Sep 26, 2017 - 01:20 pm CDT

 

On June 15, 2017, Imagine Austin - the city's comprehensive plan through 2040 - turned five years old. The plan, adopted unanimously by City Council in 2012 and created with input from thousands of Austinites, established a community vision of a city of complete communities where all Austinites have access to the amenities, transportation, services, and opportunities that fulfill their material, social, and economic needs. These communities support all ages, identities, and cultures while preserving our unique community spirit. These places are livable, safe, affordable, and accessible; and they promote healthy lifestyles, community engagement, and inclusion.

The Imagine Austin Year 5 Progress Report provides a valuable opportunity for reflection on the City of Austin's progress towards our community vision. The report contains the stories of progress, challenges, and lessons learned from each of the 8 Priority Programs, which coordinate the implementation of the plan's policies, actions, and overall vision through diverse, interdisciplinary teams. The Progress Report also contains the first look at the indicators attributed to Imagine Austin, which help us to measure progress towards the outcomes desired by the community. The web-based Imagine Austin Dashboard contains the results, analysis, and important context for these indicators.

Year 5 marks an important milestone for Imagine Austin, and though the Progress Report highlights many of our hard-earned successes, it also paints a picture of the long road ahead of us. Imagine Austin laid out a vision for our community, one where Austin is a beacon of sustainability, social equity, and economic opportunity; where diversity and creativity are celebrated; where community needs and values are recognized; and where the necessities of life are affordable and accessible to all. In order for us to achieve that vision, we must continue to work together as a community to take collective action to bring us closer to that future. We know that Austin's greatest asset is its people: passionate about our city, committed to its improvement, and determined to see our vision become a reality.

Cheers to five years, Imagine Austin!

 

 

Read the Imagine Austin Year 5 Progress Report

Explore the Imagine Austin Indicator Dashboard

View and download the indicator data here.

Watch the presentation to Planning Commission

View and download the presentation slides

 

Having trouble accessing the Progress Report document?

 

May 26, 2017 - 11:57 am CDT

 

You might have read in the news recently that new development is headed for Austin's south shore, directly across from downtown. In fact, economic forecasts indicate that over fifty acres and at least $1.2 billion in private reinvestments are likely to redevelop within the next 15 years. But given existing regulations and the current lack of infrastructure in the area, this redevelopment will likely do very little to improve connectivity or expand open space.

To address the challenges and opportunities ahead, the City of Austin launched a small-area planning initiative in 2012 and commenced work through the City's Urban Design Division. The South Central Waterfront (SCW) Initiative set out to create an aspirational, yet economically-viable vision whereby private redevelopment and public improvements work in tandem to create a lively, attractive, and connected place.

Capping a four year effort, the Urban Design Division completed the South Central Waterfront Vision Framework Plan (hereafter, the SCW Plan) to provide a visionary yet financially feasible roadmap for development. In June of 2016, the Austin City Council adopted the SCW Plan as an amendment to Imagine Austin, the city's comprehensive plan. Below are a few highlights of the planning process and resulting community vision.

 

 

Collaboration + Engagement

Having no outside resources, the Urban Design Division initiated and sustained a planning effort through grants and partnerships, including:

  • (2012) An award from the American Institute of Architects' Sustainable Design Assessment Team program;
  • (2013) The first of man collaborations with The University of Texas at Austin, School of Architecture, Texas Futures Lab;
  • (2013) A grant from the federal Housing and Urban Development, Sustainable Communities program;
  • (2014) A grant from the National Association of Realtors to support community engagement;
  • (2015-2016) An award from the federal Environmental Protection Agency's Greening of America's Capitals program. The EPC partnered with the city for further charrettes and selected and hired CMG Landscape Architects, based in San Francisco, to develop conceptual designs for the public realm plan, using green infrastructure as the organizing feature.
  • (2015-2016) City consultant services of a Texas-based landscape architecture firm, Asakura Robinson, the financial consultant, ECONorthwest, and urban design consultant, McCann Adams Studio, to finalize the plan.

Over the course of these efforts, over sixteen-hundred stakeholders were engaged through workshops, public lectures, walking tours, and charrettes. The series of partnerships and engagement styles resulted in a grassroots buy-in from the community.

 

Creativity + Innovation

The SCW Plan is based on three interrelated approaches, called Frameworks:

Physical: This framework retrofits the district with an interconnected network of streets, blocks, parks and plazas, and open spaces. The physical framework considers: circulation and connectivity, open space, sustainability and green infrastructure, urban design, and distrcit-wide water management to conserve resources and promote water quality.

 

Financial: The financial framework is a comprehensive strategy of capital investments, development incentives, financial tools,a nd public-private partnerships. This strategy provides $100 million to realize the public realm plan and $65 million gap financings to ensure that 20% of the new housing units are affordable.

City Leadership: This framework includes: strategic public investments, institution of recommended regulations, programs, and financial tools, and pursuit of public-private partnerships to build, mange, and maintain the expanded public realm and affordable housing.

 

 

Effectiveness + Results

The SCW Plan provides a place-specific, highly designed example of how many current city policies, Imagine Austin principles, and best practices for sustainability will look like as applied to a redevelopment of a whole district, as opposed to a single site. At final buildout, the SCW Plan results in a gain of 20 acres of new and improved, connected public realm, and 530 units of affordable housing. Other target goals are also identified in terms of reduction of impervious cover, expansion of tree canopy, and quantity of bike and trail connectivity. Likewise, the SCW Plan will implement a battery of finance tools, affordable housing programs, and a district management regime that can be replicated and applied to other rapidly changing areas in our community.

 

Awards + Recognition

The SCW Plan has received recognition by several local and national organizations. Awards include:

  • 2017 Award for Excellence in Sustainability | American Planning Association's Sustainable Communities Division
  • 2017 Honor Award for Planning & Analysis | American Society of Landscape Architects, Texas Chapter
  • 2016 Plan of the Year | American Planning Association, Texas Central Chapter

 

Bringing the Vision to Life

Now that the SCW Plan has been adopted, the real work begins. The SCW Plan proposed a battery of Next Steps that will need to be taken to make the Vision a reality. The City is busy continuing the work and building upon the partnerships that the planning process forged, and lots of exciting things are in the pipeline to implement the SCW Plan recommendations.

Stay tuned and join in as we begin the implementation of the SCW Plan. The best way to stay informed as the plan moves forward is to SUSCRIBE for updates.

 

Subscribe to the SCW mailing list

 

Oct 15, 2014 - 11:04 am CDT

Discussing food in terms of food security or insecurity was relatively unknown before the 1970s, and wasn’t typically used to describe a family’s socioeconomic situation in the United States. Images of swollen bellies on severely malnourished children and babies in Africa were more commonplace in the 80s, but concern about malnourishment was rarely related to the United States, the world’s hegemon, provider of millions of dollars in aid to countries with severe food insecurity. However, the truth is that food insecurity and malnourishment have existed here in Travis County and have continued to worsen in the three decades since the term was first defined.


Food security means that all people at all times have access to enough food for a healthy, active life (USDA). Seems easy enough, right? We all have access to enough food at all times, right? Unfortunately the answer to those questions is no, especially for the growing low income population. These days we’re surrounded by fast food restaurants, convenience stores, food trailers, and all kinds of places where we can get food at almost any time we choose.  However, such places may not all offer the kinds of nutritious food we need to fulfill a “healthy, active life”.

Those who live where there is a shortage of fresh, healthy, and affordable food live in a ‘food desert’, which are found mostly in urban neighborhoods and rural towns.  Instead of full service grocery stores, these areas have no access to food or only have fast food and convenience stores in their vicinity, where fresh and affordable food is rarely found. For these folks, the term food insecurity applies, defined by the USDA as the “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods.”

While you may not think you fit into these descriptions, according to the USDA and the 2010 Census, more than 38% of the urban (city setting, like Austin, or Pflugerville) population of Travis County is considered food insecure, having low access to fresh, healthy and affordable food.  Nineteen percent of children under 17, 5% of seniors (over 65) and 10% of the urban low income population are food insecure. 

