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The Austin Suburban Childrens' Museum

The Childrens' Museum, of which we are members, announced today that they plan to move to Mueller after previously pulling out of a plan to occupy part of the ground floor of one of the major downtown high-rises now under construction (which would have, like Mueller, given them a lot more room to work with). Many people wondered why they pulled out of what seemed like a sweetheart deal back then - and now we know: they intended to move out of downtown all along.

Obviously, I believe this is a horrible move. Today, it's a lot easier to drive to Mueller than it is to drive downtown, and most families drive (even we usually do, although I have gone with my 4-year-old on the bus once or twice). But this isn't a move for today - it's a move for ten years from now; and ten years from now, Mueller will be, at best, a medium-density node of homes and a few shops with mediocre transit access; and downtown will still have everything it does today PLUS a ton more homes and retail (far more than Mueller adds), and vastly superior transit access. Additionally, if you think ten years from now the average family will still be driving everywhere, you are far more optimistic about fuel prices than the facts on the ground would seem to warrant.

The other main benefit of having the museum downtown is that it can be one among many attractions that can form a nice day-trip, even if you live out in the suburbs and even if you drive. In Mueller? It'll be an easy drive - and given what they've built so far, there will probably be plenty of surface parking. But even if the streetcar line comes together and doesn't suck, Mueller will still have relatively poor transit access compared to downtown (except from downtown itself) - and once you get there, there will be exactly one thing to do before you go home. In other words, everybody can get to the current location downtown and almost all of them can get there on one bus ride. Getting to Mueller, even ten years from now, is going to require two or three rides for most people (unless you live downtown!).

As with the library and with the courthouse, there will doubtlessly be plenty of apologists who claim that Capital Metro will be serving the new location with some bus routes - and that buses can always be moved. Newsflash: major long-haul bus routes aren't moved miles out of the way for one new attraction in a medium-density area. Ten years from now, Mueller will have basically the same transit it does today - more frequent, likely; but no major new routes, except the aforementioned streetcar (maybe).

Folks, there's a reason that everything tended to be located downtown back when driving was an expensive privilege afforded mainly to the rich: it simply works better to group major destinations together so they can be served by transit. Decentralizing at this point in history when the affordability of driving appears to be heading back that direction is just incomprehensibly stupid - yet that's exactly what the ACM is doing here.

At the same time our own city shows signs of thinking ten years down the road (or re-learning lessons from a hundred years ago), the ACM is thinking ten or twenty years in the past. The new location will be a nice amenity for the many families that have moved into Mueller, but it might as well be Round Rock for the rest of the city.

Update: Other coverage of note at the muellercommunity.com forums where you can probably watch me get slammed mercilessly, and at skyscraperpage.com for a more downtown-friendly view.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , Republicans Hate Poor People , Republicans Hate Public Transportation , Republicans Hate The Environment , Subsidies to Suburban Sprawl , Texas Republicans Hate Cities , Transit in Austin , Transportation , Urban Design


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I wish the museum would have stayed part of the block 21 development as well, but I believe that saying Mueller might as well be Round Rock for the rest of the city is incorrect. Mueller is centrally located, more so than downtown in reality, and way more than Round Rock. Also, Mueller is served by mass transit now, unlike Round Rock, and will be improved as Mueller continues to develop. I am also of the belief that Mueller will be a fantastic community once it is built out, and the museum will be another great amenity. Lastly, while there are certainly differing ideas on what constitutes urban and suburban, in my opinion the Mueller development at build out will certainly be an urban neighborhood. 10,000 residents and 10,000 jobs on 711 acres three miles from downtown is hardly suburban.

I just find it bizarre that they would move to Mueller. Totally bizarre.

I'm disappointed, too. We'll rarely go all the way up to Mueller for the ACM. But since central Austin is shedding families with children, I understand their desire to move farther north. I also imagine they're looking around downtown and figuring it's becoming a playground for the rich, stuck-up yuppies who are ruining Austin.

One serious point: It makes some sense for the ACM to take advantage of the Dell Children's Hospital and Rathberger Village. Automatic spillover business.

