specialized shops. The exact number of buildings of each type depended on the distance requirement and the microdistrict’s population density and was determined by means of certain per capita standards.

I had no clue it was that planned, but it was very easy to walk. It was easy to get out of our cluster of buildings to a main road to catch a bus. While the store near us wasn’t that great, it was close, and schools were very close. Most of the vehicular traffic were taxicabs and it was easy for them to learn the district since they only had to learn how to get to a particular area and then the customer could direct them into the correct building segment or just drop them off on the main road, since it was a very quick walk into any given segment.

So before I go into what we could learn from this, here is the Google Maps view now.

View Larger Map

I’m blown away by the amount of green now. As you can see from my pictures it was pretty lifeless.

It’s interesting to me, though when we think about cul-de-sacs and planning. We tend to think of cul-de-sacs as the enemy, but when you look at this area, pretty much everything is a cul-de-sac. I take away some pretty good planning ideas from this:

  • Access to arterials. No residence or business should be more than ‘x’ distance from an arterial
  • Access to public services. Every ‘x’ area should have space for schools, restaurants, grocery stores, and commercial.
  • Buffer space. Every residential and business area should have a buffer from the main road, but should be a walkable distance to it.

While most people see the Soviets planned to a joke, there’s a lot of sense to what they are doing. And this should appeal to fiscal conservatives as well, because this sort of planning makes the best use of government provided resources like roads and public transit. It’s very SimCity, but it’s amazing how little of this sort of planning actually goes on.

It would be very interesting to me to see what strong central planning for infrastructure would create in an unzoned city like Houston.

801 Barton Springs Denied

So the 801 Barton Springs PUD was looks like it’s going to be a no go. PUD’s are meant for large developments. Over 10 acres. This project was simply a single building. There’s no reason for the city to be helping developers build single buildings. The city got nothing from approving the PUD. There were no public parks. No bike cut throughs from Bouldin to Barton Springs. No affordable housing. Nothing of value for the community at all.

This is a great example of when a PUD should not be used. The economics easily justify building a 60′ building with ground floor retail in that space. This is a clear cut example of requesting a variance for no reason.

At the same time the neighborhood needs to not say that a 60′ building in this space is “[not] compatible with neighborhood plans” and “[not] compatible with adjacent property and land uses”. A 60′ building in between a 60′ office building and 100′ office building across from what is essentially a convention center is not compatible with neighborhood plans or adjacent property and land uses? Really? This is why ANC is losing credibility. They should just change their name to the Austin Surface Parking Preservation Council. There is no excuse for defending the ruined foundation of a restaraunt in this location.

Both sides are wrong.

Here are the ANC notes that address it.

And the citiy’s case review.

Austin’s Development Mantra

I think this should also be Austin’s development mantra:

If we just changed our zoning so that anywhere you have a single family home you could build a double with a carriage house in back, you would triple the effective residential density of Indianapolis without any change to the visual scale of the city. Moderate densification is what we need.

from here.

801 Barton Springs Update

Drove by 801 Barton Springs today. The neighborhood really, really needs to avoid opposing this if they want to continue to be invited to the table. It’s a tiny parcel of land sandwiched between an 8 story building and a 5 story building.

Update on Amili South Shore and 801 Barton Springs

So an update to this post. It turns out the Amili “South Shore” as it is called will not have a parking garage facing the water. They’ve actually built another building in front of the parking garage, putting them a couple hundred feet closer to the water front. So just imagine the old pictures, but with a building even closer to the water that goes up to the very top of the parking garage and is covered in a mixture of stucco and brick. It’s basically like all the rest of the apartment complexes currently on the lake. This is the sort of thing I wish Save Town Lake was fighting. It’s a massive eyesore from across the lake.

But instead I found out today they’re fighting a development at 801 Barton Springs. I actually probably agree with their reasons that this project doesn’t need to be a PUD. But apparently it’s part of the waterfront overlay. I’m baffled by this. How far does the waterfront overlay go? For those not in the know this is the old “Filling Station” restaurant location that has been a beautiful location of urban blight with views of the Palmer Parking Garage and host to a snow cone trailer. You could not feel farther from the lake at this location.

I’m not a fan of a lot of development going on on the lake. I ran the trail again just today, and the girls and I walked it Sunday. I really love the trail and lake. But I really don’t understand this fighting development that’s so far from the lake. I feel like energy needs to be saved for the stuff that’s really endangering the waterfront like the Amili South Shore.