The implications of these statistics are that our waistlines are growing, our health is deteriorating, our physical activity is low and we’re making poor choices when it comes to food. One of the biggest concerns and ironies surrounding food insecurity is the effect it has around our waists. It’s not uncommon for food insecure people to also be overweight or obese.  Twenty four percent of Travis County residents are obese, and of the 19 AISD Middle Schools studied in 2011 by Children’s Optimal Health, 13 had obesity rates over the target percentage of 15% for the student population.  You may wonder how someone who doesn’t have a sufficient level of access to food can be overweight. Turns out, it’s the ‘access to food’ that matters the most.

The location and distance from one person’s home to a full service grocery store, where they can obtain fresh produce, fruits, meats, and dairy products, defines their ‘access to food’.  Five zip codes in Travis County do not have a full service grocery store located within the area boundary, although one of those five does have one immediately outside. However, they do have a few fast food restaurants, convenience stores, ‘grocery marts’, and other quick & easy locations to purchase food.  If you’ve ever gone to a typical convenience store they usually offer food; energy-dense foods like frozen pizzas, ice cream, bologna, milk, hot dogs, and a host of hot food plucked off a rotating hot rod. It’s not exactly fresh, healthy or even affordable. Fast food restaurants have a similar problem in that one meal may contain close to the daily recommended caloric allowance.

The majority of full service grocery stores are located close to I-35 and in abundance in the Western part of the county, as the image to the left indicates. By contrast, the low-income populations and zip codes where food insecurity is the highest are in the Eastern crescent of the county, where it is often a very long distance to the nearest grocery store and people may or may not have access to a vehicle. If a car is not available, people must rely on public transit to get to a full service grocery store, which is not always a convenient or feasible option.

When faced with the obstacles of travel time and cost, perhaps you can see how easy it is to choose the convenience of fast food or grocery marts.  An unfortunate by-product of our food landscape is that the number of low-income individuals who are overweight or obese is growing.  A 2010 study showed that wages were inversely related to BMI and obesity in a nationally representative sample of more than 6,000 adults – meaning, those with low wages were more likely to have a high BMI or be obese (Kim & Leigh, 2010). Our food systems are failing, and without intervention, our future looks lethargic, overweight, and nutritionally challenged.
 

There are a number of organizations working towards a solution, both nationally and here at home in Travis County:

  • The Imagine Austin Healthy Austin Priority Program team has been working in partnership with Health and Human Services to develop a Community Health Improvement Plan, designed to improve a number of policies regarding food systems and food distribution in Austin.
  • This year The City of Austin’s Office of Sustainability created a new Food Policy Manager position to work toward reducing food insecurity in Austin as well as increasing local food production and protecting our natural resources. 
  • The Capital Area Food Bank is the largest provider of solutions for food to Central Texans, working with more than 300 nonprofit social service agencies providing food pantry assistance to residents in need.  Through their Fresh Food for Families and Mobile Food Pantry programs, residents may receive 10 lbs. of fresh food every month.
  • Keep Austin Fed is a local, volunteer run, nonprofit organization working to solve food insecurity by redistributing fresh surplus food from local commercial kitchens to local organizations that aid the hungry.
  • Nationally, The Food Trust is working through policy changes and research in communities around the country to improve and increase access to healthy foods, working corner stores, community centers, farmers markets, and schools.

Sep 22, 2014 - 07:02 pm CDT

This past Friday, September 19th, four urban parklets located between 3rd and 5th Streets on Congress Avenue popped up in celebration of PARK(ing) Day. This year the parklets were sponsored by the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, Congress for the New Urbanism of Central Texas (CNU), and Zipcar with Movability Austin. PARK(ing) Day is an annual worldwide event where artists, designers, and citizens transform metered parking spots into temporary public parks. The mission of PARK(ing) Day is to call attention to the need for more urban open space, to generate critical debate around how public space is created and allocated, raise awareness in cities about the lack of community-geared public space, and to improve the quality of urban human habitat. The event supports Austin’s Complete Streets Policy to make roadways safe and accommodating for all users and to incorporate green infrastructure.

A group of colleagues gather for a meeting in the parklet.

Imagine Austin collaborated with City of Austin departments to launch PARK(ing) Day as a pilot project. City Departments worked together to convert two parking spots into a people-friendly small park (or “parklet”) at 410 Congress Ave. The Parks and Recreation Department provided Mexican Oak Trees and potted plants from the Urban Forestry and Sustainable Urban Agriculture and Community Gardens Programs. The parklet included a book swap with materials purchased from Recycled Reads, Austin Public Library card sign-up, and a pop-up station to check-out audiobooks and stream free music and movies from the Virtual Library (http://library.austintexas.gov/virtual). Visitors also had the opportunity to contribute to public art, play games, talk to a friend, learn about the City of Austin’s Complete Streets policy, read a book, or think clearly while sitting under shady trees.

Down the street, Congress for the New Urbanism of Central Texas, a group that advocates for more walkable and complete communities, hosted two more parklets. Two pairs of parking spaces on Congress Ave were “adopted” by means of a Parking Permit for the day. In front of Patagonia, on the west side of Congress, one parklet offered an oasis in the city, surrounded by bamboo, providing a Zen seating area, small library, and space for thoughtful exchange. This included a Map Exchange Booth run by the local cartographic collective, Austin’s Atlas. A second parklet, in front of Annie’s Café on the east side of Congress, showcased Austin’s whimsy – games, performers, up cycled furniture, and an interactive art board. These parklets asked community “What is your favorite park memory?” and “What is your favorite parking memory?”

Zipcar initiated the repurposing of two of their parking spots as a place for people to relax and refuel. Zipcar partnered up with Movability Austin, a Transportation Management Association focused on helping employers and employees address the frustrations, costs and health/safely issues facing Austin commuters every day, to create a temporary public park. Every month Movability Austin celebrates alternative commuters with a free breakfast on the streets of downtown and this month they located their Pop Up Breakfast at the Zipcar parklet. Anyone who walks, bikes, carpools, vanpools, carshares, buses, or rides rail to work is welcome for the Commuter Pop Up Breakfast. Zipcar cites that each of its vehicles takes 15 individually owned vehicles off the road, allowing more space for urban parks.

Austin Public Library employees sign up a community member for a library card. The bookshelf hosts a book swap with materials purchased from Recycled Reads.Downtown Austin is comprised of more than 1,050 acres, the streets add up to 34.5% of downtown and parks and open space only consist of 12.3% of the entire area. In any city, the places between buildings need to be designed for people; well-designed, people-friendly places can beautify our city. A typical metered parking space downtown Austin will serve around 6 vehicles a day, while a parklet can serve hundreds who desire safe, attractive and welcoming public space. PARK(ing) Day helps to demonstrate facets of Austin's Complete Street's Policy; maintain and increase Austin's urban forest as a key component of green infrastructure network; integrate public buildings and facilities into active, walkable, complete, healthy communities; encourage new or existing art forms, and expand the city's green infrastructure network.

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Sep 18, 2014 - 12:19 pm CDT

Affordable housing is a well-known challenge in our fast-growing city. While one person’s definition of affordability may not match with yours, a recent report by HousingWorks Austin, a local affordable housing advocacy organization, takes a closer look at how Austin’s recent general obligation (GO) bond vote can contribute to developing Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) for Austin’s chronically homeless.


According to the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO), there are an estimated 1,987 homeless individuals in Austin on any given night. Of those, 384 are considered chronically homeless, which means that the individual has a disability and has been homeless for a year or longer, or has experienced episodic homelessness over a three-year period. As a group, chronically homeless individuals face unique barriers to housing that are best addressed through a Housing First, Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) model.

In a Housing First approach, access to housing is considered to be the cornerstone of addressing homelessness. Housing is offered to prospective tenants regardless of the barriers to entry, such as chemical dependency, mental health status, financial history, credit issues and some criminal history barriers. Permanent Supportive Housing is unique in that tenants have access to case management and other supportive services they need to fulfill the terms of their tenancy as well as access to a safe, secure, private unit as long as they meet the obligations of tenancy (such as paying rent). Unlike  other housing models, PSH leases do not have any terms that wouldn’t be seen in a lease held by someone not seeking this type of housing; in addition, the services associated with a tenant’s occupancy may change with that individual’s needs. With stable housing through PSH, tenants realize benefits such as increased income and access to services; greater community-wide benefits include decreased reliance on public services, such as hospital visits.

