Wednesday, 25 November 2015

An urban planning nightmare?

Intertwined by a vast maze of highways, detached retail, housing and extensive carparks accessible only by auto transport, it is difficult to distinguish where one Texan city ends and another city begins. From an outsider's perspective, the built environment visually appears to be a prime example of some of the worst urban sprawl and public transit infrastructure seen in America. Whilst to some, Austin and parts of Houston are considered an urban planning nightmare, for the majority of residents and government authorities they are very much car dependant and are consequently resistant to alternative methods of public transport, traffic congestion and retail developments.

Observing the vast haphazard concrete landscape, it is quite clear there is no planning scheme, policy or legislation to guide or determine any form of development. Despite no land use zoning or comprehensive plan cities are still very powerful but surprisingly have no capacity to plan on a both a metropolitan and regional scale. In a stark contrast to the majority of urban development there is sections of breakthrough innovation driven by entrepreneurs attempting to change the way Austin and Houston think about open space, alternative transport options and residential developments.

Design Workshop, an urban and landscape design company is one of the creative businesses. Run by a team of highly trained innovative specialists, the thriving business has developed open space and public park plans within Austin, Houston and other surrounding areas. Multi-million dollar spaces are ecologically driven and often include several uses within the space including interactive temporary art installations, dog runs and restaurants.

Mueller housing development is also a standalone concept in which young families and professionals have snatched up the opportunity to live in the masterplan community, upon an obsolete airport runways site just an eight-minute drive from the downtown area. One thousand units and mix of housing types, housing affordability and endless greenspaces is a first for Austin and possibly a first for Texas. Visually the layout, diversity of housing types, contrast of scale and design, and use of rear loaded garages is what many other countries are trying to achieve but without as much success.

Overall the extent of the urban sprawl is potentially too vast to be reversed or serviced by public transport in the future, however with such sustainable organisations striving for change Texas could potentially have some compact, accessible, active, liveable neighbourhoods within its urban chaos.

Leah Morris