Austin, A Small Town or City?
We have been living in Austin for going on 3 years. We landed here in the city limits but in a somewhat suburban feeling area that is about 13 miles from the downtown core. We have certainly felt isolated after living in the city of Chicago for 13 years prior. Chicago has been on an upward urban trend for all of the time that we lived there. Our lives depended on transportation systems, our neighborhood with our friends and places to eat and go for fun. We did have a car, but did not have to depend on it to get anywhere. We came to love the streets of our neighborhood where people gathered at the farmers market and for festivals. Our decision to move was brought on my our jobs and opportunities back in our home state. Our transition to this town was not easy. It was probably one of the toughest transitions I have had as an adult. Although my husband and I grew up in here, we came to think of Texas, and all cities in it, as individualistic places where community was not what inspired city life. Transit has been a point of contention in Austin for as long as I can remember, and people drive everywhere. We chose to live where we do because it seemed as good as anywhere else in the city. When we drove around we saw neighborhoods that lacked a town center or gathering places and didn't even have sidewalks.
Now that we are returning, we landed in a place that is truly at a crossroads. Having lived in Dallas, we experienced some "return to the city" ideas but the city remained truly a car town. Austin, is in a different place and at a different time. Being a very millennial town as well, it has the opportunity to develop in a different way than its peers. Being urban nerds, we researched plans that are in place to make Austin more neighborhood centric and that value walking and biking as alternate modes of transportation, and most excitingly, transit plans that will make this a place where you can ditch your car altogether. The disappointing things still remain that PUD's are the developer route of choice. These developments tend to ignore what is already in place in a neighborhood and create a little enclave of homogenous housing. We are huge fans of great urban infill as housing, live work and as mixed use buildings. We also know that to be a great city you also need great civic places for people to gather and play. We are hopeful that we can identify some of those places around central Austin.
Austin is a place that has all of the ingredients to be a truly walkable, bikable, transit oriented city of neighborhoods. As designers, we are passionate about cities that are places for diversity of people, with co-mingling and love of place expressed by care of home and neighborhood. We see our current role as simply living in the city and being a part of the fabric, and as designers to observe and react to what we see. We are moving to a home in the central Austin neighborhood, Highland. We are anxious to know what people love about that part of Austin, and how we can influence positive change in that area. We are thinking about how great cities like Chicago came to be and how the voices of designers and architect shaped that. Having a vision at the micro level but also seeing how those small changes affect the whole.