Austin, Texas has raised its profile among the cities of North America in an enviable kind of way over the last few years. Even Toronto’s uncool, anti-urban mayor lumbered down there recently to see what the buzz is about. Popular music, culture and university life as well as a tech-driven commercial bustle there have become a calling card for Austin, the state capital, which has a metro area containing about 1.8 million people. Visitors are drawn to a kind of prosperous liberality and local pride that sustains an atmosphere many cities find elusive.
A recent two-part feature from the Austin Chronicle describes the challenges of moving forward with transportation and development projects to meet Austin’s metro area needs well into the twenty-first century. For decades the city has been chopped in half by the I-35, a classic example of 1950s highway building. State and local officials are hoping to reengineer the I-35 into a smarter artery that will enhance rather than hem in downtown living. Accommodating growth while preserving liveability and economic success through sprawl repair, highway removal and below-grade infrastructure, public transit, changes in density and general community aesthetics are combining into an exciting mix. It won’t be cheap or easy for Austin but the city is better placed for success than most.
image: Seaholm power station in Austin, TX by roxannejomitchell via Wikimedia Commons