CodeNext and “community character” in a changing world

Austin is revamping its land development code (i.e. “zoning”) in a project known as CodeNext.  It would be difficult to overstate how important this process is.  As I have said, zoning really is the central problem in Austin, as in many other cities.  Circumstances change and when cities don’t adjust to the changing circumstances, you end up with policies that don’t match the problems that the city is facing.  In a city faced with too many people driving too far and too many people driving until they qualify because central city housing is so expensive, Austin’s tight restrictions on multifamily development in the central city are really a bad leftover from a previous century.

Community Character

CodeNext’s current round of public meetings is framed less on change, though, but more on maintaining continuity.  This is how they describe it in the email they sent:

CodeNEXT is an unprecedented opportunity for Austinites to shape the way we live now and for generations to come. To be effective in framing how land can be used throughout the city, a revised Land Development Code should consider the unique character found in different types of neighborhoods throughout Austin. That’s where you come in. [emphasis in original]

We’re inviting you to walk your own neighborhood and document the features that make it unique. What do homes in your community look like? Your streets? Businesses nearby? Anyone can do it and we’ll show you how!

Although the framing here hints at things other than maintaining physical infrastructure (types of businesses), the majority of this framing is built around the idea of the “character” of a neighborhood reflecting the physical infrastructure of buildings, and nothing more.  I believe this is a mistake.

People Change Even When Buildings Don’t

I believe the buildings-first perspective is a poor perspective from which to guide policy.  As Edward Glaeser wrote in his book Triumph of the City: “Cities aren’t strcutures; cities are people.”  In the places where central Austin’s physical infrastructure has stayed pretty much the same over the last few decades, the neighborhoods have changed in character greatly.  I have friends who bought starter homes in sketchy neighborhoods and now live in expensive homes in swanky neighborhoods, all without either moving or the buildings around them changing much. The difference is that more people want to live in that neighborhood now, driving prices up.

Supply, Demand, and Price

In any market, including the housing market, supply and demand together determine the price.  In the housing market, the supply are the homes, the demand is the number of people who want to live in those homes (and the amount those people are willing to pay).   As time goes by, more and more people want to live in Austin, through many processes: natural growth as people have children, those kids grow up and move out to places on their own; a lot of urbanization as people move from the rest of Texas to live in Austin, and some cross-country migration as people generally move from the Northeast to sunnier places in the South and Southwest.  That is to say, the demand for living in Austin has gone up dramatically, and is currently trending upward.

So, the question for “community character” is: which determines a community’s character more: the price of living there, or the present form of buildings.  Preserving the character of the supply of buildings in the face of new demand means allowing all the change to come in the form of swings in price, as has happened in many places in Austin. Preserving the character of housing prices (e.g. “a good place for starter homes”, “an affordable neighborhood”) in the face of rising demand means changing the supply dramatically.

When it comes my turn to participate in the CodeNext hearings, I will express my preference for preservation through change: preserve (and restore) household affordability by changing the character of zoning constraints on supply.

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CodeNext and “community character” in a changing world

46 thoughts on “CodeNext and “community character” in a changing world

  1. It would be helpful if you could give some scale to changing the zoning constraints that you want to see changed?

    At least per my replies to your other post, at least within Bouldin, with the developments already planned and announced, along with the duplexing and faux-condoing of smaller lots, its easy to see the neighborhood doubling the number of bedrooms in the next 10-years. Is double enough, or does your affordability need triple, quadruple, 10x – The problem with a wish it has no impact statement. People asked, or worse, required, to support it, can’t get their heads around what it means and as such, since everyone is afraid of change, they’ll push back. It’s human nature. Even if you live in a poor, rundown neighborhood, unless you get firm commitments, you’ll push back, because things can always be worse.

    As an engineer, I’m conditioned to understand the needs of a system in considering it’s design, along with the constraints. If all you want is to keep piling development in until the price reaches an “affordable” point, then if nothing else, declare what that point is, I’m not sure if thats the price per sq ft, or more meaningful(?), price per bedroom. Luxury apartments like those proposed for the Taco Cabana Pud will have a price of over $300,000 per bedroom without annual fees. Larger units would get less expensive per bedroom. Is it a percentage of the minimum wage, what is it?

    Frankly, right now there are still way too many lots between 24th and Chavez, Lamar and I35, that could be developed, parking lots that could be raised, high rises that could be built, a consolidation in offices and conversion of unused space. However, that’s hard to do because it requires taking on some of the wealthiest property owners in the state, some of the biggest developers. So instead, is CodeNext an attempt to avoid the hard problems by asking everyone else to take one for the city?

