The Imagine Austin Speaker Series is an opportunity to promote and implement the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan through shared dialogue and mutual learning. We invite targeted thought leaders from around the nation to give talks on various subjects to promote and implement the vision and policies set forth in Imagine Austin.


Past Speaker Series


Hot Topic: Go Solar!

Tim Harvey, Austin Energy's Solar Program

Wednesday, July 31

Description: Are you ready to power up with sunshine and savings? Austinites are embracing solar as a clean, green, alternative source of power. Watch the presentation to learn about solar-powered system basics, incentives and financing options, and comparing bids and selecting a contractor; and hear from local experts as they discuss the financial and environmental advantages to switching to solar.


Census 2020: Expectations and Challenges for Central Texas

Ryan Robinson, City Demographer

Friday, June 14

Description: The nation’s decennial census touches virtually every person and household in the country. It reflects our racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity and is a major foundation of our nation’s representative democracy. Its data informs decisions related to redistricting and the number of seats per state in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Electoral College vote, and benchmarks in federal civil rights and anti-discrimination laws. Census data is also used to determine distribution of federal financial assistance to local communities, public and private investments, and state and local budgeting.

City Demographer Ryan Robinson presents dynamic demographic trends and the political and social impact the 2020 Census might have on Central Texas.

Real Solutions that are Ending Homelessness

Eva Thibaudeau-Graczyk, Houston Coalition for the Homeless

Kerry O'Connor, City of Austin

Alan Graham, Mobile Loaves & Fishes and Community First! Village

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Description: Experts in the field of addressing homelessness discuss their varying approaches to their work. Learn more about projects and programs that have been implemented in Austin and Houston to reduce homelessness.

IA Speaker Series. Mobility Justice: People Power & the Future of Urban Transportation

Mobility Justice: People Power & the Future of Urban Transportation

Dr. Adonia E. Lugo, Affiliate Faculty in Urban Sustainability at Antioch University Los Angeles

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Description: Dr. Lugo shares her work on building a movement called "mobility justice," the practice of accounting for the diverse vulnerabilities that individuals carry with them as they travel through shared public spaces. How can cities, including Austin, use mobility justice to guide future investment in transportation systems? What is Austin doing right now to offer more affordable mobility options for vulnerable populations and communities?


Uprooted: Displacement in Austin's Neighborhoods and What Can Be Done About It

Dr. Elizabeth Mueller, Associate Professor of Community and Regional Planning at the University of Texas at Austin

Dr. Jake Wegman, Associate Professor of Community and Regional Planning at the University of Texas at Austin

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Description: Author's of a year-long gentrification study in Austin present  their findings around a series of pressing questions: Where is gentrification taking place in Austin? What strategies have been success in reducing displacement in Austin and other cities? How should the City of Austin move forward?

Link to the study and maps:

Building Community Resilience

Wendy Ellis, Director of the Building Community Resilience Collaborative

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Description: George Washington University's Wendy Ellis discusses Building Community Reslience, a national collaborative that seeks to improve the health and life outcomes of children, families, and communities. The speaker focuses on helping Austin communities not only "bounce back" in the face of adversity, but bound forward into a more sustainable future.



Tackling Household Affordability, Displacement, and Gentrification

Karen Chapple, co-founder of the Urban Displacement Project

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Description: University of California Berkley Professor, Karen Chapple discusses approaches and solutions to tackling affordability and gentrification in the face of stagnant wages and increasing housing prices.


Neighborhood Housing and Comunity Development



The Nature Prescription: Designing Cities for Health and Happiness

Tim Beatley, PhD,  Founder of the Biophilic Cities Network

March 29th, 2017

Description: In this talk, Tim Beatley discusses the new planning and design agenda of biophilic urbanism and the need for cities to shift towards a more nature integrative approach. Drawing from his research findings and the Biophilic Cities Project, Beatley surveys globally emerging practices of biophilic urbanism and present some of the tools, techniques, and strategies available to advance the vision of nature in cities.



A False Prosperity: The Hidden Cost of Suburban Sprawl

Chuck Marohn, PE, AICP

October 26, 2016

Description: Founder of Strong Towns, Chuck Marohn discusses the relationship between mobility, household affordability, and suburban sprawl, including the pitfalls of auto-oriented development. Mr. Marohn also presents his approach to building more connected, sustainable, and prosperous neighborhoods.


The City that Lost a Million Pounds

Mick Cornett, Mayor of Oklahoma City

March 9, 2016

Description: Speaker Mick Cornett, Mayor of Oklahoma City, implemented a series of changes in his city including installing new sidewalks, parks, and other place-making features and amenities to get his community moving. In this talk, he explains how the city of Oklahoma collectively lost over a million pounds as a result of strategic efforts.