In 2012, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said, "Because, at the end of the day, between shelters and emergency rooms and jails, it costs about $40,000 a year for a homeless person to be on the streets.  According to the Ending Community Homelessness (ECHO) 2014 Permanent Supportive Housing Evaluation, the cost (per encounter) of the chronically homeless to taxpayers in Austin can be estimated as follows:

 

Service Frequently Used

Cost per encounter

Cost per year if all 384 chronically homeless used  these services only once a year*

Downtown Community

Court Case

$31.98

$12,280.32

Daily Jail Bed

$96.71

$37,136.64

Cost of Booking

1 person into jail

$152.71

$58,640.64

Emergency Room Visit

$1400

$537,600

Out Patient Visit

$1300

$499,200

In Patient Visit

$4800

$184,3200

Night In Shelter

$10.41

$3,997.44

Totals

$7,791.81

$2,992,055.04

*-this is not data contained in the ECHO report.
These numbers were calculated by City Shaping News staff.

 It’s important to understand that many the individuals experiencing chronic homelessness are frequent users of these services, meaning it is more likely that they use the services more than once, in fact several times a year. While it is difficult to estimate the impact that PSH has on the cost of these services, ECHO estimates that for the 796 individuals in their study, a reduction of $901,695 in public service costs was observed in the year after they entered PSH.   In cities like New York, each unit of permanent supportive housing saves taxpayers $16,282 in public service costs each year, while the cost of one housing unit is $17,277, a near complete cost offset. In Seattle it is estimated that the savings of PSH is nearly $30,000 per individual per year.  For more information on the number of reductions in each of these services in Austin, download ECHO’s report.

In the HousingWorks report, Housing the Hardest to Serve: Strategies for Addressing Chronic Homelessness, two types of PSH are recommended in Austin: single site PSH and scattered-site. Each of these types has associated benefits and drawbacks. In single site PSH, housing units and the associated supportive services are located at the same site. This facilitates community among the PSH tenants, avoids reliance on outside landlords, and is seen as a long-term solution to chronic homelessness. With this option, however, comes a reliance on one organization to be responsible for all aspects of managing and operating the PSH units and services, and as a result programs can be somewhat restrictive. In scattered-site PSH, units and services are located throughout the city rather than co-located in the same facility. While this option offers tenants flexibility in terms of location, a quicker start-up timeline, and greater community integration, scattered-site PSH is highly reliant on landlord participation and can result in unreliable permanence with regard to housing and inefficient access to services for tenants.

In Austin, some of the major barriers to solving chronic homelessness include credit, rental, and criminal histories of the prospective tenants, market conditions that result in few available housing units, community opposition to PSH, and regulatory barriers at both the state and local level. To address this, HousingWorks developed several recommendations, including working with ECHO to establish a clear definition for PSH and Housing First PSH to be used by all CoC (Continuum of Care) funded agencies, which would facilitate funding priority for this type of housing, identifying the 100 or so chronically homeless who are the highest users of public services as potential PSH clients, dedicating a percentage of the 2013 GO bonds for PSH, and developing programs supportive of PSH landlords in a scattered-site situation.

If you would like more information on how you can get involved in the issue of homelessness or housing affordability in Austin, visit HousingWorks or ECHO webpages, volunteer with a local organization, or strike up a conversation with that homeless person you see on the street.  What you learn may surprise you.

Aug 25, 2014 - 03:46 pm CDT

Austin is full of iconic places, spaces, and people. As we continue to grow, what would happen if we shaped our community around places, inviting people to create and improve the public places they inhabit? Incorporating artists and their art into the planning process, we create spaces that are unique and reflective of Austin’s spirit and culture. 

Austin is a creative town. We have a vibrant arts culture that has built Austin’s long held reputation for being among the most unique places to live, yet some residents, new and old alike, are disconnected from that creative energy in their daily lives.  Three upcoming creative placemaking projects around town aim to provide residents with an opportunity to change that for the better.

The Drawing Lines project will place one artist (or artist team) in each of the 10 new Austin Council Districts to directly engage in the historic and political transformation currently taking place in Austin through its new citizen-driven council districting process by:

     • helping citizens discover the cultural assets in their district;
     • creating an artwork as an artistic expression of the character and diversity found in each of the 10 Districts;
     • mirroring the larger political processes by bringing the artists together to create a collaborative artwork using their unique voices to represent Austin. 

The thinkEAST Living Charrette unites Austin’s creative communities, city planners, developers, and local residents, through Austin’s preeminent hybrid arts festival, Fusebox Festival, to envision and prototype a creative district of affordable living, working, learning, and exhibition and performance activity on a 24-acre former industrial site in a diverse, economically disadvantaged urban neighborhood in East Austin.

The Creative Action Chestnut Neighborhood Activation Project will implement programs and projects as the non-profit settles into their new home in East Austin where they serve low-income youth and families in the Chestnut and surrounding neighborhoods.

Supporting these projects and a partner in the Drawing Lines Project, Austin’s Cultural Asset Mapping project will create Community Resource Maps with various layers of information that will integrate Austin’s cultural resources across all facets of Austin planning to become a tool for creative economy and social well-being strategy implementation and a guide for investment in the City of Austin’s specific Planning Areas/Initiatives.

Placemaking is defined by how we collectively shape our public realm to maximize shared value. Rooted in community-based participation, placemaking involves the planning, design, management, and programming of public spaces. More than just creating better urban design of public spaces, placemaking facilitates creative patterns of activities and connections (cultural, economic, social, and ecological) that define a place and support its ongoing evolution. Placemaking is about how people collectively and intentionally shape our world and our future on this planet.

If we take placemaking and put artists and arts at the center of planning efforts, what happens? In a recent paper published by the National Endowment for the Arts, Ann Markusen and Anne Gadwa describe creative placemaking as a situation in which "partners from public, private, non-profit, and community sectors strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, city, or region around arts and cultural activities. Creative placemaking animates public and private spaces, rejuvenates structures and streetscapes, improves local business viability and public safety, and brings diverse people together to celebrate, inspire, and be inspired."

While a very good, academic description of creative placemaking, perhaps a more approachable and easily digestable description comes from Maria Rosario Jackson, another expert in the field of creative placemaking. In a 2011 paper entitled Building Community: Making Space for Art, Dr. Jackson describes building communities in which the arts are incorporated on a planning level as vital to creating great places to live, which is something we all strive for.  “Good places to live have more to offer than adequate housing, transportation, jobs, schools, and commercial amenities. They have spaces in which residents can express themselves creatively, connect with one another, and engage in experiences that expand their intellect, imagination, creativity, critical thinking, and even their capacity for compassion and empathy—spaces in which art happens.”

Dr. Jackson is an expert in community revitalization, the roles and measurement of arts and culture in communities, and the dynamics of race and ethnicity in cities. Her work, based on more than 20 years of research, appears in a wide range of publications and presentations she’s made at scores of national and international conferences. She serves on the board of, or is an advisor to, numerous initiatives, programs, governmental agencies, and foundations. In her role as the director of the Culture, Creativity, and Communities Program at the Urban Institute for eighteen years she led research on measuring cultural vitality and the role of arts and culture in community revitalization, the development of art spaces, and support systems for artists.

Dr. Jackson will share her thoughts on creative placemaking, and discuss how using arts and cutlural activities can create more equitable and diverse communities, on Wednesday August 27th at the Asian American Resource Center 6:30-8:30 pm as part of the Creative Placemaking Speaker Series.  RSVP is available here.  For more information on upcoming speakers visit the Creative Placemaking Series website, or call Janet Seibert at 512-974-7860.

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Aug 25, 2014 - 03:30 pm CDT

Community gardens are usually a grassroots endeavor, led and born of the hard work of volunteers working together to create a shared space to grow food, tucked away in neighborhoods on formerly vacant land.  For the majority of the community gardens in Austin, this holds true; however, the North Austin Community Garden puts a new twist on community gardens in Austin.


