An Austin for Everyone
AURA’s Platform for Austin.
We love our city. We want anyone and everyone who wants to call themselves an Austinite to have the opportunity to do so. We want an Austin where everybody is welcome and everybody’s interests matter: young and old, rich and poor, renter and homeowner, healthy and sick, citizen and immigrant, lifelong resident and new arrival. The greatest asset our city has is its people, and our city is at its best when it facilitates connections between those people: cultural, economic, and social. The policies we lay out below are based on our beliefs for how Austin can achieve these goals.
Land Use, Housing, and Affordability
Austin is a popular place. Thousands of people move here every month from across Texas, the country, and the world. Some move here for Austin’s famous culture, some move here for our vibrant economy, and some for the city’s beauty. Still others stay here, or return home, due to their family roots and rich history. As long as there are people who want to make Austin their home, for whatever reason, we strive to provide enough homes for all of them. To do this, we need abundant housing of all types, from smaller apartment buildings and garage apartments in established neighborhoods to downtown skyscrapers to single-family housing.
When Austin has enough homes to accommodate all those who wish to live here, housing will be more affordable across the entire housing market. Abundant housing creates diverse neighborhoods of people from different economic, racial, and familial statuses, and prevents the displacement of economically disadvantaged residents. However, there will always be a need to provide for those who need it most. Public subsidy should be focused on those most in need, using proven programs such as the Housing First model of addressing homelessness.
Welcoming to Students
Many Austinites are students at the University of Texas, Austin Community College, and other local universities, and many more are alumni who decided to stay in the city they learned to love. Austin needs to intentionally accommodate students so it’s easy for them to find affordable housing and work. We encourage UT, with the largest population of students, to build more on-campus housing, which would allow for more walking, biking, and transit use for students. Relaxing occupancy limits, allowing dense housing near campuses, and partnering with universities on housing and transportation are important ways to demonstrate that Austin embraces higher education.
Reduce or Eliminate Parking Requirements
The requirements for off-street parking are a particularly onerous burden preventing abundant housing, promoting private automobile usage, and raising the cost of living across the board. By requiring all city residents and businesses to bear one of the major expenses of automobiles (parking), these requirements subsidize driving and tilt the scales toward greater automobile usage and away from alternative means of transportation.
Every parking space that is required but not used fully takes up space that could have been better utilized, either for more housing or for more green space. Further, parking structures are difficult to repurpose, exacerbating the parking oversupply problem. Finally, requiring parking even on small lots ends up forcing smaller commercial lots to be joined together into single, larger lots before they can be redeveloped, leading to more expensive and less appealing projects. Look at the individual storefronts on a street like Congress – eliminating parking requirements could make many more of our greatest streets look like that someday!
Parking requirements should be reduced for all uses citywide, allowing homeowners and business owners to decide the right levels of parking for their own needs.
Managed Historical Preservation
Historical preservation policies should be used to provide continuity with the past, not obstruct the future. Historical preservation programs are an important tool we can use to commemorate our past and preserve our shared heritage. However, when applied too often and too broadly they run the risk of trapping the city in amber and constraining the opportunities of all Austinites. Although the past is important, Austin shouldn’t be an architectural museum, but rather a place where people live that changes as we do.
In order to ensure that truly worthy landmarks get the protection they deserve, we support reasonable limitations on the use of historic preservation. This will strike a balance between the interest of all city residents in preserving a connection to our past and the opportunities unleashed by allowing our city to adapt and change to respond to changing circumstances.
Child-Friendly Urban Spaces
Kids thrive in urban spaces as well as suburban ones! We want to see more people of all ages in the heart of our city. We need to permit the construction of more housing, including multi-family dwellings, within our urban core neighborhoods, close to parks and under-capacity, high quality public schools. We need walkable, connected, pedestrian-friendly streets and sidewalks near parks and schools to help families get out of their cars and on their feet and bikes. Children like being around other children much more than they like the large yards mandated by Austin’s high minimum lot sizes. These large required yards drive up costs and make living in Central Austin more expensive for families. When more families can afford to live in Austin’s historic neighborhoods, the schools in those neighborhoods will get more funding, survive, and thrive.
Connected Street Grid
Connections between streets create connections between people. Whenever possible, in both new developments and existing neighborhoods, streets should be connected through elimination of dead ends and maintenance of regular, short blocks. Travel capacity is best achieved through the creation of multiple, alternative routes on roads small enough to make pedestrians and cyclists comfortable. With connected streets, travel trips are shorter, facilitating more trips on foot and bicycle and shorter trips in cars, reducing traffic and improving human-level connections.
Having more streets makes it easier for residents to get around and makes it easier to provide transit. All of Austin could benefit from extending the central neighborhood street grids that are part of these neighborhoods’ charm. We support reasonable regulations that encourage buildings to foster a pedestrian-friendly and bike-friendly environment.
More connected streets will provide bikers, walkers, and transit riders a safer, better way to downtown, and provide congestion relief for everyone.
More and Better Public Transportation
Austin’s core is a significant source of our prosperity, but the roads that lead to it are full. We need to move more people on those roads, and public transit in its own traffic-proof lane is the cheapest proven way to get more people to and from Downtown and UT. Putting transit above or below streets is another option. Continuing to prioritize drivers over transit riders is not an option.
