This is a big week for Austin — and I’m officially declaring Tuesday as Austin Everybody Chill Out Day. Though any day is a good day to take a deep breath, relax and focus on the task ahead, it’s especially salient for us on Tuesday because that’s the day we all get our first look at the initial draft of the CodeNext map.
The map will be the first round of applying new zoning classifications citywide as part of the overdue rewrite of Austin’s horribly outdated land-use code, which governs what can be built where. The CodeNext process will help us manage our explosive growth while preserving what makes Austin special. We have to act and need to begin now — and this map is where we start.
Though there are some folks with a lot of anxiety about the first CodeNext map, all we know for certain is that the first map won’t look like the last map. We — you, me, the City Council and everyone — have almost a year to make changes. The map you’ll see on Tuesday is a big step, to be sure — but it’s only a first step. I hope and trust it will move us toward increasing our housing supply while protecting the character and quality of life in our neighborhoods.
The map will have no absolute right answer. The best answer is the one that best brings us together. Let’s find that answer.
Let’s set the goal of not ending this process with a divided, hurt and angry community. A year from now, after our new land development code and zoning map are adopted, we all still have to live together in this magical city — and we’re going to have other issues that will require us to work together. A house divided against itself cannot stand — and it’s almost impossible to build in the first place.
Most people are going to take a look at the map and see the rough outlines of a better path toward protecting our neighborhoods and delivering the increased housing supply we need to make Austin more affordable. That’s the “Austin Bargain” that I proposed several months ago as foreshadowed in the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan this city resoundingly adopted nearly five years ago.
However, some will unfortunately try to delay the whole CodeNext process by exploiting the fact that the new map will not be a finished product but only a starting point. We’ve already spent years and millions of dollars on this project — and as our need to manage growth gets more urgent every day. We need to get this done.
Some will see the changed colors representing new zoning classifications on the initial map and jump to the inaccurate conclusion that we’re allowing inappropriate commercial uses and housing density to encroach into the interiors of all our neighborhoods. That’s not what we’re doing.
Others will look at the initial map and feel indignant that we’re not turning Austin into another Brooklyn. They would have us put as much housing density into the middle of neighborhoods as possible. The truth is that we can still add enough housing supply along our major growth corridors and in centers to help us achieve sufficient housing supply to meet our affordability goals while still preserving the look and feel of our neighborhoods.
Yet, others will incorrectly predict that the final map will cause more gentrification, displacing artists, teachers and whole communities of color. In fact, the opposite is true. Further and accelerated displacement is a slam-dunk certainty if we don’t adopt a new land development code to help us better manage growth. That’s exactly what is happening with the path we’re on now: worse traffic, higher rents and taxes, and turbo-charged gentrification. If we do nothing but preserve all our two-bedroom bungalows, all we’ll end up with in the future are two-bedroom bungalows that sell for $1.5 million.
To preserve what we love about Austin, we must first remember that despite differences of opinion, we’re all in this together. I’ve been all over this city and have spoken with thousands in anticipation of this process. I am convinced that most of us want substantially the same thing. Even if we’re coming at this from different perspectives, we’re on the same side and need to cross the finish line together.
So let’s celebrate Tuesday by chilling out, taking a deep breath, rolling up our sleeves and getting to work together.