Developing Austin for the Future

Triangle Blueprint

(Image Credit:

This is most likely my last post of the semester, and I thought I spend it writing about development trends in Austin. Anyone who has lived here for more than a few years should be keenly aware of just how quickly this city is changing. Even my landlord is complaining. Well, he’s not technically complaining, but as soon as he has a vacancy to fill, it’s taken, and I think part of the game has been lost for him. But I digress. One of the things about expansive growth in Austin is that it tends to not coincide with urban planning, as I noted in a previous post about the Texas Capital Building. This lack of planning can be frustrating to locals because, well…it’s not Paris. But there’s charm in the city’s architectural idiosyncrasies, and these things do give the city a sense of character. Austin’s a lot like the grimy sci-fi of the original Terminator film, especially when compared to the forensic cleanliness of Star Trek’s sci-fi. So, anyway, there’s a weird thing happening throughout Austin’s current growth spurt, in which planned communities are popping up in the middle of old non-planned neighborhoods. Two questions come to mind: Does it really matter that these communities are planned given the irregular historical zoning beauty that surrounds them? And, secondly, what’s the appeal of these antiseptic neighborhoods, when Austinites could have…well, Austin?

Small-Government Urban Planning Sometimes Negates Itself

Texas State Capital

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There’s no doubting that Austin’s a great example of urban sprawl. Anyone who’s driven up Burnet Road on a shopping expedition, or down South Lamar looking for a romantic Saturday night dinner, has probably wondered at some point: Why can’t these things just be closer to where I live? Fortunately, I don’t think this question is born out of narcissism. Things are far apart in Austin. And given the town’s expanding population, they feel as though they’re getting farther and farther apart, with all the increased traffic and whatnot. Over the decades, this city has grown and expanded without any apparent civic regard for urban planning. Which makes the Capital Building a really interesting monument. The roads leading to the Texas State Capital are reminiscent of Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s planning of Washington, D.C., and they convey a confidence in American governance that would make Governor Rick Perry blush. Either that or the eyes of Texas are upon us.

Can We Measure the Expansion of a City by Its Landscaping?

Changing Downtown Austin

(Image Credit: KXAN Austin)

It’s great to be back on viz. after a semester away. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Perhaps the most noticeable thing in Austin upon my return is the city’s insane rate of expansion. When one moves about town and looks at buildings, every few blocks or so there’s a new set of high rise apartments (or whatever) going in. Nowhere are the roads being widened to account for the new residents. Rush hour is literally a bunch of metallic, CO2-emitting rivers, and all this negates (at least for me) most pretences Austin makes towards modernity. I heard somewhere that 20,000 people are moving to Austin each month, although I have no idea if that’s really the case – the statistic can make one feel like they live cattle market. But to be fair, most up-and-coming cities can have that feel. Traffic rant aside, if Austin’s powers at be aren’t adjusting roadways to account for new residents, I wonder how smaller entities (such as neighborhoods, private residents, and institutions) are altering their own urban environments to account for the change. In some cases, perhaps, maybe a few brilliant environments that were designed 20 years ago are still healthy, despite all the change. In other cases, perhaps the city is designing new parks and gardens to address future public needs. I am going to try and dedicate all my viz. posts for the coming semester to landscape design in Austin. It might prove valuable, as I’m not sure these things are being catalogued anywhere else.

Graffiti that Annotates (Cat_piss.jpg)

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Graffiti that Annotates

"Where Do We Grow From Here?"

My favorite genre of graffiti is work that comments on its immediate surroundings. In east Austin, this type of graffiti tends to refer to the seemingly unending gentrification of neighborhoods further and further out. Remember the fancy convenience stores I mentioned last time? Ones where you can buy $6 ice cream sandwiches? The image above is a defunct gas station that appears to have been purchased recently, so I think we can all imagine what's coming next. This graffiti artistin their own, special, nostalgia-soaked waywants to encourage visitors to the area to be critical of this expansion. See also: the time Hillside Farmacy's sign was edited to read "Hipster Farmacy." 

Graffiti as Advertisement

Look for the Spear

Photo credit: Flickr user elizaO

It’s nice to think about graffiti as a free, democratic art form. Anyone can participateall you risk is a fine or possibly jail time! But in Austin, lately, graffiti has been taken over by the big green capitalist monster (a monster, some might say, who’s slowly but surely encroaching on the town with heinous condos and hip, remodeled convenience stores that stock only local beer and kombucha).

Renovating Austin: New Homes In Old Neighborhoods

Austin Home

(Image credit: Jay Voss)

There’s an odd thing happening in Austin’s older neighborhoods: people are moving in, tearing down whatever 1930s homes they find on their lots, and in these spaces constructing decidedly modern dwellings. The subsequent structure stands out on its block like you wouldn’t believe. There’s such a disparity between the neighborhood’s older ranch homes and these new structures of corrugated metal and cantilevered edges. It’s a contrast between the standout and the ubiquitous, and the standout wins the eye every time. To make things more interesting: the locals I’ve asked hate these new structures, while those of us who’ve moved here recently tend to find them more inviting. I’m not sure where I stand on the issue. Although I see and understand the detriment one might perceive in continuity’s disruption, isn’t such materialistic continuity exactly what Austinites are constantly going out of their way to subvert? What gives? Aren’t we all supposed to applaud when something immaterial keeps Austin weird? Coming at the issue from a different angle, I’m a fairly serious student of architecture, and so for me it’s always refreshing to see tasteful structures going up (no matter what the situation, really). To this end I think architecture in its purist form encourages balance and harmony, and building a mansion amidst cottages (just for irony’s sake, I guess) is arrogant and misguided.

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