Furthermore, an Austin for everyone will necessarily be a denser Austin. The denser a city gets, the more effective public transportation becomes and the more ineffective cars become. Buses and trains must become first-class modes of transportation for everyone, not just those paying a higher fare. This means more street lanes dedicated to transit, more money dedicated to transit, and more focus on serving the most riders and less on geographic coverage. Transit should not be viewed as merely a relief valve to reduce congestion for automobiles, but as a primary means of transportation.
To get the most benefits from our transportation investments, we must prioritize existing density and allow additional, abundant housing near transit stops. Policies that limit density near our best transit lines must be reversed.
Managed On-Street Parking
Excessive off-street parking sometimes results in the underutilization of our public streets, some of our city’s most valuable resources. Wider use of on-street parking could accommodate a significant fraction of the city’s current and future parking needs, reducing the amount of land devoted to parking garages or surface lots. An empty street is a wasted street.
Further, curbside parking acts as a traffic calming device, reducing automobile speeds and improving safety. The buffer between moving traffic and the sidewalk also reduces perceived noise and helps to make pedestrians feel more comfortable.
However, at the places and times where parking demand is highest, street parking that is free or underpriced is quickly filled. The result is that people waste time hunting for spots, worsening congestion for everyone while they do so. Curbside parking should be priced to ensure that while the majority of spots are filled on high demand streets, some spots are always relatively easy to find. Changing prices based on demand can help to ensure that on-street parking is readily available and can be a good source of revenue to benefit affected neighborhoods.
Vehicles for Hire
Having an abundant supply of taxis and other vehicles for hire makes it easier to live in the city without a car. When people know that it’s cheap and easy to get a ride when they really need one, they are more likely to forgo the hassle and expense of car ownership. Every citizen that relies primarily on walking, biking, and transit to get around helps to improve traffic and air quality in Austin.
Abundant taxis and cars for hire also make it cheaper and easier to get rides to and from downtown and major events, easing the demand for parking and providing better alternatives to driving under the influence. Our limited number of taxis is regularly overwhelmed during periods of high demand, making it nearly impossible for people to get rides when they need them most. New car and ride sharing services offer the possibility of dynamically increasing the supply of drivers to meet demand, providing better availability to the consumer and valuable incomes to drivers.
Austin’s economy consistently outperforms that of the nation and the state. People move here to find good jobs and improve their lives, and they do; we’ve had an excellent record of job growth and increases in average wages for years. Moving to Austin isn’t just good for our new residents. When people move here, their talents, resources, and connections enrich us all. Every new Austinite is a new potential employee to attract employers, a new customer for businesses, and a new collaborator to help spark start-ups. Abundant housing will allow more people to participate, benefiting the city as a whole.
An Open Economy
Our city can be a vehicle for economic prosperity, or it can create stumbling blocks to shared economic opportunity. Many longtime Austinites are land rich but cash poor and could benefit substantially from extra dwelling units and short term rentals of bedrooms or the whole house during periods of high demand. Allowing visitors to overflow from hotels into people’s homes would give all Austinites, not just international hotel chains, the opportunity to benefit from the large festivals that draw people to our city. Expanding short term rental rights also means fewer blocks of precious downtown real-estate devoted to hotel development, because peak demand is met by residents.
Allowing vehicles for hire similarly helps Austin to meet peak demand for cars in a way that allows more of our citizens to benefit from Austin’s robust growth and prosperity. Car and ride sharing services allow drivers to make extra income in the few hours of downtime they have to help meet rent.
Allowing private individuals and urban farms to grow on spare residential acreage helps people to make ends meet and can provide healthy and affordable food for the community. People shouldn’t be prohibited from selling the food they grow in their backyards, so long as it meets any applicable health standards.
Starting a new business in Austin can take far too long to get all of the permitting required to open, including complex site plans, onerous parking requirements, inapplicable obligations, and other rules add up to a tiresome and ultimately expensive prospect. More businesses in our neighborhoods leads to fewer needs for car trips out of our neighborhoods. Austin’s growth means we need more and better jobs, and making it hard on small businesses harms everyone. Local regulations should instead allow more than one use for land, be designed simply and clearly so that businesses have a clear path to compliance, and should only be imposed when they provide a clear public benefit.
We need targeted programs to help low-income residents impacted by redevelopment. Austin’s growth presents special challenges for central city, historically African-American and Latino communities, and we recognize that these communities are experiencing high rates of dislocation. Low-income housing should be built where residents have access to education, jobs, and high quality transit. Historic segregation rules have created a divided city, and abundant housing, better public transportation, and lower barriers to job creation for new businesses can help to stem the tide of poorer Austinites and people of color being forced out of their homes and into the suburbs, with longer commutes, expensive transportation costs, and lack of access to services and amenities that are available in the central city. Gentrification can be delayed or avoided when Austin’s land development code is changed to allow more people to live in the desirable central parts of town to relieve the intense redevelopment pressure on neighborhoods that are historically working-class. Central Austin shouldn’t become a place where only the wealthy can afford to live.
Dense, urban development uses less land, water, electricity, transportation fuel, and other resources per person. Environmental review should look at the big picture – not just this tree cut down, but the total carbon, water, and biodiversity footprint of the change, compared to housing the would-be occupants elsewhere. Suburbs that develop new land are generally much more ecologically destructive than infill and redevelopment inside the city. Therefore, far more damage will be done to Central Texas if rules attempting to protect the environment push more people into the more environmentally-damaging suburban development pattern.
Adopted by our membership at the organizational meeting on March 30, 2014. Amended by membership vote October 24, 2015.