“Look forward for a century, to the time when the city has a population of a million, and think what will be their wants.
“They will have wealth enough to purchase all that money can buy, but all their wealth cannot purchase a lost opportunity, or restore natural features of grandeur and beauty, which would then possess priceless value…”
That’s a quote from Horace Cleveland, the guy I mentioned last time as one of the people who helped shape Minneapolis. He said that in 1883.
In Austin, the quick money is what drives the decision-making. That’s how things get done. Advocacy groups like Save Our Springs, fight like hell 24/7 to preserve Austin’s natural resources from sprawling development.
And what is sacrificed in the wake of those decisions are the natural resources, which cannot be replaced and which result in more poor design and planning in the city.
Here are a few pictures I took on my walk from work to the drugstore (I took them with my phone, so I apologize for the quality):
So, those first two pictures, although they may look like drainage ditches, are what they call a creek here in Austin. In fact, it’s Waller Creek, which I mentioned last time. While Frank Erwin destroyed part of the creek on the UT campus to add seats to the stadium (despite the fact that there was a better plan for expansion), what they’ve done on this stretch is destroy part of the creek so they can use the space as a concrete gutter for when it rains. That way the houses in that area don’t get flooded. Usually.
Now, what you might be thinking is, well, they’ve got to build the houses somewhere. If they’re running out of space, what else are they supposed to do. But see, that’s the thing. Austin is not running out of space. Not by a long shot.
In Minneapolis, the persons per square feet is 7,088. In Austin it’s 2,653. That might take a minute to sink in, so I’ll break it down for you. If a community isn’t dense (ie. sparse), it means they don’t have that many people and/or they have an abundance of land. Well, Austin has many more people than Minneapolis does, so you might then deduce that they have a lot more land as well. And you would be right. About five and a half times the land as Minneapolis, in fact. So, why then are they building goddamn houses along creeks? Well, you might wonder, maybe all the land that’s not in a floodplains is already fully built out. No. There is land in Austin that is not in a floodplain—plenty of it—that is littered with vacant structures and empty lots.
Nothing will illustrate this more than a drive around Austin (biking and walking is still a hairy business unless you really know what you’re doing). In Austin’s Eastside and neighborhoods just south of the river, almost all homes are single-story, single-family houses, and the number of open lots is staggering. Much of the city is so sparse that it appears blighted.
And what happens when things are so spread out like that? Well, it takes a long time to get from one place to another, right? And since destinations are so far away, and since the natural resources don’t have connecting trails and paths, how else are you going to get there but by motorized transport—especially cars.
A great deal of that stems from not having the common sense or the common decency to understand and respect the land. But some of it also has to do with not respecting people. And that’s for next time.