In an era of smaller lot sizes and high-rise living, community gardens offer resident the opportunity to connect with the earth and fellow neighbors. The North Austin YMCA takes these goals to a new level. When the North Austin YMCA was built, a percentage of the project cost was set aside for the purchase or commission of an art piece; the YMCA, in partnership with Art in Public Places, chose a community garden as their public art piece in the heart of the Rundberg neighborhood.
In 2012, local artists Lucy Begg and Robert Gay of Thoughtbarn were commissioned to design and build the garden. During the course of the project, the artists worked extensively with the local community through workshops and public events to develop the garden design. They also established the Garden Leadership Group, now led by community volunteers, to develop a governing structure, membership rules, and fees. As a result of these efforts, the garden officially opened for planting on March 29, 2014.

Co-designers Lucy Begg and Robert Gay have worked with the public before on numerous design projects, but say that on this project “public participation was particularly involved. We formed a Garden Leadership Group to manage the transition of the garden into community ownership. They were instrumental in setting up the social infrastructure of the project (by-laws, registration system, membership and site rules), which was as important for the garden’s success as the physical construction.”

The North Austin Community Garden seeks to create a community gathering and work space that includes a teaching pavilion, teaching garden plots, a picnic area, and a butterfly garden. Maintained by volunteers, the garden offers organic gardening workshops through the Sustainable Food Center’s Basic Organic Garden Series, which educates residents and offers opportunities to increase understanding about the importance of nutrition. The garden offers anyone with a home address in the city, or who belongs to the YMCA, the chance at gardening on one of the 48 plots set aside for public use. As of now, most of the plots are full and producing food! There are plans for an expansion in the future, but for now the garden will occupy a beautifully designed space co-created by residents and designers alike.

We're delighted that the North Austin Community Garden has been shortlisted as a finalist for the SXSW Eco 'Place By Design' competition.  The award celebrates "breakthrough ideas in the reinvention of public space".  We were selected along with fourteen other finalists from a pool of applicants around the world. Winners will be announced on October 7th 2014 at the SXSW Eco Awards at the Austin Convention Center. - See more at: http://thoughtbarn.com/news/ymca-community-garden-sxsw-eco-finalist#sthash.1TOKvFy5.enfVvHaF.dpuf

The North Austin Community Garden has been shortlisted as a finalist for the SXSW Eco 'Place By Design' competition.  The award celebrates "breakthrough ideas in the reinvention of public space".  They were selected along with fourteen other finalists from a pool of applicants around the world. Winners will be announced on October 7th 2014 at the SXSW Eco Awards at the Austin Convention Center.

There are 50 community gardens in Austin -some on private land others on public- producing more than 100,000 pounds of fresh produce every year on a combined total of 3.6 acres. Each garden is different in size, plots available, and eligibility to garden.  If you’d like to get involved with a community garden near you, check the Coalition of Austin Community Garden’s website to locate and learn more.

Jul 31, 2014 - 12:54 pm CDT

There are 29 City Council Adopted Neighborhood Plans and 32 Neighborhood Plan Contact Teams.  That represents a lot of work on behalf of the community, city staff and neighborhood plan contact teams.

In an effort to assist contact teams I will begin to hold Consultation Hours, beginning August 12, 2014. Tuesday afternoons, 12pm – 2pm, I will field your calls and emails and may even reach out to you.

The goal of this effort is to encourage contact between myself and the contact team volunteers who work to implement your Neighborhood Plan. PDRD Staff recognizes that Contact team members are volunteers on behalf of their community and I want to work proactively with you to successfully fulfill your roles and responsibilities.

Of course I remain available throughout the business day, at your convenience, but I hope these new consultation hours will become a reminder to you and your team that a window of opportunity exists (Tuesdays 12-2) to get assistance on any contact team related issue.

So…If you have a lingering question, are unsure about an expectation of your team, need to brainstorm a strategy or even if you want to share some of your team’s successes – go ahead and give me a call on Tuesdays from 12pm – 2pm – I’m here to assist!

Margaret Valenti; City of Austin Contact Team Coordinator,
Margaret.valenti@austintexas.gov
(512) 974-2648

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Jul 23, 2014 - 10:40 am CDT

If you’ve ever driven east on Martin Luther King Jr Blvd you might have missed the stretch of greenbelt that extends north as you pass Pershing Drive and the stream that runs through it. Although this area is a park, it is dominated by fast cars moving through the neighborhood, offers no shade or places to sit, is without sidewalks, and is uninviting

Historically, the area was overshadowed by the airport, and is often a cut-through for traffic. Pershing Drive was constructed through the middle of the greenbelt, bisecting the creek that runs through it. In an effort to reconnect the greenbelt and neighborhood, the surrounding neighborhood and several city departments have worked together on the JJ Seabrook Stream Restoration, Rain Garden and Urban Trail Project. This project aims to bring the JJ Seabrook Neighborhood together, physically and communally by:

  •     Restoring the stream that runs through the greenbelt
  •     Reducing pollution from urban storm water runoff
  •     Building a park trail within the greenbelt
  •     Repurposing a roadway to an urban trail
  •     Reconfiguring intersections and streets along the area to reduce vehicular speed through the neighborhood.

These efforts will help to create a place where residents can walk or bike, enhancing their connection to both the natural environment and their neighbors.

Designated as a capital improvements project using funding from the 2006, 2010 and 2012 bond programs and drainage utility fee, the project will include restoring 900 feet of the creek, building a pedestrian bridge, repurposing a road that bisects the greenbelt, building 1,840 feet of urban trail and 2,310 of park trails, planting a  variety of native trees including sycamore and pecan trees, and constructing 2 beautiful rain gardens. This ambitious project brings together goals expressed in the JJ Seabrook master plan , The Watershed Protection Master Plan, and the work of five Imagine Austin Priority Program Teams.

Lauren Stanley, Secretary of the JJ Seabrook Neighborhood Association, says this project gives the area “a chance to heal that cut and the creek, remove the awkward culvert, and bind the green space together. It's been seen as the heart of the neighborhood, so symbolically and literally, it means a lot to be getting this attention. It’s more about creating a beautiful lull, a park, a green space and improvement internally.”

Residents and City staff have worked side-by-side to make this vision for the neighborhood a reality. City staff attended several neighborhood meetings to get feedback on the design plan, and Watershed Protection staff taught residents how to build a rain garden similar to those in the design plan. These efforts are building on previous initiatives by neighborhood residents to improve the greenbelt. In 2010, the neighborhood association used Keep Austin Beautiful grant funding to increase animal and plant life found in the greenbelt, installing a Purple Martin housing system, bat boxes, and a chimney swift tower. The most recent improvements will enhance the work the neighborhood has done to transform the greenbelt into an environmentally friendly and recreationally useful neighborhood asset.  For more information on the project, contact Kristin Pipkin at (512) 974-3315.

Jul 23, 2014 - 10:22 am CDT

In Central Texas water is a big deal, especially in the summer when the temperatures start to climb. For many, respite is found in the cool waters of nearby swimming holes, many of which are fed by creeks and streams and springs that feed into the Colorado River. The quality of these waters is important, and keeping a close eye on them takes the work of many, including a number of teenagers from Austin high schools.

Partnering with nine Austin high schools, Austin Youth River Watch works with teenagers to teach them to be environmental stewards through holistic youth development activities that focus on academic and environmental success. Students, known as River Watchers , work in teams of 10, each visiting one of 25 stream and river sites around the city to conduct a number of water quality tests and report their findings to the City of Austin and the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA). The collected data is published online as part of a wider water quality database maintained by the LCRA for use in tracking long-term trends in water quality. 

Starting this fall, River Watchers will begin work on 10 stream improvement sites helping to increase ecosystem diversity and drought resistance, bank stabilization, and trail building. These stream improvement projects will take place after school hours and will include a student-led weekend work day with community volunteers. In addition to the students in the school year program, nearly 30 more students will participate during the summer.

Scientists from the City of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department will offer Austin Youth River Watch staff and students training in stream restoration strategies, and they will help prioritize stream and river areas that need the most help and are also the best fit for students’ projects. It’s a powerful experience for students to take the lead on enhancing, restoring, and maintaining stream and river areas throughout watersheds in the Austin area.

