Transformative Street Change

So I support the new Land Development Code (LDC) process. This is the thing formerly known as Code NEXT. But I’ve been thinking about two problems with it:

  • Deed Restrictions
  • It’s not enough

Deed Restrictions

The biggest problem with the LDC is that a huge part of our housing exists in areas with HOAs and deed restrictions. These are private covenants that will keep new housing from being built, regardless of how we re-zone the city. The city cannot override them. Also most of the neighborhoods without deed restrictions tend to be poorer and/or full of people-of-color. So without tackling the deed restriction problem we will guarantee further gentrification and displacement.

If your neighborhood was built after the 90s there’s little chance that you could possibly be impacted by the new code. But of course hat housing is exactly the housing that is most in need of transformation to deal with climate change. We cannot provide transit and walkable amenities to these neighborhoods without more people. And we cannot add more people because of deed restrictions.

Not Enough

I also think part of the issue with the new LDC is that it is not transformative enough. It’s pretty clear how it will inconvenience me, but it’s very unclear if it will go far enough to make my life better. Nearly everyone I’ve ever talked to responds positively to pictures of pedestrian centered European villages, but think there’s no way to do that here.

But what if we could?

Develop the Roads

The City of Austin owns most of the roads in neighborhoods. And those roads are *not* covered by deed restrictions. It’s part of the way we build neighborhoods. Developers build the roads and then hand them over to the city to maintain. What if we turned neighborhood roads into housing?

I know this is a huge change. But as we watch Australia burn it’s also the kind of huge change that I think people could get behind. Because we can demonstrate that things really will become more pedestrian and transit friendly. It won’t be a “wait and see eventually positive change will trickle down to you”. It will say “you can have this change now!”

Right now pretty much all neighborhoods in Austin look like this:

But what if we transformed the road into a bike track, house, and sidewalk. The city can take the easement on narrow streets, but trust me when I say that most roads in Austin could easily accommodate a full-sized house (or even better row houses) in the middle of them.

The bike track and sidewalk would eventually meet a corner with a major arterial where there would be a bike shed for storing your bike and a bus stop. Retractable barriers would keep cars out, but allow in police, ems, and maintenance vehicles.

Places where multiple streets meet in a neighborhood currently have even more space!

These streets (and some cul-de-sacs) would become small neighborhood parks. Think playscapes, basketball half-courts, and fenced-in dog parks.

Rather than all homes at corners we could also allow space for cafes, pubs, daycares, doctor’s offices, and small groceries. They would be only reachable by active transporation so we wouldn’t have to worry about negative issues like traffic, drunk drivers, etc.

Obviously there are a lot of specific issues related to specific places that will need to be addressed, and we’ll need a LOT more buses. But it will be very easy to justify those buses when everyone is using them.

What do you think? Would you be interested in this sort of transformative change in your life? What would hold you back?