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Uh, thanks, but no

RG4N's blog roundup of reaction to their plan is finally up: relevant excerpt:

we turn to M1EK, who takes issue with Councilmember Kim's comments about the inappropriateness of placing super-duper-centers in urban neighborhoods.

Clueflash: Allandale, Crestview, Wooten, and North Shoal Creek are NOT URBAN NEIGHBORHOODS. Urban neighborhoods address the street with porches and front doors, not garages. Urban neighborhoods prioritize walking over driving - and have sidewalks to prove it. Urban neighborhoods would prioritize bicycle travel over the ability to warehouse cars on not just one but both sides of a major street.

Folks, just because you're closer to downtown than Circle C is doesn't make you "urban". Urban is a style of development (and living); not a mere geographic indicator. When I sit here in my garage office typing this entry, I see more people walking on the sidewalk in front of my house than I do cars driving down my street - THAT'S URBAN. I see our one car (for a family of four) parked beside the house on a driveway rather than in front, because our house addresses the street with a porch and front door rather than with a garage. THAT'S URBAN.

Urban neighborhoods have a mix of densities (even if it's all residential, although it's better if it's not) - on the very same street in an URBAN neighborhood, you'll see apartments, single-family houses, granny flats, etc. In Allandale and Crestview, you see big apartment complexes on the edges, and nothing but large-lot single-family on the interior. That's not urban; it's just older suburban.

1960s suburban sprawl? Not urban. Not gonna be. Sorry.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , When Neighborhoods Go Bad


But would you not agree that increasing the density within the central city (which anymore is anything inside 183, MOPAC and Ben White) is desirable? This area will always have single family homes, but I've been in plenty of cities that have pockets of single family interspersed with higher-density mixed use development.

I know, I know, you're just protecting the brand. ;) But it is frustrating when people who should be on your side just attack you for not being pure enough. As they say, don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

And come on -- you can't tell me that you don't want to be part of the biggest human chain since Hands Across America. You should come out on Saturday. If you do, I'd love to meet you!

"As they say, don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

Well, Hope, isn't that what a lot of us have been saying? That is what I have warned against all along, at least.

Why sue the city in a likely-to-fail attempt to get "perfect?" A negotiation with Lincoln for low hanging fruit (better greenspace, pervious pavement, pedestrian friendly entry walkways), when added to the current Lincoln plan, is a hell of a lot more "good" than what has been there for a while.


When you sound that reasonable, it's hard to disagree. But it's a fact that the neighborhoods in the area aren't "urban" and shouldn't be laying claim to the term on such false premises. And they don't _want_ mixed-use development interspersed in their neighborhoods. How many garage apartments do you see in your hood? How much support do you see among your neighbors for allowing them?

And it's a fact that nobody was talking about wanting a development like RG4N's BEFORE they found out who the mystery tenant was. Assuming y'all drive Wal-Mart off, this will mean that later on, those same folks can be counted on to oppose the new slightly better plan on similar grounds of traffic concerns.

I can't get past those two things and pretend like the majority of supporters for RG4N are more enlightened folks like you. Just can't do it.

So, to me, as a pragmatic observer, it looks like the choice is going to be between Wal-Mart and decaying mall. I think once Wal-Mart was out of the picture, you'd discover your modest plan is too dense for your neighbors but not dense enough to be profitable, and then we're back to square one.

Not to be dense or anything, but using your definitions of urban neighborhoods, it would seem that Austin has none to speak of.

The best we could say is that there are pockets here and there within neighborhoods that would qualify, but Austin had never really been what anyone would call urban.

Heh. Good one.

While no neighborhood here lacks substantial flaws on the urban scale, there's a clear difference between:

Hyde Park, NUNA, OWANA, Clarksville, West Campus


Allandale, Crestview, Wooten, North Shoal Creek

that's not just a matter of degree. Although some sidewalks are lacking even in the urban areas, and there's a few 'snout houses', walk in Hyde Park for a while and then in Allandale and it's an obvious difference.

DSK - I'm fighting for better. A Supercenter with rainwater harvesting is still a Supercenter, and I don't see the former as better in any significant way from the latter.

Mike - Before I knew it was going to be a Wal-Mart, I didn't even know the thing had been sold. Where was I before? I was doing freelance consulting and raising my kids and cleaning the house and leading a Girl Scout troop and...you get the picture. I voted for light rail, but didn't follow the news coverage. I voted in council elections but didn't always know much about candidates and looked at endorsements to figure out how to vote. Does that mean I should just sit quietly about this issue? At what point is it acceptable to pay attention to an issue and begin to act? It is frustrating to be dismissed simply because I haven't been a neighborhood activist my whole adult life. When is it ok for me - for my neighbors - to start caring?