Every participating student will work in a small group to plan, execute, and evaluate at least one project per year. Together, these efforts will result in a minimum of 10 projects per year benefitting Austin-area streams and the ecosystems they support. Following each project, students will continue to monitor various water quality indicators including nitrates, temperature, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, turbidity and pH. Students will also monitor vegetation growth as relevant to each project. As a function of this work, students will learn about riparian ecology, habitat functionality, and stream restoration.
With 120 students each year, Austin Youth River Watch boasts a near 100% graduation rate.  Each student averages 14 hours a month working on River Watch activities, including skill building in other academic subjects and preparing them for real world success beyond high school and their time with Austin Youth River Watch.

So will Austin’s youth save the planet? Maybe so! On July 29th Austin Youth River Watch is hosting A Community Forum on Austin Teens and the Environment to help answer the question of what support our teenagers need to become life-long environmental stewards. If you’d like to learn more about Austin Youth River Watch’s work , try attending one of their interactive Next Steps programs for a chance to meet some of the students as they work.

May 26, 2017 - 11:57 am CDT

 

You might have read in the news recently that new development is headed for Austin's south shore, directly across from downtown. In fact, economic forecasts indicate that over fifty acres and at least $1.2 billion in private reinvestments are likely to redevelop within the next 15 years. But given existing regulations and the current lack of infrastructure in the area, this redevelopment will likely do very little to improve connectivity or expand open space.

To address the challenges and opportunities ahead, the City of Austin launched a small-area planning initiative in 2012 and commenced work through the City's Urban Design Division. The South Central Waterfront (SCW) Initiative set out to create an aspirational, yet economically-viable vision whereby private redevelopment and public improvements work in tandem to create a lively, attractive, and connected place.

Capping a four year effort, the Urban Design Division completed the South Central Waterfront Vision Framework Plan (hereafter, the SCW Plan) to provide a visionary yet financially feasible roadmap for development. In June of 2016, the Austin City Council adopted the SCW Plan as an amendment to Imagine Austin, the city's comprehensive plan. Below are a few highlights of the planning process and resulting community vision.

 

 

Collaboration + Engagement

Having no outside resources, the Urban Design Division initiated and sustained a planning effort through grants and partnerships, including:

  • (2012) An award from the American Institute of Architects' Sustainable Design Assessment Team program;
  • (2013) The first of man collaborations with The University of Texas at Austin, School of Architecture, Texas Futures Lab;
  • (2013) A grant from the federal Housing and Urban Development, Sustainable Communities program;
  • (2014) A grant from the National Association of Realtors to support community engagement;
  • (2015-2016) An award from the federal Environmental Protection Agency's Greening of America's Capitals program. The EPC partnered with the city for further charrettes and selected and hired CMG Landscape Architects, based in San Francisco, to develop conceptual designs for the public realm plan, using green infrastructure as the organizing feature.
  • (2015-2016) City consultant services of a Texas-based landscape architecture firm, Asakura Robinson, the financial consultant, ECONorthwest, and urban design consultant, McCann Adams Studio, to finalize the plan.

Over the course of these efforts, over sixteen-hundred stakeholders were engaged through workshops, public lectures, walking tours, and charrettes. The series of partnerships and engagement styles resulted in a grassroots buy-in from the community.

 

Creativity + Innovation

The SCW Plan is based on three interrelated approaches, called Frameworks:

Physical: This framework retrofits the district with an interconnected network of streets, blocks, parks and plazas, and open spaces. The physical framework considers: circulation and connectivity, open space, sustainability and green infrastructure, urban design, and distrcit-wide water management to conserve resources and promote water quality.

 

Financial: The financial framework is a comprehensive strategy of capital investments, development incentives, financial tools,a nd public-private partnerships. This strategy provides $100 million to realize the public realm plan and $65 million gap financings to ensure that 20% of the new housing units are affordable.

City Leadership: This framework includes: strategic public investments, institution of recommended regulations, programs, and financial tools, and pursuit of public-private partnerships to build, mange, and maintain the expanded public realm and affordable housing.

 

 

Effectiveness + Results

The SCW Plan provides a place-specific, highly designed example of how many current city policies, Imagine Austin principles, and best practices for sustainability will look like as applied to a redevelopment of a whole district, as opposed to a single site. At final buildout, the SCW Plan results in a gain of 20 acres of new and improved, connected public realm, and 530 units of affordable housing. Other target goals are also identified in terms of reduction of impervious cover, expansion of tree canopy, and quantity of bike and trail connectivity. Likewise, the SCW Plan will implement a battery of finance tools, affordable housing programs, and a district management regime that can be replicated and applied to other rapidly changing areas in our community.

 

Awards + Recognition

The SCW Plan has received recognition by several local and national organizations. Awards include:

  • 2017 Award for Excellence in Sustainability | American Planning Association's Sustainable Communities Division
  • 2017 Honor Award for Planning & Analysis | American Society of Landscape Architects, Texas Chapter
  • 2016 Plan of the Year | American Planning Association, Texas Central Chapter

 

Bringing the Vision to Life

Now that the SCW Plan has been adopted, the real work begins. The SCW Plan proposed a battery of Next Steps that will need to be taken to make the Vision a reality. The City is busy continuing the work and building upon the partnerships that the planning process forged, and lots of exciting things are in the pipeline to implement the SCW Plan recommendations.

Stay tuned and join in as we begin the implementation of the SCW Plan. The best way to stay informed as the plan moves forward is to SUSCRIBE for updates.

 

Subscribe to the SCW mailing list

 

Imagine Austin blog
Oct 15, 2014 - 11:04 am CDT

Discussing food in terms of food security or insecurity was relatively unknown before the 1970s, and wasn’t typically used to describe a family’s socioeconomic situation in the United States. Images of swollen bellies on severely malnourished children and babies in Africa were more commonplace in the 80s, but concern about malnourishment was rarely related to the United States, the world’s hegemon, provider of millions of dollars in aid to countries with severe food insecurity. However, the truth is that food insecurity and malnourishment have existed here in Travis County and have continued to worsen in the three decades since the term was first defined.


Food security means that all people at all times have access to enough food for a healthy, active life (USDA). Seems easy enough, right? We all have access to enough food at all times, right? Unfortunately the answer to those questions is no, especially for the growing low income population. These days we’re surrounded by fast food restaurants, convenience stores, food trailers, and all kinds of places where we can get food at almost any time we choose.  However, such places may not all offer the kinds of nutritious food we need to fulfill a “healthy, active life”.

Those who live where there is a shortage of fresh, healthy, and affordable food live in a ‘food desert’, which are found mostly in urban neighborhoods and rural towns.  Instead of full service grocery stores, these areas have no access to food or only have fast food and convenience stores in their vicinity, where fresh and affordable food is rarely found. For these folks, the term food insecurity applies, defined by the USDA as the “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods.”

While you may not think you fit into these descriptions, according to the USDA and the 2010 Census, more than 38% of the urban (city setting, like Austin, or Pflugerville) population of Travis County is considered food insecure, having low access to fresh, healthy and affordable food.  Nineteen percent of children under 17, 5% of seniors (over 65) and 10% of the urban low income population are food insecure. 

The implications of these statistics are that our waistlines are growing, our health is deteriorating, our physical activity is low and we’re making poor choices when it comes to food. One of the biggest concerns and ironies surrounding food insecurity is the effect it has around our waists. It’s not uncommon for food insecure people to also be overweight or obese.  Twenty four percent of Travis County residents are obese, and of the 19 AISD Middle Schools studied in 2011 by Children’s Optimal Health, 13 had obesity rates over the target percentage of 15% for the student population.  You may wonder how someone who doesn’t have a sufficient level of access to food can be overweight. Turns out, it’s the ‘access to food’ that matters the most.

The location and distance from one person’s home to a full service grocery store, where they can obtain fresh produce, fruits, meats, and dairy products, defines their ‘access to food’.  Five zip codes in Travis County do not have a full service grocery store located within the area boundary, although one of those five does have one immediately outside. However, they do have a few fast food restaurants, convenience stores, ‘grocery marts’, and other quick & easy locations to purchase food.  If you’ve ever gone to a typical convenience store they usually offer food; energy-dense foods like frozen pizzas, ice cream, bologna, milk, hot dogs, and a host of hot food plucked off a rotating hot rod. It’s not exactly fresh, healthy or even affordable. Fast food restaurants have a similar problem in that one meal may contain close to the daily recommended caloric allowance.