    And then there is transportation, unless CodeNext has hard links to improvements, how can you ask neighborhoods to accept double, triple or 10x the number of residents without some form of relief. Right now, for the central neighborhoods, we’ve been pretty much let down.

    And don’t forget, the impact of foreign immigration, and I’m not talking about illegal immigration. The number of legal immigrants in Texas doubled in the past 10-years from 2-million to 4-million, I’m one of them. For the most part, I’m guessing a huge percentage are like me, they didn’t come to Texas to live in the middle of nowhere Texas, where the local Dr doesn’t have admitting rights because their isn’t a hospital within 30-miles.

    I don’t was to appear to be pissing on your party, but in order to at least get my support you are going to have to have some better idea of what CodeNext should deliver and especially what the impact is.

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    1. Novacek says:

      “, its easy to see the neighborhood doubling the number of bedrooms in the next 10-years.”

      Really? “easy”? You think easily _every single_ single family dwelling in the entirety of Bouldin will be bought out, leveled, and rebuilt as a duplex in 10 years time?

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      1. No I don’t see that happening, but as is often the case, you are ignoring the construction already happening and planned on the arterials and the likely regeneration/rebuilds of the existing M/F developments, the replacements of ineffective lots, like Taco Cabana, etc. Not a single developer is going to rebuild anything with the same # of bedrooms, even where they build a larger s/f on an existing lot, they’ll build bigger s/f.

        If the 801 Barton Springs PUD is ever built out, I would guess they would be smart to actually build housing rather than office. Once Google Fiber comes to town this year, the speeds of connectivity will increasingly make working away from the office more and more practical. In a short term Horizon, Michael Dell has already declared he wanted to see >50% of the Dell Employees working from home, the idea that office space is king, is backward looking.

        If the increased number of bedrooms actually raises the population count, rather than simply creating an upscale, upmarket community of empty nesters and short term rentals, then all this has an impact on the infrastructure, streets, shops, sidewalks, and who knows even schools.

        So yes, on initial evaluation my double claim seems ludicrous, but when you step back, would you bet against it, with effectively no major zoning changes, if we assume that PUDs are de jure and acceptable way to do large scale development, which forces a real dbargain between what the developer wants and what the neighbors will accept, rather than a CodeNext approach which may try to force acceptability to an arbitrary set of standards.

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      2. Novacek says:

        “, but as is often the case, you are ignoring the construction already happening and planned on the arterials”
        No, I’m not ignoring it. The in-process and planned construction basically just provides a doubling of the existing apartments within bouldin (roughly). Then to truly have a doubling of all dwellings, you’re back to doubling _all_ the SF.

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      3. Then we’ll go around in circles if you are not including apartments and especially the new ones, as m/f. Thats why I very carefully, and deliberately said bedrooms. I wasn’t trying to be deceitful or tricky, at the time I typed it out, it was the only way I could express what I thought would happen with any major systematic and/or wholesale zoning changes.

        I do agree though its probably an extreme to make the point that I feel the arterial and interior is likely to see great change irrespective of what the LDC and CodeNext do or want. I’m going to try to get out over the next few days and take pictures of whats already happening and the size and scale. Let’s be clear, I’m not complaining about it, just saying that given the age of many of the properties and their occupants, more s/f will change than will stay the same.

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      4. Novacek says:

        “Then we’ll go around in circles if you are not including apartments and especially the new ones, as m/f. ”

        How am I not including apartments as mf?

        Let’s take this very simply.

        Bouldin currently has X bedrooms in SF housing, and Y bedrooms in MF. In total, that’s Z bedrooms.

        The in construction and in-pipeline MF projects at most bring Bouldin to 2 x Y bedrooms in MF (there’s already older apartments in the area). So to bring the total bedrooms in Bouldin to 2 x Z in 10 years, basically requires razing and duplexing _every single_ SF house.

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      5. Thanks for your replies. I got it and admit I misunderstood how you were coming to a conclusion. I’d assert you are underestimating the MF projects, I need to double check but at least if we include the east side of S Lamar between BSR/Oltorf and I think, based on bedrooms it will be much larger. But if you OK, lets agree I was using an extreme, and you disagree it will be anything like that.

        I still think, based on my experience, people are underestimating how much change is already going on. I went out briefly this afternoon and took a bunch of pictures of recent projects or in flight and open lots within 6-blocks of my house, just on the wide side of S 1st to the railway track. Let me put a blog entry together.

