What kind of city does Austin want to be? According to Imagine Austin, a new comprehensive city plan, it could someday be considerably different than the one it has been. Commissioned by the city, Imagine Austin looks at how municipal policy can help address an anticipated 700,000-person spike in population growth over the next 30 years.
Bluntly criticizing past mistakes, the plan says Austin’s explosive growth over the past decade was marked with social segregation, poorer population health, diminished air and water quality, and a loss of natural open space. Moving forward, the plan places a particular emphasis on affordable housing development and transportation investments with a goal of a “compact and connected” city.
Critics of the plan, however, have expressed concern that increased housing in urban centers and an elevated green housing stock could result in higher prices (for a response to these concerns, see Smart Can Be Affordable SF Fall 2011). The report appears to address this concern when it calls for “attainably priced housing” for new mixed-use areas. It will be interesting to see how that ideal can translate into policy, and especially whether any provisions are made to prevent displacement and to ensure that affordable housing remains affordable permanently and not just for a few years.
Austin seems to be going in the right direction, but implementation is everything. We hope they stay open to lots of feedback from the ground up and explicitly include affordability and equity provisions every step of the way.