Eco-Apartheid and Giving Voice to the Voiceless

Dr. Antwi Akom, Professor at San Francisco State University and co-founder of I-SEEED

December 9, 2015

Description: Speaker Dr. Antwi Akom, Associate Professor of Environmental Sociology, Public Health, and STEM Education at San Francisco State University and co-founder of the Institute for Sustainable Economic, Educational, and Environmental Design (I-SEEED), speaks about how we can create links between community place-making, green infrastructure, and neighborhood advocacy to make great neighborhoods. He explores what Austin can do to increase community participation in economically disadvantaged communities to create more neighborhood activists and leaders and provides insight on how we can build a vibrant, resilient, and diverse economy that celebrates innovation and creativity, provides equitable opportunities for all people, and protects the environment.


Water Forward: Planning for the Next 100 Years

Greg Meszaros and Sharlene Leurig

August 3, 2016

Description: Austin is one of the fastest growing cities in the country. With a rapidly growing city and changing climate, Austin Water is working with other City departments, a citizen task force, and the community to develop a water plan for the next century. This 100 year water plan will help ensure a diversified, sustainable, and resilient water future while maintaining a strong emphasis on conservation.

Check out the video for a riveting conversation about Water Forward with Austin Water director, Greg Meszaros, and task force chair, Sharlene Leurig, as they share insights on the importance of creating a long-term plan that will help secure Austin's water supply for future generations.

Power Up! Placemaking Through Art & Renewable Energy

Elizabeth Monoian and Robert Ferry, founders of the Land Art Generator

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Description: The great energy transition will have an impact on our built environment, our parks, our culture, and our visual landscape like no other technical shift since the automobile. By presenting examples of utility-scale renewable energy infrastructure as public art, the Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI) is inspiring the public about the beauty of our sustainable future and showing policy makers and city planners that distributed energy resources can be placemaking tools, economic development drivers, and educational venues while they help to power the grid and implement a clean energy revolution.


An Age-Friendly Austin: Supporting Vibrant Intergenerational Communities

Jana Lynott, AICP, MA

November 17, 2016

Description: Jana Lynott of AARP Policy Institute presents synthesized data using AARP's Livability Index to illustrate challenges and opportunities for Austin's aging population. Council person Anne Kitchen, Dr. Philip Huang, and Dr. Erica Garcia-Pittman respond to the index scores and discuss how the Age-Friendly Action Plan and the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan are offering solutions to index data and what else is needed to advance Austin as an age-friendly community.

the video recording from this event is not available

Zero Waste Home: Living Waste Free

Bea Johnson, author of Zero Waste Home

February 15, 2017

Description: Bea and her family are dedicated to living a Zero Waste lifestyle and generate a mere quart of waste per year. In her talk, she'll share insight into her lifestyle and provide listeners with practical solutions to living simply and reducing needless waste. She'll cover the importance of applying the 5R's (Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot) and also the health benefits, and time and money savings that come with less waste.

This event compliments the City of Austin's goals to reach Zero Waste by 2040, which means keeping at least 90% of discarded materials out of landfills. Visit to learn more.

Why Parks Matter and How Cities Can Benefit

Gia Biagi

May 25, 2015

Description: Urban parks play a vital role in cities as a critical part of civic infrastructure that promotes community engagement, improves health outcomes, drives economic development, and contributes to more resilient, safe, and sustainable communities. | Speaker Gia Biagi, Senior Direction for Urbanism and Civic Impact at Studio Gang, is a strategic thinker who connects ideas with action and is widely regarded as a thought leader in preservation, enhancement, and expansion of urban public space.

Texas Next: Beyond the Miracle and Boom

Richard Parker, author of Lone Star Nation: How Texas Will Transform America

Wednesday, February 28, 2018 

Description: Richard Parker says the Texas miracle is over as are the boom years. He traces major migrations to Texas and how they changed the Lone Star State. In this talk, he addresses how the latest boom in population will change Texas and foresees denser urban areas, fiercer economic competition with other states, and big challenges ahead - all of which spell the likely end of the dominance of far-right conservatives in Texas after decades of being in power.


Invest In Your Local Parks...It's Good for Your Health

Dr. Deborah Cohen, Author and Senior Scientist at RAND Corps.

November 30, 2016

Description: Dr. Cohen presents compelling research about neighborhood parks and community health. In her talk, we explore key findings from several recent studies focused on understanding how parks are used and how park policies, practices, features, and characteristics are associated with park use and park-based physical activity.


Landscape Architecture: Strategic Thinking at Waller Creek and Beyond

Gullivar Shepard

September 21, 2016

Description: Speaker Gullivar Shepard of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc. discusses complicated landscape contexts and strategic thinking that have enabled the realization of transformative projects for several growing cities. The Waller Creek Chain of Parks project is presented as a reflection upon how landscape planning moves beyond aesthetic place-making to help shape the context of Austin's current growth.


Breaking the Traditional Cycle of Water Planning in our Region

Greg Meszaros and John Hofmann

June 24, 2015

Description: Speakers Greg Meszaros, Director of Austin Water, and John Hofmann, Executive VP with the Lower Colorado River Authority, answer questions addressing water planning and climate change ranging in subjects from droughts to flooding, climate change in the central Texas area, and the preservation of our water resources.