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    2. I don’t think doubling would be enough. If we just doubled we’ll end up in what I call the “density death valley.” That’s the space where the density is too low to for walkability, good transit, and complete neighborhoods, but too high for suburban-style automobile-driven land use. I strongly suspect this will be the long-term outcome for Mueller – choked with cars, but not dense enough for other options.

      I’ve seen various estimates for this death valley, some in neighborhood FAR (Chris Leinberger), others in neighborhood dwellings/acre (usually transit/engineering types). Under either approach, doubling won’t cut it. IIRC, Leinberger puts the lower bound of walkable urbanism around 1.5 FAR, and again, that’s on a neighborhood scale, each lot would presumably be in the 2-3 FAR range. OTOH, the UC Transportation Center says the minimum density to support light rail is about 27 du/ac. To put each of those in perspective, most of our developable land is capped of 0.4 FAR (McMansion), and looking through the other lens, if you built a primary unit plus ADU on a minimum-sized lot (5,750 sf), that’d be ~15 du/ac. You’d need at least a quadrupling with either approach.

      As I tweeted a few months ago, I’d like to see urban-core SF lots rezoned to allow zero side setbacks, a FAR of 2-3, zero parking mins, and a height limit of maybe 4 floors (40 ft might work, if you partially bury the ground floor):

      That’d permit 10-20 units on each currently “single-family” lot, and do it at a very approachable scale. I’ve never heard anyone complain about towering buildings or street canyons or light and air when walking around old Amsterdam or DC or Brooklyn.

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      1. Steven, do you have any idea how these Greenpoint houses were constructed? The problem with using this an an example is everything we don’t know. We don’t know what was there before. We don’t know if they were built as one house at a time, concurrent individual houses built at the same time, or as a single development, all the houses together; we don’t know how the land was acquired.

        Thats important when discussing an already populated and mixed development existing neighborhood. What we are likely to get without strict architectural standards, are blocks of modern sheet wall construction, covered with a brick fascia if we are lucky. Even the Gables residential on South Lamar have setbacks, would you really want this built up to the sidewalk? http://markcathcart.com/?attachment_id=1849

        And the real problem with this proposal, as it relates to the current central neighborhoods, is getting the lots to build anything more than maybe a single, no setback, 3-4 story high house at a time unless you do a eminent domain, or compulsory purchase style development.

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      2. Mark,

        The houses in that picture are generally masonry construction with party walls. i.e. Each was built as it’s own house and can stand on it’s own (although with a century of settling, you often see steel straps installed when one is demolished in the middle of a block). I don’t know the specific history of the block I shared, but in general this kind of development was platted, sold, and each house built independently.

        Indeed, the whole point of this proposal is that it happens one house at a time and that there isn’t a single architectural standard defining it. You want a front yard? Great, set yours back 30 feet. If instead I want a larger backyard and to put the ground floor up 6 ft, I’ll set mine back 10 ft and have a staircase to the sidewalk. You see that kind of alternating setbacks in DC, and it adds a lot of character (there, I said it!).

        What’s wrong with one doing one “house” like this at a time? To me that’s a positive – allows for change to happen organically and doesn’t come in a huge flood. It also yields the kind of fine-grained urbanism that stands in stark contrast to the block-long uninterrupted facade of the Gables that you shared. It also gives incumbent homeowners the option of retaining their single family homes. Again, that reinforces stability and a fine-grained urban landscape.

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      3. Dan,

        Are you asking for comparisons to density and FAR? I’m not familiar with 404 Rio Grande, but looking at the pictures on their website, it’s clear they were trying to emulate the fine-grained urban appearance my proposal would deliver:

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      4. Yes, comparisons on density and FAR. Or, more like: I’m looking for the closest examples Austin has to the kind of things you’re looking for, and also how they differ from what you’re looking for.

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      5. Steven, I don’t know that there is anything wrong with developing one house at a time, I just suspect it would look pretty out of context, ugly and lacking character if you tried to do that on blocks already built out. I lived in a basement apartment on E 62nd between Lex and Park in NYC, and then on the 14th Floor of One City Place in White Plains before moving to Austin. I also was part of a small group that tried but failed to buy a block of then abandoned Brownstones on Pierpoint St in Brooklyn Heights in the 1980’s.