The majority of full service grocery stores are located close to I-35 and in abundance in the Western part of the county, as the image to the left indicates. By contrast, the low-income populations and zip codes where food insecurity is the highest are in the Eastern crescent of the county, where it is often a very long distance to the nearest grocery store and people may or may not have access to a vehicle. If a car is not available, people must rely on public transit to get to a full service grocery store, which is not always a convenient or feasible option.

When faced with the obstacles of travel time and cost, perhaps you can see how easy it is to choose the convenience of fast food or grocery marts.  An unfortunate by-product of our food landscape is that the number of low-income individuals who are overweight or obese is growing.  A 2010 study showed that wages were inversely related to BMI and obesity in a nationally representative sample of more than 6,000 adults – meaning, those with low wages were more likely to have a high BMI or be obese (Kim & Leigh, 2010). Our food systems are failing, and without intervention, our future looks lethargic, overweight, and nutritionally challenged.
 

There are a number of organizations working towards a solution, both nationally and here at home in Travis County:

  • The Imagine Austin Healthy Austin Priority Program team has been working in partnership with Health and Human Services to develop a Community Health Improvement Plan, designed to improve a number of policies regarding food systems and food distribution in Austin.
  • This year The City of Austin’s Office of Sustainability created a new Food Policy Manager position to work toward reducing food insecurity in Austin as well as increasing local food production and protecting our natural resources. 
  • The Capital Area Food Bank is the largest provider of solutions for food to Central Texans, working with more than 300 nonprofit social service agencies providing food pantry assistance to residents in need.  Through their Fresh Food for Families and Mobile Food Pantry programs, residents may receive 10 lbs. of fresh food every month.
  • Keep Austin Fed is a local, volunteer run, nonprofit organization working to solve food insecurity by redistributing fresh surplus food from local commercial kitchens to local organizations that aid the hungry.
  • Nationally, The Food Trust is working through policy changes and research in communities around the country to improve and increase access to healthy foods, working corner stores, community centers, farmers markets, and schools.

Imagine Austin blog
Sep 22, 2014 - 07:02 pm CDT

This past Friday, September 19th, four urban parklets located between 3rd and 5th Streets on Congress Avenue popped up in celebration of PARK(ing) Day. This year the parklets were sponsored by the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, Congress for the New Urbanism of Central Texas (CNU), and Zipcar with Movability Austin. PARK(ing) Day is an annual worldwide event where artists, designers, and citizens transform metered parking spots into temporary public parks. The mission of PARK(ing) Day is to call attention to the need for more urban open space, to generate critical debate around how public space is created and allocated, raise awareness in cities about the lack of community-geared public space, and to improve the quality of urban human habitat. The event supports Austin’s Complete Streets Policy to make roadways safe and accommodating for all users and to incorporate green infrastructure.

A group of colleagues gather for a meeting in the parklet.

Imagine Austin collaborated with City of Austin departments to launch PARK(ing) Day as a pilot project. City Departments worked together to convert two parking spots into a people-friendly small park (or “parklet”) at 410 Congress Ave. The Parks and Recreation Department provided Mexican Oak Trees and potted plants from the Urban Forestry and Sustainable Urban Agriculture and Community Gardens Programs. The parklet included a book swap with materials purchased from Recycled Reads, Austin Public Library card sign-up, and a pop-up station to check-out audiobooks and stream free music and movies from the Virtual Library (http://library.austintexas.gov/virtual). Visitors also had the opportunity to contribute to public art, play games, talk to a friend, learn about the City of Austin’s Complete Streets policy, read a book, or think clearly while sitting under shady trees.

Down the street, Congress for the New Urbanism of Central Texas, a group that advocates for more walkable and complete communities, hosted two more parklets. Two pairs of parking spaces on Congress Ave were “adopted” by means of a Parking Permit for the day. In front of Patagonia, on the west side of Congress, one parklet offered an oasis in the city, surrounded by bamboo, providing a Zen seating area, small library, and space for thoughtful exchange. This included a Map Exchange Booth run by the local cartographic collective, Austin’s Atlas. A second parklet, in front of Annie’s Café on the east side of Congress, showcased Austin’s whimsy – games, performers, up cycled furniture, and an interactive art board. These parklets asked community “What is your favorite park memory?” and “What is your favorite parking memory?”

Zipcar initiated the repurposing of two of their parking spots as a place for people to relax and refuel. Zipcar partnered up with Movability Austin, a Transportation Management Association focused on helping employers and employees address the frustrations, costs and health/safely issues facing Austin commuters every day, to create a temporary public park. Every month Movability Austin celebrates alternative commuters with a free breakfast on the streets of downtown and this month they located their Pop Up Breakfast at the Zipcar parklet. Anyone who walks, bikes, carpools, vanpools, carshares, buses, or rides rail to work is welcome for the Commuter Pop Up Breakfast. Zipcar cites that each of its vehicles takes 15 individually owned vehicles off the road, allowing more space for urban parks.

Austin Public Library employees sign up a community member for a library card. The bookshelf hosts a book swap with materials purchased from Recycled Reads.Downtown Austin is comprised of more than 1,050 acres, the streets add up to 34.5% of downtown and parks and open space only consist of 12.3% of the entire area. In any city, the places between buildings need to be designed for people; well-designed, people-friendly places can beautify our city. A typical metered parking space downtown Austin will serve around 6 vehicles a day, while a parklet can serve hundreds who desire safe, attractive and welcoming public space. PARK(ing) Day helps to demonstrate facets of Austin's Complete Street's Policy; maintain and increase Austin's urban forest as a key component of green infrastructure network; integrate public buildings and facilities into active, walkable, complete, healthy communities; encourage new or existing art forms, and expand the city's green infrastructure network.

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Imagine Austin blog
Sep 18, 2014 - 12:19 pm CDT

Affordable housing is a well-known challenge in our fast-growing city. While one person’s definition of affordability may not match with yours, a recent report by HousingWorks Austin, a local affordable housing advocacy organization, takes a closer look at how Austin’s recent general obligation (GO) bond vote can contribute to developing Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) for Austin’s chronically homeless.


According to the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO), there are an estimated 1,987 homeless individuals in Austin on any given night. Of those, 384 are considered chronically homeless, which means that the individual has a disability and has been homeless for a year or longer, or has experienced episodic homelessness over a three-year period. As a group, chronically homeless individuals face unique barriers to housing that are best addressed through a Housing First, Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) model.

In a Housing First approach, access to housing is considered to be the cornerstone of addressing homelessness. Housing is offered to prospective tenants regardless of the barriers to entry, such as chemical dependency, mental health status, financial history, credit issues and some criminal history barriers. Permanent Supportive Housing is unique in that tenants have access to case management and other supportive services they need to fulfill the terms of their tenancy as well as access to a safe, secure, private unit as long as they meet the obligations of tenancy (such as paying rent). Unlike  other housing models, PSH leases do not have any terms that wouldn’t be seen in a lease held by someone not seeking this type of housing; in addition, the services associated with a tenant’s occupancy may change with that individual’s needs. With stable housing through PSH, tenants realize benefits such as increased income and access to services; greater community-wide benefits include decreased reliance on public services, such as hospital visits.

In 2012, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said, "Because, at the end of the day, between shelters and emergency rooms and jails, it costs about $40,000 a year for a homeless person to be on the streets.  According to the Ending Community Homelessness (ECHO) 2014 Permanent Supportive Housing Evaluation, the cost (per encounter) of the chronically homeless to taxpayers in Austin can be estimated as follows:

 

Service Frequently Used

Cost per encounter

Cost per year if all 384 chronically homeless used  these services only once a year*

Downtown Community

Court Case

$31.98

$12,280.32

Daily Jail Bed

$96.71

$37,136.64

Cost of Booking

1 person into jail

$152.71

$58,640.64

Emergency Room Visit

$1400

$537,600

Out Patient Visit

$1300

$499,200

In Patient Visit

$4800

$184,3200

Night In Shelter

$10.41

$3,997.44

Totals

$7,791.81

$2,992,055.04

*-this is not data contained in the ECHO report.
These numbers were calculated by City Shaping News staff.

