Dowtown Districts: Austin, TX

The central areas of Austin, Texas are changing, with the addition of shopping districts, new office space, condominiums, and apartments. The city’s aim is to create more compact and walkable neighborhoods/areas in order to encourage healthier and more sustainable lifestyles among its residents through reduced car and land-use. It appears that there has been success as flocks of Austinites populate near these centers. But who are these Austinites? And what does this demographic shift mean for the sustainability goals of the city as a whole?

The factors driving who lives in these downtown areas are complex, but a primary consideration is housing. If we look at the housing available in the downtown area we encounter mainly high-rise condos and apartments; housing types suitable for singles or couples without children. A second consideration is the activities and programs prominent in these areas. There are several attractions for families such as farmers’ markets, the Austin’s Children’s Museum, and Zilker Park. However, with an abundance of bars and limited access to schools, families are discouraged from living in these more dense urban environments.

The consequence of excluding this demographic from central districts is that the households with the largest carbon footprint remain in suburban areas where they commute to work, school, and run errands by car. The negative environmental impacts of suburbanization are not remotely reduced as long as families remain in distant neighborhoods where larger houses and roadways consume more energy and land.

 

Downtown Austin Skyline

The towers in this image are exemplary of the several residential towers sprouting up in the downtown area.

 

The solution may not be to prioritize family housing in the densest of downtown areas, but may be to preserve single-family housing in targeted areas such as the Hyde Park Neighborhood; areas that are centralized, but quieter than entertainment districts. A consideration may be to increase amenities (schools, day cares, dry cleaners, grocers, etc.) in these existing, centralized neighborhoods.

An important question that remains is whether or not families want to live in denser, more urban environments? Do you have a family? What are your thoughts? Would you want to live in an urban environment and what would entice you?