        I suspect that within an overall framework of a neighborhood, as Adrian points out, these were acquired as whole blocks and developed as you say one at a time as construction methods and materials made it impossible to do any other way. So, I’m OK with change, revitaliztion and regeneration, I just want to agree what that means, rather that exact details about what it is, before we go too much further.

        I’ll try to put together a gallery of pictures of whats going on already sometime this week, so we can discuss why that isn’t enough. Even if we agree on the type of development, we ar far from making decisions to allow it, until we’ve addressed the infrastructure issues. Due to poor planning, coordination, and lack of strategic thinking, it took me 19-minutes to get from W Mary to MLK this morning. It’s not an exception, it’s been the norm since September, and will continue until at least April. More people downtown, sure.

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      6. Alan Hampton says:

        This is what I don’t get:
        “I don’t know that there is anything wrong with developing one house at a time, I just suspect it would look pretty out of context, ugly and lacking character if you tried to do that on blocks already built out.”
        It’s the implication that conformity = character; that the best neighborhoods are the most homogeneous.
        There are too many misguided people yelling some version of “farms belong in the countryside”, “multifamily belongs along the major roads”, “small restaurants belong in a retail district” or “visitors belong in a hotel”. They believe in the concepts of affordable housing and diversity of race and income, but feel that Section 8 / rich white people are “out of context” in their personal neighborhoods. This constant fight for sameness doesn’t preserve a neighborhood, it destroys it’s vibrancy. If a different land use destroys the “context” of a neighborhood, then that context is cutting off that neighborhood’s oxygen and should have been abandoned a long time ago.

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    3. “Frankly, right now there are still way too many lots between 24th and Chavez, Lamar and I35, that could be developed, parking lots that could be raised, high rises that could be built, a consolidation in offices and conversion of unused space. However, that’s hard to do because it requires taking on some of the wealthiest property owners in the state, some of the biggest developers. So instead, is CodeNext an attempt to avoid the hard problems by asking everyone else to take one for the city?”

      I agree completely that there are many undeveloped or underdeveloped lots in that area–I walk by them all the time. Some of them are slated for redevelopment, some not. Huge sections of the area you describe are underzoned–all that GO zoning north of 6th, south of MLK, west of Guadalupe.

      But I don’t get your theory on why they aren’t being developed. You think that there are anti-development developers conspiring not to develop downtown plots they own, and that the hard problem is forcing developers to the table to make them develop? Explain what you’re saying here, please?

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      1. I don’t know why they are not being developed, do I have to?

        What I’m saying is the city needs to focus on why they are not being developed, what they can do to facilitate and speed up development where there is available land, no one for the most part expects it to remain undeveloped, and for the most part, no one would expect it to be developed into S/F homes. Also, as per my other comment, I would guess that given the huge cost for developing any sizeable building downtown, lots of the developers are uncommitted on office space developments. I do think the era of massive office buildings is over, so we should help them do something, rather than nothing.

        So I have no theory on why they are NOT being developed. What I have seen, both at work and in city politics are organizations that won’t take on the real battles, instead rather they skirt around the issue by appearing and claiming to do the right things. This doesn’t lead to compromise, it just wastes time and money and leaves everyone feeling that more could be done.

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      2. The reason they are not being developed is that the code makes it too difficult to develop them (tautology alert). Frankly, it’s the same reason you only see large VMUs like the one on 31st and Guadalupe instead of small ones – parking requirements, setback requirements, compatibility requirements conspire to make small projects impossible, medium projects only marginally feasible, but big projects potentially massively profitable. Big projects only work if you have, or can assemble, a large lot, of course.

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  2. DU says:

    Your post falls into the same trap as those who purport to wish to save “neighborhood character” against all else. Preserving neighborhoods character is no more a laudable goal any more than it is a realistic one. What was once a mud field, later became a farm, with a house, and then a settlement, and someone built a larger house, and then a shop, and the shop attracted more people, who built more houses, and the shops became two stories w/ brick facades, etc. …and eventually you get a village, a town, a city, and…if really lucky, a great city. Great Cities become great because they were allowed to evolve and change over time. Paris is great, worthy of preservation, but would Paris be Paris if 800 years ago people who sought to “preserve neighborhood character” were taken seriously?

    “Preserving Neighborhood Character” is merely a nice way of saying to the world “hands off, NOT IN MY BACKYARD.” Nothing more. Playing cute with the NIMBYs who believe in such nonsense by trying to change the meaning of what preservation means falls into the exact same trap. It does not matter, Austin is not Paris… we are not “museum quality”. When Austin reaches a state worthy of throwing a preservation ordinance then we can talk about such things…but we’re centuries away from such a place and time.