 It’s important to understand that many the individuals experiencing chronic homelessness are frequent users of these services, meaning it is more likely that they use the services more than once, in fact several times a year. While it is difficult to estimate the impact that PSH has on the cost of these services, ECHO estimates that for the 796 individuals in their study, a reduction of $901,695 in public service costs was observed in the year after they entered PSH.   In cities like New York, each unit of permanent supportive housing saves taxpayers $16,282 in public service costs each year, while the cost of one housing unit is $17,277, a near complete cost offset. In Seattle it is estimated that the savings of PSH is nearly $30,000 per individual per year.  For more information on the number of reductions in each of these services in Austin, download ECHO’s report.

In the HousingWorks report, Housing the Hardest to Serve: Strategies for Addressing Chronic Homelessness, two types of PSH are recommended in Austin: single site PSH and scattered-site. Each of these types has associated benefits and drawbacks. In single site PSH, housing units and the associated supportive services are located at the same site. This facilitates community among the PSH tenants, avoids reliance on outside landlords, and is seen as a long-term solution to chronic homelessness. With this option, however, comes a reliance on one organization to be responsible for all aspects of managing and operating the PSH units and services, and as a result programs can be somewhat restrictive. In scattered-site PSH, units and services are located throughout the city rather than co-located in the same facility. While this option offers tenants flexibility in terms of location, a quicker start-up timeline, and greater community integration, scattered-site PSH is highly reliant on landlord participation and can result in unreliable permanence with regard to housing and inefficient access to services for tenants.

In Austin, some of the major barriers to solving chronic homelessness include credit, rental, and criminal histories of the prospective tenants, market conditions that result in few available housing units, community opposition to PSH, and regulatory barriers at both the state and local level. To address this, HousingWorks developed several recommendations, including working with ECHO to establish a clear definition for PSH and Housing First PSH to be used by all CoC (Continuum of Care) funded agencies, which would facilitate funding priority for this type of housing, identifying the 100 or so chronically homeless who are the highest users of public services as potential PSH clients, dedicating a percentage of the 2013 GO bonds for PSH, and developing programs supportive of PSH landlords in a scattered-site situation.

If you would like more information on how you can get involved in the issue of homelessness or housing affordability in Austin, visit HousingWorks or ECHO webpages, volunteer with a local organization, or strike up a conversation with that homeless person you see on the street.  What you learn may surprise you.

Imagine Austin blog
Aug 25, 2014 - 03:46 pm CDT

Austin is full of iconic places, spaces, and people. As we continue to grow, what would happen if we shaped our community around places, inviting people to create and improve the public places they inhabit? Incorporating artists and their art into the planning process, we create spaces that are unique and reflective of Austin’s spirit and culture. 

Austin is a creative town. We have a vibrant arts culture that has built Austin’s long held reputation for being among the most unique places to live, yet some residents, new and old alike, are disconnected from that creative energy in their daily lives.  Three upcoming creative placemaking projects around town aim to provide residents with an opportunity to change that for the better.

The Drawing Lines project will place one artist (or artist team) in each of the 10 new Austin Council Districts to directly engage in the historic and political transformation currently taking place in Austin through its new citizen-driven council districting process by:

     • helping citizens discover the cultural assets in their district;
     • creating an artwork as an artistic expression of the character and diversity found in each of the 10 Districts;
     • mirroring the larger political processes by bringing the artists together to create a collaborative artwork using their unique voices to represent Austin. 

The thinkEAST Living Charrette unites Austin’s creative communities, city planners, developers, and local residents, through Austin’s preeminent hybrid arts festival, Fusebox Festival, to envision and prototype a creative district of affordable living, working, learning, and exhibition and performance activity on a 24-acre former industrial site in a diverse, economically disadvantaged urban neighborhood in East Austin.

The Creative Action Chestnut Neighborhood Activation Project will implement programs and projects as the non-profit settles into their new home in East Austin where they serve low-income youth and families in the Chestnut and surrounding neighborhoods.

Supporting these projects and a partner in the Drawing Lines Project, Austin’s Cultural Asset Mapping project will create Community Resource Maps with various layers of information that will integrate Austin’s cultural resources across all facets of Austin planning to become a tool for creative economy and social well-being strategy implementation and a guide for investment in the City of Austin’s specific Planning Areas/Initiatives.

Placemaking is defined by how we collectively shape our public realm to maximize shared value. Rooted in community-based participation, placemaking involves the planning, design, management, and programming of public spaces. More than just creating better urban design of public spaces, placemaking facilitates creative patterns of activities and connections (cultural, economic, social, and ecological) that define a place and support its ongoing evolution. Placemaking is about how people collectively and intentionally shape our world and our future on this planet.

If we take placemaking and put artists and arts at the center of planning efforts, what happens? In a recent paper published by the National Endowment for the Arts, Ann Markusen and Anne Gadwa describe creative placemaking as a situation in which "partners from public, private, non-profit, and community sectors strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, city, or region around arts and cultural activities. Creative placemaking animates public and private spaces, rejuvenates structures and streetscapes, improves local business viability and public safety, and brings diverse people together to celebrate, inspire, and be inspired."

While a very good, academic description of creative placemaking, perhaps a more approachable and easily digestable description comes from Maria Rosario Jackson, another expert in the field of creative placemaking. In a 2011 paper entitled Building Community: Making Space for Art, Dr. Jackson describes building communities in which the arts are incorporated on a planning level as vital to creating great places to live, which is something we all strive for.  “Good places to live have more to offer than adequate housing, transportation, jobs, schools, and commercial amenities. They have spaces in which residents can express themselves creatively, connect with one another, and engage in experiences that expand their intellect, imagination, creativity, critical thinking, and even their capacity for compassion and empathy—spaces in which art happens.”

Dr. Jackson is an expert in community revitalization, the roles and measurement of arts and culture in communities, and the dynamics of race and ethnicity in cities. Her work, based on more than 20 years of research, appears in a wide range of publications and presentations she’s made at scores of national and international conferences. She serves on the board of, or is an advisor to, numerous initiatives, programs, governmental agencies, and foundations. In her role as the director of the Culture, Creativity, and Communities Program at the Urban Institute for eighteen years she led research on measuring cultural vitality and the role of arts and culture in community revitalization, the development of art spaces, and support systems for artists.

Dr. Jackson will share her thoughts on creative placemaking, and discuss how using arts and cutlural activities can create more equitable and diverse communities, on Wednesday August 27th at the Asian American Resource Center 6:30-8:30 pm as part of the Creative Placemaking Speaker Series.  RSVP is available here.  For more information on upcoming speakers visit the Creative Placemaking Series website, or call Janet Seibert at 512-974-7860.

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Imagine Austin blog
Aug 25, 2014 - 03:30 pm CDT

Community gardens are usually a grassroots endeavor, led and born of the hard work of volunteers working together to create a shared space to grow food, tucked away in neighborhoods on formerly vacant land.  For the majority of the community gardens in Austin, this holds true; however, the North Austin Community Garden puts a new twist on community gardens in Austin.


In an era of smaller lot sizes and high-rise living, community gardens offer resident the opportunity to connect with the earth and fellow neighbors. The North Austin YMCA takes these goals to a new level. When the North Austin YMCA was built, a percentage of the project cost was set aside for the purchase or commission of an art piece; the YMCA, in partnership with Art in Public Places, chose a community garden as their public art piece in the heart of the Rundberg neighborhood.
In 2012, local artists Lucy Begg and Robert Gay of Thoughtbarn were commissioned to design and build the garden. During the course of the project, the artists worked extensively with the local community through workshops and public events to develop the garden design. They also established the Garden Leadership Group, now led by community volunteers, to develop a governing structure, membership rules, and fees. As a result of these efforts, the garden officially opened for planting on March 29, 2014.

Co-designers Lucy Begg and Robert Gay have worked with the public before on numerous design projects, but say that on this project “public participation was particularly involved. We formed a Garden Leadership Group to manage the transition of the garden into community ownership. They were instrumental in setting up the social infrastructure of the project (by-laws, registration system, membership and site rules), which was as important for the garden’s success as the physical construction.”