Just so you'll know, the design we've presented is intended primarily to demonstrate concepts -- to folks like me who are new to the idea of dense development and vertical mixed use and who can use some pictures to help us get our heads around what it means. Hopefully the next step is a real neighborhood charette. And you may be right that one day we will be debating the acceptable amount of density. And if people decide they'd rather have a Supercenter than urban-type redevelopment then I suppose RG4N will see a slowing of the flow of donations and volunteers and people clamoring for yard signs. But I know what we have said to these folks, and I know what they've said back to us. I have more faith in my neighbors than you apparently do.

Maybe I am just a Pollyanna - I am a Girl Scout, after all. ;) But I believe that the policy arguments -- and the majority of people in these neighborhoods -- are on our side.

By the way -- DSK, I clicked on your link and discovered you've lived in GA and are moving to TN. I spent all but a year of my life, prior to moving to TX in GA and TN. My folks live in Murfreesboro, TN. So, you know..hi!

Actually no, I live here, 500 yards from Northcross, and have for six years (eight total years in Austin)

I am *moving* to Tennessee later this month, though.

Oh, I misread your comment. I read "living" where you wrote "lived". So I guess I didn't need to bother to clarify.

Sorry to see you're moving, DSK.

Hope, there is no mechanism for RG4N or any neighborhood organization to bind the neighborhoods to an agreement with Lincoln. RG4N has not offered, and cannot offer, any meaningful assurances if Lincoln acquiesces. You might be comfortable with a debate "one day" over the acceptable amount of density there. I'm sure Lincoln would dread it -- its profits would hinge on neighborhoods that have shown no taste for density and no interest in compromise. I just don't see Lincoln trading its legal right to develop now for such a nebulous prospect.

I prefer the Census Bureau's definition of urban, which is any census tract with a population density of 1,000 per square mile, surrounded by tracts with a minimal density of 500 per square mile.

It's specific, measurable, and objective, not relying on the observer to make value judgments.


One could certainly use that definition, but then you fall prey to bogus 'facts' like that the LA metro area is denser than New York's. (It is, just because LA's metro doesn't include areas like New York's country estates).

In other words, you can have "high density suburban". Areas of suburban Virginia certainly qualify - you get townhouses jammed together on long narrow parking lots, but the area isn't walkable at all.

Well, I went by Northcross today on my way to pick up doughnuts for the kids when the RG4Ners were out en masse. It was a sight to behold - arms linked, protecting a blighted slum from improvement.

I'm still wondering if the supporters realize the traffic volumes for their own envisioned development would probably be the same or higher than what Lincoln has in mind.

I'm also wondering why the neighborhood associations themselves have gotten a free pass when they should be excoriated for showing no interest in nearby redevelopment efforts until the paper runs an article.

Mike, do your neighbors in OWA behave in this way? Maybe I should buy there instead of Crestview... If I would not be hamstrung by a small house, tiny lot, and no chance for expansion, that is.

"It was a sight to behold - arms linked, protecting a blighted slum from improvement."

Yep, they sure got a lot of people out. I walked over there to take some photos of it.
On the way back I talked to some of the folks at the CapMetro Northcross transfer center.

Sorry to preach, but as you might imagine, no one in the 99% lily white protest crowd had gone over to ask the mixed black/anglo/hispanic mass transit folks what THEY thought. They were (the ones I talked to, anyway), for the Northcross development (including WalMart) and didn't like the protest. (photos at http://www.sgml2.net/openMindAustinPart2.html)

I especially liked the "Save Our Neighborhood From Ruin" sign brandished by one protestor.

That was a nice touch.

David, the Census definition is pretty worthless for demarcating city and suburb. One thousand per square mile works out to less than 1.5 per acre, which is exurban density.

For density comparisons, see http://austinzoning.typepad.com/austincontrarian/2007/02/comparing_some_.html#more


i wrote a comment on and AustinContrarian thread several months ago about randall o'toole that you responded to. i was wondering if you could send me an email so i could get some info from you. thanks.


i wrote a comment on and AustinContrarian thread several months ago about randall o'toole that you responded to. i was wondering if you could send me an email so i could get some info from you. thanks.

I wouldn't necessarily call this an urban neighborhood, but I note that the Austin planning process considers these neighborhoods part of the Urban Core. The Census Bureau considers these urban areas. Walmart even calls the location part of their urban strategy.

But the only one who gets called out for ridicule and chastisement for using the label "urban" are the ones who don't support your political point of view.

That's my point.

I had a chance to revisit the Wooten neighborhood plan, which calls for Anderson Lane and Burnet to be redeveloped with the downtown model of having a store front on the first floor and living space on the second floor.

I don't think that's going to happen in the life cycle of this plan for a variety of reasons, but when it does, at least, at least, at least we'll have 100 or so yards of M1EK formally approved urban lifestyle living.

And the Austin planning documents also note the existing suburban residential pattern on the interior of the neighborhood. Sorry, that's not a winner.

As for 2-floor VMU on Burnet/Anderson, that's a drop in the bucket. It's better than nothing, but that's far from enough to make up for the strictly segregated use in the interior (not just commercial vs. residential, but exclusively single-family nature of the latter).

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