Austin can't stay small. But it can stay weird.
Vox just ran a nice wake-up call to those of us who love Austin’s eccentricities: “Austin Can’t Stay Weird”. A better headline might be “Austin can’t stay the same”. Here’s what I mean.
“Unimaginative architecture” is not a necessity of growth.
The city can encourage developers to make places that carry Austin personality or pay homage to what was previously on the land they sit on. They can look unique to Austin, like Frost Tower. They can look like they “belong”, like the South Congress Hotel that, at a glance, might have been there since the ‘60s. They can pack some oomph in their visual style, like the retro neon Hotel Van Zandt sign. We should accept change and growth. But we don’t have to accept mediocrity.
We can fund the “weird”.
The author does mention affordable housing, which is good. But we can do more. Promote or provide tax breaks to locally/minority-owned or historical businesses. Prevent the wholesale replacement of Austin (particularly east side) culture with transient could-be-any-other-young-city hipsterdom.
Austin won’t do rail anytime soon.
The author is smart, but hasn’t seen the repeated attempts to please the public with a rail plan. It may be too late for Austin to willfully accommodate that, which would be ideal. What’s best for Austin now is a combo of:
Bus Rapid Transit, which largely uses existing infrastructure and is more flexible,
investment in more bicycle lanes for the boom of cyclists, pedicabs, and scooters,
new micro-transit methods, like Lyft Line and Chariot, and
policy/scheduling decisions that reduce rush hour congestion like significantly incentivizing work-from-home or off-peak commuting.
Austin has to change. But the influx of new Austinites didn’t come here just for a job—they came for the “weird”, for the friendliness, for the charm. Austin must grow in size, but it doesn’t have to grow up.