The North Austin Community Garden seeks to create a community gathering and work space that includes a teaching pavilion, teaching garden plots, a picnic area, and a butterfly garden. Maintained by volunteers, the garden offers organic gardening workshops through the Sustainable Food Center’s Basic Organic Garden Series, which educates residents and offers opportunities to increase understanding about the importance of nutrition. The garden offers anyone with a home address in the city, or who belongs to the YMCA, the chance at gardening on one of the 48 plots set aside for public use. As of now, most of the plots are full and producing food! There are plans for an expansion in the future, but for now the garden will occupy a beautifully designed space co-created by residents and designers alike.

We're delighted that the North Austin Community Garden has been shortlisted as a finalist for the SXSW Eco 'Place By Design' competition.  The award celebrates "breakthrough ideas in the reinvention of public space".  We were selected along with fourteen other finalists from a pool of applicants around the world. Winners will be announced on October 7th 2014 at the SXSW Eco Awards at the Austin Convention Center. - See more at: http://thoughtbarn.com/news/ymca-community-garden-sxsw-eco-finalist#sthash.1TOKvFy5.enfVvHaF.dpuf

The North Austin Community Garden has been shortlisted as a finalist for the SXSW Eco 'Place By Design' competition.  The award celebrates "breakthrough ideas in the reinvention of public space".  They were selected along with fourteen other finalists from a pool of applicants around the world. Winners will be announced on October 7th 2014 at the SXSW Eco Awards at the Austin Convention Center.

There are 50 community gardens in Austin -some on private land others on public- producing more than 100,000 pounds of fresh produce every year on a combined total of 3.6 acres. Each garden is different in size, plots available, and eligibility to garden.  If you’d like to get involved with a community garden near you, check the Coalition of Austin Community Garden’s website to locate and learn more.

Imagine Austin blog
Jul 31, 2014 - 12:54 pm CDT

There are 29 City Council Adopted Neighborhood Plans and 32 Neighborhood Plan Contact Teams.  That represents a lot of work on behalf of the community, city staff and neighborhood plan contact teams.

In an effort to assist contact teams I will begin to hold Consultation Hours, beginning August 12, 2014. Tuesday afternoons, 12pm – 2pm, I will field your calls and emails and may even reach out to you.

The goal of this effort is to encourage contact between myself and the contact team volunteers who work to implement your Neighborhood Plan. PDRD Staff recognizes that Contact team members are volunteers on behalf of their community and I want to work proactively with you to successfully fulfill your roles and responsibilities.

Of course I remain available throughout the business day, at your convenience, but I hope these new consultation hours will become a reminder to you and your team that a window of opportunity exists (Tuesdays 12-2) to get assistance on any contact team related issue.

So…If you have a lingering question, are unsure about an expectation of your team, need to brainstorm a strategy or even if you want to share some of your team’s successes – go ahead and give me a call on Tuesdays from 12pm – 2pm – I’m here to assist!

Margaret Valenti; City of Austin Contact Team Coordinator,
Margaret.valenti@austintexas.gov
(512) 974-2648

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Imagine Austin blog
Jul 23, 2014 - 10:40 am CDT

If you’ve ever driven east on Martin Luther King Jr Blvd you might have missed the stretch of greenbelt that extends north as you pass Pershing Drive and the stream that runs through it. Although this area is a park, it is dominated by fast cars moving through the neighborhood, offers no shade or places to sit, is without sidewalks, and is uninviting

Historically, the area was overshadowed by the airport, and is often a cut-through for traffic. Pershing Drive was constructed through the middle of the greenbelt, bisecting the creek that runs through it. In an effort to reconnect the greenbelt and neighborhood, the surrounding neighborhood and several city departments have worked together on the JJ Seabrook Stream Restoration, Rain Garden and Urban Trail Project. This project aims to bring the JJ Seabrook Neighborhood together, physically and communally by:

  •     Restoring the stream that runs through the greenbelt
  •     Reducing pollution from urban storm water runoff
  •     Building a park trail within the greenbelt
  •     Repurposing a roadway to an urban trail
  •     Reconfiguring intersections and streets along the area to reduce vehicular speed through the neighborhood.

These efforts will help to create a place where residents can walk or bike, enhancing their connection to both the natural environment and their neighbors.

Designated as a capital improvements project using funding from the 2006, 2010 and 2012 bond programs and drainage utility fee, the project will include restoring 900 feet of the creek, building a pedestrian bridge, repurposing a road that bisects the greenbelt, building 1,840 feet of urban trail and 2,310 of park trails, planting a  variety of native trees including sycamore and pecan trees, and constructing 2 beautiful rain gardens. This ambitious project brings together goals expressed in the JJ Seabrook master plan , The Watershed Protection Master Plan, and the work of five Imagine Austin Priority Program Teams.

Lauren Stanley, Secretary of the JJ Seabrook Neighborhood Association, says this project gives the area “a chance to heal that cut and the creek, remove the awkward culvert, and bind the green space together. It's been seen as the heart of the neighborhood, so symbolically and literally, it means a lot to be getting this attention. It’s more about creating a beautiful lull, a park, a green space and improvement internally.”

Residents and City staff have worked side-by-side to make this vision for the neighborhood a reality. City staff attended several neighborhood meetings to get feedback on the design plan, and Watershed Protection staff taught residents how to build a rain garden similar to those in the design plan. These efforts are building on previous initiatives by neighborhood residents to improve the greenbelt. In 2010, the neighborhood association used Keep Austin Beautiful grant funding to increase animal and plant life found in the greenbelt, installing a Purple Martin housing system, bat boxes, and a chimney swift tower. The most recent improvements will enhance the work the neighborhood has done to transform the greenbelt into an environmentally friendly and recreationally useful neighborhood asset.  For more information on the project, contact Kristin Pipkin at (512) 974-3315.

Imagine Austin blog
Jul 23, 2014 - 10:22 am CDT

In Central Texas water is a big deal, especially in the summer when the temperatures start to climb. For many, respite is found in the cool waters of nearby swimming holes, many of which are fed by creeks and streams and springs that feed into the Colorado River. The quality of these waters is important, and keeping a close eye on them takes the work of many, including a number of teenagers from Austin high schools.

Partnering with nine Austin high schools, Austin Youth River Watch works with teenagers to teach them to be environmental stewards through holistic youth development activities that focus on academic and environmental success. Students, known as River Watchers , work in teams of 10, each visiting one of 25 stream and river sites around the city to conduct a number of water quality tests and report their findings to the City of Austin and the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA). The collected data is published online as part of a wider water quality database maintained by the LCRA for use in tracking long-term trends in water quality. 

Starting this fall, River Watchers will begin work on 10 stream improvement sites helping to increase ecosystem diversity and drought resistance, bank stabilization, and trail building. These stream improvement projects will take place after school hours and will include a student-led weekend work day with community volunteers. In addition to the students in the school year program, nearly 30 more students will participate during the summer.

Scientists from the City of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department will offer Austin Youth River Watch staff and students training in stream restoration strategies, and they will help prioritize stream and river areas that need the most help and are also the best fit for students’ projects. It’s a powerful experience for students to take the lead on enhancing, restoring, and maintaining stream and river areas throughout watersheds in the Austin area.

Every participating student will work in a small group to plan, execute, and evaluate at least one project per year. Together, these efforts will result in a minimum of 10 projects per year benefitting Austin-area streams and the ecosystems they support. Following each project, students will continue to monitor various water quality indicators including nitrates, temperature, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, turbidity and pH. Students will also monitor vegetation growth as relevant to each project. As a function of this work, students will learn about riparian ecology, habitat functionality, and stream restoration.
With 120 students each year, Austin Youth River Watch boasts a near 100% graduation rate.  Each student averages 14 hours a month working on River Watch activities, including skill building in other academic subjects and preparing them for real world success beyond high school and their time with Austin Youth River Watch.

So will Austin’s youth save the planet? Maybe so! On July 29th Austin Youth River Watch is hosting A Community Forum on Austin Teens and the Environment to help answer the question of what support our teenagers need to become life-long environmental stewards. If you’d like to learn more about Austin Youth River Watch’s work , try attending one of their interactive Next Steps programs for a chance to meet some of the students as they work.

Imagine Austin blog