    Rather than play word games with such people I’d rather just be direct. “I hear your concerns, but, no, I don’t believe what you ask is a reasonable request.” The more we pretend to agree with this inanity the more we end up negotiating with it, and ultimately submitting to it.

    When I go into the next CodeNext meeting I intend to let people know that I like my neighborhood but accept that communities and neighborhoods and cities change over time and that it’s important that we have your code right so that when the neighborhood does, inevitably change, that we trade up, into a higher quality, higher return, better place, and not down, into low quality, cheaply built, low intensity, low return places.

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    1. susan says:

      I tend to agree – ‘neighborhood character’ is just a nice euphemism for ‘never in my backyard.’ And most of what people think is wonderful neighborhood character here in the ATX, I’m not so enamored of, anyway.

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  3. Paris was transformed, but it wasn’t because the people triumphed over NIMBYism. Haussmann was able to achieve his vision for Paris because he was a tyrant with the support of an Emperor. Haussmann wrote of his own political philosophy that, “The only practical form of democracy is the empire.”

    Also, one of the primary reasons for the decrepit state that Paris was in during the 18th century was quite simply that it had escaped a major fire or disaster similar to the great fire of London which destroyed most of that city in 1666.

    There wasn’t even a hint of democratic process in the transformation of Paris from medieval relic to modern city of light. People were displaced without accommodation and a well laid city was raised in adherence to strict design standards.

    As much as I love Paris, we’ll never see that type of “civic revival” in America, much less Texas. The closest thing you will find is the South End/Back Bay development of Boston in the late 1800’s, and these neighborhoods were literally infilled by leveling the Trimountain of Beacon, Pemberton, and Mt. Vernon Hills to create level empty land upon which to build. And build they did, with strict architectural codes to enforce design standards. These codes included standards for building height, setback, and window bays. When incorporated together, the standards created a grid of masonry brownstone row houses that maintain a sense of order and unity while being diverse in appearance from one to another. This neighborhood remains in place today and fulfills the need for inner city density.

    In this way, we shouldn’t discount character. In so much as “community character” is an obstruction to supply, it’s a mistake to think residents and homeowners within inner city neighborhoods will accept density without establishing design standards based on architectural code that are compatible with existing structures.

    People may make up cities, but no one wants to live in a city that lacks character.

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    1. “People may make up cities, but no one wants to live in a city that lacks character.”

      Bang on as well. Thats what I certainly moved to Austin for, and the warm/hot weather. I’m OK with it changing, but as you point out, without some idea what to, I can’t support radical change for change sake, when gradual change is inevitable.

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    2. How do you feel about the design standards in the UNO doc? UNO has transformed and continues to transform the neighborhood into being much, much denser, but most of the document is actually related to design standards.

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      1. Hey Dan,

        Honestly, I’m not very familiar with UNO; though I think too much consideration was given to parking in the implementation. For a plan that emphasizes walk-ability, West Campus ended up with a lot of parking. This is part of a larger problem in Austin – we continue to invest in cars. When I look at a map of UT and West Campus (and downtown Austin for that matter) I see a plethora of parking.

        See: https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?hl=en&authuser=0&mid=zG7G9Iwd1fkQ.k_FUzKqwVrrA&pli=1

        I would like to know more about UNO though, so I’ll have to read up.

        TXDOT is poised to spend 1-2 billion dollars on IH35 improvements to carrying capacity and throughput between N and S 45.

        http://www.mobility35.org/pdfs/downloads/travis%20county%20caip%20phase%202%20implementation%20plan.pdf

        We build parking and support cars on the scale of billions while the City of Austin (through CCAG and Project Connect) calls a $39 million small starts grant from the FTA an impediment to mass transit down the busiest corridor in the City.

        IMO, we are thinking backwards by focusing on creating density to boost affordability. We need to get out of our cars first and then create density around sustainable transit.

        Back to parking… Indiana University did an interesting comparison of their campus master plan with other universities. Persons per parking space was one metric they compared. I’d be interested to know where UT falls on this scale.

        http://masterplan.indiana.edu/iub/compare.pdf

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      2. Yes precisely, build it and they will come, rather than come and we will build it. This is a variation of what I was arguing above. Ask the neighborhoods and the people in them to take the pain, and then when it becomes unbearable, we’ll provide a solution. Instead of, look here is a transport solution, it’s going to take n-years and over that time we are going to gradually increase density.