Nicolas, I think you should have read the entire post. At their current location, essentially the entire city can arrive to the museum on a one-seat transit ride (almost everybody who has Capital Metro service at all can get to downtown on one bus). At their new location, even if streetcar gets up and running in reserved guideway, most of the city would require two bus rides to get there - and that's not going to change - Mueller's density is not going to be great enough to justify more than frequency improvements on existing routes (and the streetcar, which doesn't really hit any residential area EXCEPT Mueller).

This move was, I believe, all about making things easier for the far suburbanites to drive in. Which is somewhat defensible if we think gas will be back to $1/gallon ten years from now. Anybody want to make that bet?

As for Mueller being suburban - it is; at some point in the distant future it might be a bit more dense, but I get more pessimistic about it each and every day. It's significantly less dense even at projected build-out than the Triangle, for instance.

AC, ironically, there's a mini-boom in my area now of kids, it seems from walking around.

I get the sarcasm about the rich stuck-up yuppies, but I bet most don't.

Even if you're an inveterate driver, I find it really disenheartening how many suburbanites don't understand the appeal of driving in, parking ONCE, then walking around to more than one point of interest rather than moving the car every time you do something. Have we really fallen that far?

I think suburbanites have to relearn the benefits of parking once and then walking around. The ACM would have helped draw them to downtown for sure, so it's a shame it's leaving. I was just pointing out a benefit I'm sure played a big part in ACM's decision.

And, yes, everyone I was being sarcastic with the rich stuck-up yuppies remark, which you know if you've ever visited my blog.

Ironically, right now there's starting to be a nice nucleus of child-friendly stuff to walk to around the ACM - with the gelato (ice cream!) down the street; nicer walking environment down on Cesar Chavez (lake, bridges), etc.

I project lots of babies downtown in the next few years. Those condo buyers are all gonna start reproducing with one another! I envision a lot of one-child families in downtown Austin. :)

*wishes she could buy a downtown condo*

If the condo-buyers reproduce with each other, won't a bunch of new condos open up as they move in together? ;+)

I can see both sides of the arguement on the ACM move. I took genetic carrier #1 there two weeks ago and had just a lovely time, especially after stumbling over to the famer's market for lunch a few blocks away. And true, a one stop bus ride would have been pleasant had we chose to ride the bus, rather than drive. However, I think the Mueller move is a good one (despite the fact that I already live in Mueller). First, with the children's hospital right there, the access for kids to make the ACM is a very nice gesture to potentially kids who could really use a good day. Secondly, with the open spaces that Mueller can provide the mueseum, it will be able to offer outdoor activities, especially in conjuncture with an already built amplitheatre (I'm crossing my fingers for nighttime observatory functions!), a hike and bike trail and very easy access to two playgrounds and a duck pond. Thirdly, I would think that any suburban family would drive down (or up) to either the downtown location or the centrially located Mueller area. I'm assuming that these suburban families, when they picked out where to live, understood that they would live a considerable distance from central Austin. Fourthly, and this point could be complete bupkis since I don't have the numbers, but I would suspect that there are going to be a lot more children in the Mueller, Cherrywood, Delwood, etc area, than the condo area of downtown. I'm sure I'll get called out and not change any opinions, but I just wanted to point out that I feel that a downtown location is great, but I feel a Mueller location would be better because the only people affected by the move would be the families travelling downtown by bus and having to endure a transfer, the families living in downtown condos, and the families who have children with the patience to make a full day to visit the downtown sites.

Well, Aaron, it's hard to respond seriously to "I'm sure I'll get called out and not change any opinions" (how many of YOUR opinions have been amenable to change?), but I'll try.

We've already seen some folks elsewhere (AC on his blog; one or two commenters at Statesman) who say they drive to the current location but won't drive (as much?) to Mueller. So there's that.

I think you're absolutely right about the number of kids who will be REALLY close to the museum (like biking distance).

However, the bus thing is obviously a much bigger issue to me - looking forward, I don't see the typical suburban family driving everywhere ten years from now. If/when gas is a lot more expensive than now (and I believe that day to be coming), places that aren't on the major transit 'spines' will basically only serve local residents.

So the question is: are there enough REALLY close kids to make up for the fact that most of the city won't be able to get there (cheaply, at least)?

See my post today for examples of some bus trips to ACM versus downtown - especially the Pavilion Park and Ride one, which can be extended all the way up to the Leander Park and Ride (similar express bus service from all on the 98x series buses, which really are a nice ride).

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