The City of Austin has become a battleground for progressive initiatives. On June 9, the City Council approved a resolution directed at water quality, flooding, and environmental justice. Surprisingly, these laudable objectives may be at cross purposes with other equally valued objectives such as curbs on urban sprawl and affordable housing.
The resolution provides for the development of city-wide water pollution control measures for industrial facilities including semiconductor manufacturing plants, concrete batch plants, automobile manufacturing, battery manufacturing and fuel storage facilities. The resolution calls for a monitoring program for these threats to watersheds in Austin communities. Watersheds in communities of color are disproportionately affected by these threats.
In addition, the resolution addresses flooding exacerbated by an increase of impervious ground surfaces due to the intensity and density of residential and commercial development. Austin’s growth has resulted in a substantial increase in runoff into undersized infrastructure, increasing the severity of flooding and threatening life and property and degrading water quality.
How do we have a conflict? Quite simply, the battle is over density of development. On one side, progressive neighborhood activists see the approval of density associated with development as a threat to traditional single-family residential neighborhoods in central Austin. The councilmember who introduced the resolution represents these neighborhoods. On the other side, progressive urban planners support increased density in these neighborhoods to combat urban sprawl and provide for the housing demand as Austin continues to grow. Failure to encourage density is perceived to not only accelerate the flight of minorities from their historic communities of color but also disincentivize middle class and affordable housing projects. Last week’s resolution can be seen as another skirmish in the battle to determine not only Austin’s skyline but its neighborhoods.