January 25 2013

Making the Connection between Downtown Family Housing and a Sustainable City

Dowtown Districts: Austin, TX

The central areas of Austin, TX continue to transform with the addition of shopping districts, new office space, condominiums, and apartments. The city’s aim is to create more compact and walkable neighborhoods/areas in order to encourage healthier and more sustainable lifestyles among its residents through reduced car and land-use. It appears that there has been success as flocks of Austinites populate near these centers. But who are these Austinites? And what does this demographic shift mean for the sustainability goals of the city as a whole?

The factors driving who lives in these downtown areas are complex, but a primary consideration is housing. If we look at the housing available in the downtown area we encounter mainly high-rise condos and apartments; housing types suitable for singles or couples without children. A second consideration is the activities and programs prominent in these areas. There are several attractions for families such as farmers’ markets, the Austin’s Children’s Museum, and Zilker Park. However, with an abundance of bars and limited access to schools, families are discouraged from living in these more dense urban environments.

The consequence of excluding this demographic from central districts is that the households with the largest carbon footprint remain in suburban areas where they commute to work, school, and run errands by car. The negative environmental impacts of suburbanization are not remotely reduced as long as families remain in distant neighborhoods where larger houses and roadways consume more energy and land.

Downtown Austin Skyline

The towers of this image are exemplary of the several residential towers sprouting up in the downtown area.

The solution may not be to prioritize family housing in the densest of downtown areas, but may be to preserve single-family housing in targeted areas such as the Hyde Park Neighborhood; areas that are centralized, but quieter than entertainment districts. A consideration may be to increase amenities (schools, day cares, dry cleaners, grocers, etc.) in these existing, centralized neighborhoods.

An important question that remains is whether or not families want to live in denser, more urban environments? Do you have a family? What are your thoughts? Would you want to live in an urban environment and what would entice you?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Bonnie Rodd

Originally from the North-Central area of California, Bonnie Rodd found herself at home amongst the creative, participatory, and sometimes off beat Austinites. She holds a B.A. in Urban Studies with a minor in Architecture from the University of Texas at Austin. Her primary interest is sustainable urban development, focusing on alternative transportation and pedestrianism. Believing that the human element in design is invaluable, she dabbled in some social studies as well. This past spring she explored the three legs of sustainability in her thesis titled “Making a Case for Affordable Housing in Transit-Oriented Developments: Austin,TX” and developed a model for single-family affordable housing delivery in such neighborhoods. Bonnie currently resides in Austin, Texas, and will be exposing readers to environmental design issues present in both Austin and Central Texas.

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This entry was posted on Friday, January 25th, 2013 at 9:35 am and is filed under Architecture, Community/Economic Development, Energy, Environmental Design, Housing, Infrastructure, Land Use, Social/Demographics, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


5 Responses to “Making the Connection between Downtown Family Housing and a Sustainable City”

  1. Lutz Says:

    I have a family of five. Three kids, 3, 8, and 11. We’d love to live in a city. I hate driving. I ride my bike to work every day but the kids have to be taken to school by car.
    The schools in the neighborhoods that are denser are always really bad or they don’t exist (I’ve lived in Seattle and in San Francisco, downtowns don’t have any schools at all).
    It’s unsafe for kids to walk to school. It’s unsafe for kids to play in the parks. Mainly because of cars, but also because they get picked on by other, more aggressive kids.

    I am originally from Munich, Germany. My older brother still lives there. I used to walk to school as a kid and take the subway when I got older and went to high school. It is illegal there to drop your kids off by car. Everyone hast to walk. That’s what makes it safer for everyone. Since there are so many kids out walking, traffic is slower.
    Every neighborhood has access to a park, since nobody has a backyard. Kids walk home from school by bakeries and pick up rolls. We used to walk to Christkindl markets in the wiinter. I really, really miss growing up in a big city, it seems so impossible here, so much would have to change.

  2. Sunny Menozzi Says:

    A neighborhood composed primarily of singles and couples is also much less stable than one composed of a mix of singles, couples, and families, or primarily families. Families invest in communities. They are homeowners, their children attend neighborhood schools, and they expect, when they purchase their home, to build a life around and within their community. Singles and couples are transient, and while some will volunteer or otherwise become involved in their community, many will be free-loaders, so to speak.

  3. Bonnie Rodd Says:

    Thank you for this insight! I think you make a great point that if everyone walks, or uses alternative modes of transportation, it is safer. Also, your experience sounds much more rich than the experience I had, and I am sure most Americans have, as a child. That is definitely the environment I hope children have here in the future.

  4. Bonnie Rodd Says:

    Fantastic point about the stability of a community. Families do make communities, and that is another reason why it is so important to bring them into cities.

  5. Jeffrey Lubell Says:

    It’s all about the schools. If the schools in a revitalized downtown are good, you’ll be able to attract families with children. If they schools are not good, then they won’t come, unless they are super wealthy and can afford private schools.

    So this raises the classic chicken or the egg problem. The schools won’t be good unless enough people come to use them who care about education, but those people won’t come until the schools rise to their standards.

    This suggests the need for coordinated housing and schools interventions — for example, investing in a new school building and high caliber teaching staff at the same time that you’re investing in redeveloping downtowns to encourage families with children to move in and anchor neighborhood redevelopment.

    From a research standpoint, I am interested to see whether families who do venture into gentrifying areas will be willing to send their kids to public schools. If so, it can be hugely catalytic in attracting others. Apparently, this is taking place in Washington, DC, but that market may not be representative.

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