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December 13, 2003

Central Texas Envisioned

By Jim Dallas

The Austin Chronicle has a story about the results of the Envision Central Texas survey, which asked local residents about their civic preferences vis-a-vis urban sprawl. There were over 12,000 responses.

I think I voted for option "C" (feeling that D was too radical and A and B too conservative) back when the survey was conducted, but surprisingly option "D" won in a landslide:

At the time, I reported the conventional wisdom that, while the status-quo Scenario A had no chance, neither did the most extreme alternative to it, Scenario D -- a vision built almost entirely on infill, redevelopment, and urban density. Instead, I and others thought, respondents would gravitate to Scenarios B (a "corridor plan" much like the ones we passed back in the 1970s and 1980s and then failed to follow) and C (focusing growth in new and existing towns, the way human beings used to do before they had cars).

How wrong I was. Scenario D -- the radical reversal of decades of Central Texas history -- got nearly 50% of the vote. Another 25% voted for C, which is more than A and B got combined. ("None of the above" got 10%.) Those are the results for the question asking which scenario would "provide the best overall quality of life." On other, more specific questions -- regarding transportation, land use, open space, and public investment -- Scenario D likewise reigned supreme, with two notable exceptions. Over the aquifer, ECT respondents wanted as little growth as possible, which was actually a vote for C rather than D. This was the outcome lobbied for by local greens, including the Save Our Springs Alliance, but as with most of the ECT survey findings, there's very little difference of opinion among the five counties in the metro area. So much for Austin being "out of touch" with the regional mainstream.

And as regards housing, C and D basically tied, in what ECT consultants John and Scott Fregonese call "a fairly nuanced response [that] shows a clear preference for the housing style of Scenario C with the land-use pattern of Scenario D." That means people still want single-family, owner-occupied housing, but in far more "urban" settings than they have been offered before. So much for the public voting with its wallets. (A point to consider when city leaders complain that urban neighborhoods will never accept this kind of density; what people really don't like are big, monolithic apartment complexes like, oh, the Villas on Guadalupe. Of course, any urban-core neighborhood leaders who object to density per se should likewise read the writing on the wall.)

That seems to be the rub -- everybody wants a house, but nobody wants to use the land necessary to build it on. Which is why I felt "C" was a decent compromise on that regard. Even if that means stuffing 100,000 people into Bastrop or Elgin, where presumably a lot of the new growth would occur under option "C."

(Scenario Summaries)

Posted by Jim Dallas at December 13, 2003 07:59 PM | TrackBack


I voted for C as well. To me, it seemed like the most realistic progressive plan, in that it significantly reduced sprawl and strictly limited growth on the aquafers, added urban infill, but also was realistic in providing for modest growth on new land. D just seemed unrealistic. Georgetown and Bastrop will never have the type of urban lifestyle that might work in downtown Austin. People live in the suburbs to have more room, so plan D's idea of urbanizing the suburbs is unrealistic. Smart Growth is the answer. Rebuild and reuse land in cities and plan for growth in the suburbs with mass transit plans and good zoning.

Posted by: ByronUT at December 14, 2003 03:10 AM

Envision Central Texas is a classic example of a non-scientific poll conducted purely for political purposes. This poll was self-selected, in other words, utterly meaningless. It was also strongly biased, presenting estimated costs and benefits that were biased heavily in favor of dense urban development.

But the basic fact, folks, is that most people don't want to live in apartment high-rises downtown! No local policy or even punitive taxation will affect the growth pattern of Austin much. People want a house and a yard.


Posted by: TM at December 14, 2003 01:10 PM

That's probably true.

Posted by: Jim D at December 14, 2003 08:13 PM

This really bugged the hell out of me.
Of course, we've been implementing
'B' as long as I've been here, and
I just can't see where the wheel would
turn to change that.

Maybe this is like everybody wanting
dignified TV and nobody watching it.

Posted by: Jon Kay at December 16, 2003 02:08 AM

TM is a moron. "most" people, if you look at the market, want to live in apartments and houses at various points in their lives. Hell, almost half of the people in this area currently live in multi-family.

And there's nothing wrong with the Villas that isn't much worse in any alternative scenario (like superduplexes or rundown single-family shacks).

Posted by: MD at February 19, 2004 01:12 PM
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