Only in Austin would they spit on revitalizing downtown residential districts, and call the resultant housing ‘McMansions’. Everywhere else this epithet is used (and rightly, in my opinion) it is applied to the overly large, over priced, housing that springs up in the suburbs. As an architect with a family to feed, I can share the blame for a good portion of that type of housing. Most of the families who moved into houses that I helped get built were quite thankful to have them. To each his own, I live in the central city because I like the convenience of being near downtown.
Based on the complaints of disgruntled neighbors, the Austin city council took action last week and suspended all pending permits for construction in established neighborhoods, subject to review and possible further restriction by ordinance. (how is this not Ex Post Facto, is what I’d like to know, but let’s not get off on a tangent here) Anyone who thinks this isn’t about the same ‘no-growth’ issues that Austin has always been preoccupied with needs to take a crash course in the history of Austin politics.
All you have to do is see which side the usual suspects line up on. The Austin American Statesman is foursquare against the ban, as can be seen from the multiple Op-Ed columns and letters on the subject. Too bad they don’t consistently side with those interested in preserving property rights. This time the property rights (and values) argument is what is being offered by the builders, so that’s the tack that is going to be taken by those who follow the chamber of commerce side of the argument.
On the other end of the spectrum is the champion of no-growth, the Austin Chronicle. At least they are consistent in lamenting the halcyon days of Austin in the 70’s, back when the city was a town, and it was empty when UT wasn’t in session. I wish these people would wake up and smell the coffee.
That Austin has been gone for so long that it was only a memory when I moved here in the late 80’s. The no-growthers got what they wanted way back then, except they found out they didn’t want it when they saw what it was. Property values crashed, jobs went away, projects were left rotting and half completed. They got it again when they passed SOS and successfully killed development in areas outside the city.
This problem is also of their own making. The traffic congestion which is a result of blocking most of the new freeway work that had been proposed 20 years ago, makes living in the suburbs an almost intolerable commute if you work downtown now. Many people who do so would (like me) like to live close enough to avoid a long commute. This (along with other factors) produces higher demand for housing in central Austin. The resultant rise in land prices (also an offshoot of the FACT that Austin isn’t a sleepy little town anymore; but a full fledged city of more than 500,000) has lead land owners to capitalize on property investments.
Now, horror of horrors, “the growth is happening right next door to me!”, not out in the suburbs. “Gotta call my councilman, and put a stop to this.” That’s how it always starts, and it never turns out like they planned it.
If you don’t own the property in question, you don’t have any right to dictate to the current owner what gets built on it. That won’t stop most people from trying, but what usually ends up happening is the development happens anyway, it just ends up costing more. This is what comes from relying on zoning and city officials to do a job that could more reliably be done with restrictive covenants and/or architectural planners who have a clue about what makes sense land use wise. But then the chamber of commerce types wouldn’t be able to ram through the developments they want when the tables are reversed.
The real problem was gentrification, the eviction of poor minorities from their traditional locations in Austin so that developers could turn their previously unwanted property into something that could be sold for multiples of what it was bought for. If the minority owners were paid what their property was actually worth, then they at least got their value returned to them. Most of them cannot find somewhere else to live in a city that has become so expensive that few can afford to live here.