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      3. Adrian and Mark, it was the neighborhoods surrounding UT that demanded those parking requirements for the UNO; not the developers. (Even if large buildings would still inevitably develop with big parking garages as a marketing ploy, it prevents small lots from being redeveloped in kind).

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      4. Confused here Mike. What part of the UNO parking plan are you talking about when you say, “it was the neighborhoods surrounding UT that demanded those parking requirements for the UNO; not the developers.”

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      5. What I mean is that UNO never proposed reducing parking minimums very much because a huge concern of NUNA, Heritage, Eastwoods, Hyde Park, etc. was “OMG, if we let the developer get away without the standard suburban parking requirements, students will park their car in front of MY HOUSE!!!!!1”

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      6. Actually Mike, that’s not how the University Neighborhood Overlay reads. It says:

        “The gradually increasing need for parking, resulting from the change to rental from single family
        has not been well accommodated. Streets and front yards are filled with cars from local residents and students. Many older apartment buildings use the previously required building setback for head in parking, creating conflicts with pedestrians at the sidewalk.”

        One of the stated goals of UNO was to “reduce transient parking requirements” by consolidating student housing that was scattered throughout the city.

        Instead, development in West Campus has encouraged continued car ownership for students while the City has done little to invest in better mass transit besides buy more buses and sell us on MetroRapid BRT. Indeed, one of the primary recommendation of UNO was to “establish a locally controlled municipal parking authority to develop regional parking structures” with the idea that parking could be re-purposed into habitable space as the needs for parking diminished.

        Instead, there’s no centralized parking authority and every luxury housing high rise constructed in West Campus maintains it’s own parking facilities that will likely never be converted into habitable space.

        If we want density in the core, Austin needs to sever itself from a car culture and invest in heavy and light rail solutions while discouraging auto traffic into the core and UT.

        Do you have any other points besides “NIMBY”? You’re like a Republican who keeps yelling “Benghazi!”.

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      7. Adrian, I was here during the UNO process – the DISCUSSION that LED to the parking requirements in the UNO was that the city must not relax requirements below what I consider a suburban level, and that discussion came from the neighborhoods surrounding the area.

        If you want to assert that the neighborhoods around UT have not, in fact, been at the forefront of resisting decreases in parking requirements for developments in the area, you’re making the extraordinary claim, not I, so it’s you who ought to provide the proof.

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      8. Mike,

        I have no doubt you heard positions from neighborhoods pushing to keep parking requirements. It’s an understandable position when faced with a City that continues to invest in cars instead of better mass transit. Let me qualify what I mean by “mass transit” – a system of interconnected heavy and light rail lines that make owning a car unnecessary.

        Lacking a mass transit system and neighborhood permitted parking or a central parking authority – what can we really expect from property owners?

        As I’ve mentioned before, density without a commitment to mass transit and a policy of discouraging travel by auto in the core (via tolls into the core and daily parking rates north of $30) is putting the cart before the horse. Density like this won’t work for the majority and they will oppose it by the means you’ve cited.

        Regardless, after reviewing the UNO document (see: http://www.utexas.edu/depts/grg/adams/307c/westcampusoverlay.pdf) I see a community effort to establish guidelines that create density while addressing parking through consolidation and eventual conversion to habitable space when better transit solutions are put in place.

        Where are the better transit solutions? They look like they’re headed for Red River.

        Call me a naive optimist but I’d rather take the high road than live in the past by remembering what someone said that I didn’t agree with.

        Adrian

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      9. Adrian, I disagree that density comes before mass transit. I think it works the other way around. Mass transit built before density can easily just become a white elephant, and its extraordinary difficult to design well when you don’t have an existing density that can supply the ridership on day one.

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      10. Dan,

        I think we’re splitting hairs.

        The density exists (and is growing without CodeNext) down G/L into the core. Yet our major mass transit investment is probably going somewhere else.

        Shame on us for letting that happen while we focus on more density without mass transit.

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      11. We are splitting hairs. M1EK worked his balls off before I lived here to get transit, they failed him. What I think is frustrating all of us, is we same the failure happening again, highlighted by M1EK. It is for my inconceivable that you can ask the neighborhoods to take more density without providing significant relief. Even if we had an interior MF zoning, for the most part, either people work from home, and can walk places, or make use of CAR2GO, or they need a much more viable transport infrastructure. Otherwise, dense neighborhoods will generate a bazillion more car journeys. I think we are all frustrated we don’t have anything on the horizon.

        CodeNext at least seems like a sop, focused on intangibles. Character comes from people, not buildings. People build buildings, people congregate with people of like minds, association and their view of affordability. Zoning can either be per missive, or restrictive, it can’t create or preserve character.

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    3. DU says:

      Your attempt to explain away Patis as some kind of aberration is nonsense. What about Rome, or Vancouver or Vienna or Buenos Aires or Melbourne or any of the other incredible places everywhere all over the world? Here is something you can say about each and every one: no great city ever became great by throwing a preservation ordinance over development.

      Truly great places got there over cneturies of continual evolution and intensification. What’s important in our LDC is to ensure that when change comes inevitably, that the change advances us towards being a better city than we are now. The current LDC takes us backwards. We can, should and must do better. Preserving Neighborhood Character is not a reasonable stance nor should it be given any hint of legitimacy.

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      1. Let’s break this down.

        “Your attempt to explain away Patis as some kind of aberration is nonsense.”

        You mentioned Paris, I provided facts about Paris. It’s not an explanation, it’s history. Moreover, preservation of modern Paris began in the 1960’s largely through neighborhood associations – they were preserving what Haussmann did the century before. Paris is largely a reflection of Haussmann because of preservation efforts.

        “What about Rome, or Vancouver or Vienna or Buenos Aires or Melbourne or any of the other incredible places everywhere all over the world?”

        What about Rome, Vancouver, Vienna, Buenos Aires, or Melbourne? Should we compare Austin to Beijing too? On the affordability scale, Austin is less expensive then every one of these places except maybe Buenos Aires, and I understand that traffic in Buenos Aires in horrendous.

        “Here is something you can say about each and every one: no great city ever became great by throwing a preservation ordinance over development.”

        I think you would be hard pressed to show that the places you mentioned have never preserved parts of their cities.

        “Truly great places got there over cneturies of continual evolution and intensification.”

        Truly great places are prohibitively expensive. Austin is already a great city and the cost of living is affordable by most scales. Austin could be more affordable through investing in transit infrastructure that doesn’t include cars. A mass transit system comprised of heavy and light rail would provide a number of benefits. Less parking would be needed downtown, existing parking could be consolidated to free up land for development in the core. City dwellers could forego car ownership increasing their purchasing power for housing and other local services and commerce. The benefits for the environment wouldn’t be bad either.

        “What’s important in our LDC is to ensure that when change comes inevitably, that the change advances us towards being a better city than we are now. The current LDC takes us backwards. We can, should and must do better. Preserving Neighborhood Character is not a reasonable stance nor should it be given any hint of legitimacy.”

        I agree, the LDC should make the city better though I think we have different ideas of what better means. Where preservation of character is a concern for residents of a neighborhood, the land development code should be adjusted through an NCCD overlay that specifies additional design standards.

        To sum it up, what’s right for East Riverside may not be right for Old West Austin; no single LDC will be effectively address the different needs in our diverse neighborhoods.

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      2. M- says:

        Adrian – if you continue to conflate, misrepresent and flat out make up stuff, it will be hard to have a conversation with you. The great cities didn’t make attempts to preserve entire swaths of their cities until they were truly great. You cannot become a great city by preserving mediocre. In Austin, we are preserving the very mediocre at the expense of improving into greatness – not a fair trade.

        What would I compare Austin to the wonderful cities I mentioned? Very little – why are we trying to stop the city from evolving over time, to preserve this expensive but not very unique place? Please.

        The nice parts of Austin, those that have a little uniqueness to them, ALL came to be in an era prior to this overlay of regulation after regulation existed. In other words, the very character we seek evolved absent of the protective regs, and indeed, could never possible evolve into them under the current regimes. You want to point to Hyde Park, and Clarksville and Travis Heights as worthy of preservation – I, on the other hand, thing these places are worthy of EMULATION. Moreover, there are incredible neighborhoods at much higher level of density in cities in the US such in DC, Philly, Boston and elsewhere that would be an introduce much needed housing option alternatives in a city that is increasingly out of range of possibility for all but the wealthy and the lucky. Let’s allow those neighborhoods to be built – neighborhoods that are now currently illegal under the LDC in place.

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      3. Difficult to have a conversation…? A word on that first. If you’re going to throw stones, identify yourself. I will respect your personal views, but at least be a person and not the letter “M” or in the prior case “DU”.

        On the matter of “making stuff up”. I’d offer a rebuttal if you would identify what you feel I’ve misrepresented. It isn’t clear from what you’ve offered here.

        In answer to the accusation that I’ve conflated [something and something else] I can only assume you’re referring to the numerous cities mentioned by “DU” [a vague reference to places that somehow became great without preservation]. But truly; Rome? Vienna? No preservation? And these are the types of dense, livable, affordable cities we should emulate in Austin?

        Which brings me to “emulation”. I’m confused about what you said here: “[I] thing these places are worthy of EMULATION.” that says to me that you think we should have more neighborhoods like Hyde Park, Clarksville and Travis Heights – but yet you want to change them? This doesn’t jive. Help me understand.

        “why are we trying to stop the city from evolving over time, to preserve this expensive but not very unique place?”

        No one is stopping Austin from evolving. There is plenty of new development in the city core and surrounding neighborhoods under the current development codes, as cited in Mark Cathcart’s photos of Bouldin.

        Expensive? Let’s look at some of the cities mentioned. Make $50k in Austin? Here’s what you’d need to make in:

        Boston: $75k
        Philly: $65k
        DC: $77k
        Portland: $63k
        San Fran: $87k

        Austin is affordable.

        Source: http://money.cnn.com/calculator/pf/cost-of-living/

        Not unique? Isn’t our City motto “Keep Austin Weird”? I guess you think this has nothing to do with our neighborhoods. I’d like to understand why you think this.

        Austin vs. City “X”:

        I don’t want Austin to be like the cities we’ve been comparing. What’s so great about them anyways? They may have better transit (a product of rail infrastructure investments during the industrial revolution for all but Portland) but these cities are all more expensive to live in. As I said previously, Austin is already a great city by it’s own right and more affordable. People don’t flock to music festivals in DC, they come to SXSW and ACL in Austin. Want to see F1? It’s in Austin, not Boston. X Games? Philly had them in ’01 and ’02; now Austin is hosting them.

        Fair Trades:

        I’ll tell you what I think isn’t a fair trade – selling our neighborhoods to developers for the fantasy of a dense, affordable city. You may think you’re going to get cheap rents close to the core but what will happen is you’ll end up paying the same for less space, you’ll own nothing, and be driving around looking for a parking spot. The current landowners will hold out and slowly cash out, laughing on the way to the bank, and Austin will cease to have recognizable neighborhoods where families live and raise kids. We have those neighborhoods now, and I think they are worth protecting, but I also think we should be looking at ways to add density through reasonable, updated design standards.

        But I digress, I’ve presented many of these points before and the consistent response from “better Austin NOW urbanists” is confrontational, looking for an argument, “we want density and we want it now and nothing anybody else thinks will ever be good enough”.

        If you want a rational conversation where we seek to understand each other, my door is open.

        If you want to alienate yourself from those who offer a different opinion but share interested in achieving some of the same goals you say are important; I think you’ll find disappointment at the end of the process.

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      4. Can you show pictures of any buildings built in the last 30-years that are not mediocre? Every time great dense cities are mentioned here, I understand you mean classic building from times when traditional construction methods were used. It’s not clear what you expect to be built now, but wood frame, sheet wall construction is both cheap, and only temporarily looks good.

        I’m sure they must exist, but I very much doubt they are anything but luxury construction when it comes to multi-family. I’ve spent hours since this thread started trying to find something that might be applicable using google image search. I do find these abstract discussions increasingly pointless. Yes, you can build out lots more, yes you can build three, possibly four stories high, but prove you can do it as anything other than mediocre in an affordable way

        It’s just not in the American phsyce to build anything than the least best, thats temporary when you look at the brownstones in the “classic cities”, unless you are talking about the Frost tower, or massive multistory tower buildings. I’ve seen nothing that is really practical for the types of single lots that were included in my photo set. I asked M1EK on my blog if he had the Mueller type buildings in mind, no word either way. But even those for multi-family, are too big for most of the lots here.

        So, lets be clear, I’m not arguing against the proposal, I’m just at a loss to understand what it means.

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  4. I’ve posted a response with some 38-pictures over on here. I understand these are either duplexes or what I call faux-condos rather than what I think is being discussed here M/F where there are four or more homes in a single building. I thought it was important to capture what is actually going on in the interior of Bouldin neighborhood.

    I have a follow-on blog I’ll write later in the week that deals with “real” M/F and the arterial roads.
    http://markcathcart.com/2014/01/22/density-mf-and-character/

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