Solving Cities

Downtown Austin's vision for a sustainable future

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Austin, Texas is considering a new master plan that would help the city take a big step toward improving its downtown and making it a sustainable city. Check out their blueprint for sustainability.

Austin, Texas is considering a new master plan that would help the city take a big step toward improving its downtown and making it a sustainable city.

With a stated goal of becoming one of the most sustainable cities in the nation by the city's bicentennial in 2039, what are the steps the city is taking to become a top-tier sustainable city? Here's Austin's blueprint for the next 10 year to help reach their goal:

1. Initiate a new generation of downtown signature parks. Complete Waller Creek as a linear park between Lady Bird Lake and UT, along with Palm and Waterloo parks to provide a green “necklace” that can support the revitalization of Downtown’s east side.

2. Complete the first phase of urban rail. Connect Downtown, the Capitol Complex, UT and the East Riverside Corridor. Enhance Congress Avenue -“the Main Street of Texas” - and other urban rail streets to promote transit as a high quality mode of choice.

3. Re-imagine East Sixth Street as a destination for everyone. Improve the pedestrian environment, diversify activities, protect the unique historic character and provide for coordinated management, so that “Old Pecan Street” can live up to its full potential as one of the most unique streets in Texas.

4. Provide permanent supportive housing. Construct and manage safe, secure and affordable long- term housing and services for those who face the complex challenges of homelessness, substances abuse, mental illness or physical disability.

5. Invest in Downtown infrastructure. Make utility and drainage improvements that address existing deficiencies and that support positive development in a sustainable way. Establish flexible funds and the leadership that can respond to development opportunities dynamically.

6. Amend the Land Development Code. Revise regulations for the downtown area to promote a mix of uses, incentivize well-designed dense development, preserve unique districts and destinations and result in buildings that contribute to a vibrant public realm.

7. Establish a “Central City Economic Development Corporation”. City government cannot do all this alone. A special entity should be created to leverage actions by both public and private sectors to develop projects that benefit the community, such as affordable housing, parks, cultural facilities and public infrastructure.

While there are no specifics about where funding will come from to pay for the $350 million, decade-long project, public-private partnerships could help take the burden off the city's budget. The city is also getting feedback from residents by letting them play Sim City, of sorts, with this handy tool that lets them choose what projects to prioritize with a $80 million budget.

Regardless of how it's funded this is a worthy plan that really focuses on making great places in the city -- parks, retail, mixed-use development -- that will draw in people and money while providing more transportation alternatives to the car.

Photo: Definitive HDR/Flickr

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure