Austin: A battle between progressives | (ACOEL) | American College of Environmental Lawyers

The city of Austin has become a battleground for progressive initiatives. On June 9, City Council approved a resolution addressing water quality, flooding and environmental justice. Surprisingly, these laudable objectives can go against other equally important objectives, such as the limitation of urban sprawl and affordable housing.

The resolution calls for the development of city-wide water pollution control measures for industrial facilities, including semiconductor manufacturing plants, concrete batching plants, automobile manufacturing, manufacturing batteries and fuel storage facilities. The resolution calls for a monitoring program for these threats to watersheds in Austin communities. The watersheds of communities of color are disproportionately impacted by these threats.

Additionally, the resolution addresses flooding exacerbated by an increase in impervious ground surfaces due to the intensity and density of residential and commercial development. Austin’s growth has caused a substantial increase in runoff into undersized infrastructure, increasing the severity of flooding, threatening life and property, and degrading water quality.

How do we have a conflict? Quite simply, the battle is about the density of development. On the one hand, progressive activists in the neighborhood see the endorsement of density associated with development as a threat to traditional single-family residential neighborhoods in central Austin. The council member who presented the resolution represents these wards. On the other hand, progressive city planners support increased density in these neighborhoods to combat sprawl and meet housing demand as Austin continues to grow. Failure to encourage density is seen not only as accelerating the flight of minorities from their historic communities of color, but also as discouraging middle class and affordable housing projects. Last week’s resolution can be seen as another skirmish in the battle to determine not just Austin’s skyline, but its neighborhoods.

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