Creating Vibrant Green Cities: Lessons from Seoul, South Korea and San Marcos

Dr. Thomas Hardy and Matthew Lewis

April 1, 2015

Description: Speakers Thomas Hardy and Matthew Lewis discuss the lessons learned from two great green infrastructure projects located an ocean away. Dr. Hardy is one of the principal designers of the Cheonggyecheon River Project in Seoul, South Korea. The Cheonggyecheon River was an all but forgotten river under the shadow of an elevated highway in the heart of Seoul, which was transformed into a 3.5 mile metropolitan scale green infrastructure park through an unprecedented effort of urban planning and design. Completed in 2005, this project is the core of a multifaceted ecological, cultural, and economic redevelopment. Matt Lewis, former Planning Director of the City of San Marcos, discusses how they used the local watershed to inform development decisions and promote sustainable design to green up the city. Discussion includes the social and cultural benefits of green infrastructure.


Designing Great Cities: Great Streets

Victor Dover

October 30, 2015

Description: Speaker Victor Dover, co-founder of Dover, Kohl, & Partners Town Planning, discusses how we can elevate Austin by creating streets that are beautiful and memorable places. He shares inspiring images and examples from the great cities and boulevards of history. He also showcases the specific design elements that add up to great, inviting streets and cities. This talk challenges Austinites to set a high standard for handsome streets that generate civic pride.


Integrating Nature into the City

Dr. Frances Kuo

December 10, 2014

Description: Speakers Dr. Frances Kuo, director of the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Patrick Murphy, former COA Environmental Officer and Assistant Director of the Watershed Proection Department, and Laine Cidlowski, project manager for the Sustainable DC initiative for the District's Office of Planning, provide a variety of perspectives on the topic of integrating nature into the city.


Balancing Will and Skill: The Austin Job Market and Your Education

Richard Foeschule

October 29, 2014

Description: Austin continues to be one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, but as the economy expands, not all industries, occupations, and skillsets are growing at the same pace. Speaker Richard Froeschle, labor market consultant and former director fo the Labor Market and Career Information Department of the Texas Workforce Commission,  discusses the demographic, structural, and business factors influencing future job creation and worker skill requirements in Texas.



Creative Placemaking

Mark Stern

September 18, 2014

Description: Speaker Mark Stern, professor of Social Policy, co-director of the Urban Studies program, and principal investigator for the Social Impact of the Arts Project at the University of Pennsylvania, conducts a multi-city study to explore how arts and culture influence the economic and social well-being of urban neighborhoods. He presents his multi-dimensional approach to well-being, some of his findings from Philadelphia, as well as plans for Austin, one of the cities being studied.


It All Adds Up to Walking: Health, Economics, and Sustainability

Jeff Speck

May 6, 2014

Description: Speaker Jeff Speck, author, planner, and consultant,  shares important health, economic, and sustainability information on walkable cities and presenting the health and safety benefits of walkable places. He also addresses how many health, affordability, and environmental benefits can be brought about by ensuring that cities mature and redevelop as walkable places.


Linking Imagine Austin's Vision to Reality: Best Practices in Development Review Panel

Theresa O'Donnell, Peter Park, Mark White, Paul Zucker

October 15, 2013

Description: Speakers Theresa O'Donnell, LaShondra Holmes Stringfellow, Peter Park, Mark White, and Paul Zucker, discuss ways to improve the development review process and share best practices in development review in order to inform Austin's Land Development Code update (CodeNEXT).


Realistic Imagination: South Shore Central and the Analytic Tool

John Fregonese

May 13, 2013

Description: Speaker John Fregonese, nationally recognized planner, expalins how the an influential analytic tool inputs zoning conditions (such as height, setbacks, landscaping, and parking requirements, etc) and assesses community desires (trails and street connections, housing, innovative stormwater management, etc) to evaluate how the district may redevelop and what economic pro forma criteria are necessary. Watch and learn more about how a tool that economically calibrates actual costs of business can ensure a return on investment based on different scenarios.


Innovative Walking Initiatives

Scott Bricker

May 2, 2013

Description: Speaker Scott Bricker, national expert on fostering walkable communities with the organization America Walks, discusses creative ways to get communities involved in walking initiatives through investments, policies, and practices. Mr. Bricker's presentation is accompanied by Thomas Schmidt of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and City of Austin staff from Austin Transportation, Planning and Development Review, and Public Works as they share their research and findings on community health and multimodal transportation.


Four Cities. Four Land Development Codes. Hear their Stories.


February 27, 2013

Description: In preparation of Austin's CodeNEXT, a complete revision of the city's land development code, we listen to the stories of Denver, Raleigh, Dallas, and Madison in order to learn from their experiences revising their own land development codes.


Retofitting Suburban Spaces into Lively Places

Ellen Dunham-Jones

January 24, 2013

Description: Speaker Ellen Dunham-Jones, a renowed expert on urban and suburban design, shares what causes failing suburban properties and how Austin can retrofit neighborhoods to make them more vibrant, livable, and connected.


Development Trends Toward Walkable Urbanism

Christopher Leinberger

September 18, 2012

Description: Speaker Christopher Leinberger, a real estate developer and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institute, shares how Austin can capitalize on new market opportunities in real estate development to create vibrant and walkable neighborhoods.


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