Guest post on Essential Class Day on the Built Enviroment

Guest post on Essential Class Day on the Built Enviroment



Guest post from Essential Class of 2015 participant Holly Tachovsky, reflecting on the December class day on the Built Environment:  Transportation, Land Use & Housing. Holly is CEO of BuildFax.


Austin is growing like mosquitos in a Hyde Park alley. But, it isn’t just the growth, it’s the pace of the growth, and as long as we keep creating jobs and BBQ, it doesn’t look like it will slow down any time soon. We lament rising home prices, the I-35 parking lot, and neophytes calling The Drag “Guadalup-EE.” While we can have a public service announcement campaign to work on proper pronunciations, housing and roads will not be fixed so easily.

What troubles me is that it seems like Austin’s greatest strength, the thing that attracts us all to be a part of this city with a soul, is in danger of being the very thing that brings her demise. The attractiveness of our community leads to more people moving here which leads to more people on the roads and more buyers for the same patches of land. Pretty soon our soulful city feels more like butter spread too thin on toast – unsatisfying. During our December Leadership Austin Essential class, I found myself feeling desperate and asking “what is the one thing that we can do to begin to really address this growing problem?”

For me, encouraging urban density is a solid place to begin.

What would a pro-density agenda get us?

  • Public transportation becomes more economical for the city to provide and more practical for commuters
  • Bike transit is more realistic if you’re going 5 miles instead of 20
  • Cars on the road would decrease in both sheer numbers and their daily time on the road
  • Dense housing is more cost effective to build and maintain, thus more affordable to buy and rent
  • Urban infill projects can provide the “missing middle” housing Austin needs
  • Dense housing uses less water (no grass yards!)

A pro-density agenda could move the needle on both housing affordability and traffic.

What can we do to encourage density?

  • We can create developer tax incentives for density that could go hand in hand with incentives for affordable housing
  • We can modify our city codes to encourage density
  • We can create a predictably pro-density process for developers at our building department. What if we even went a step further and made a pro-density fast lane for developers?

As Mike Clark-Madison put it, “for a long time, the story of Austin has been ‘where are we going to put all these people?’” Answering this question will determine if our greatest strength continues to be one, or if we implode under our own weight.

NOTE: The opinions of Leadership Austin alumni, faculty members, and guest bloggers are their own, and do not represent an official position of the organization