July 9, 2006

Austin Seeks Walker-Friendly Districts via Mixed-Use Incentives

Austin, Texas city planners hope to create a more walker-friendly district by "offering incentives to build 'mixed-use' buildings (which combine stores, offices and housing) on heavily traveled roads," the American-Statesman reports.

"Picture Lamar Boulevard, with its traffic and smattering of stores and offices, as a denser, walkable area akin to an old-fashioned town center. Pedestrians would shop and dine at stores and restaurants on street level, and then work and live in office space and apartments above the stores," according to the article.

"The idea grew out of a two-year effort that is almost complete to write design rules for Austin stores and restaurants. City planners realized that they did not just want stores to look good; they wanted buildings and streets to function better, as places where people can live, work and shop. . . . If the idea works, commercial strips such as Lamar, Burnet Road and South First Street could become cool, new-urbanist hubs like those that are prevalent in places such as Portland, Ore., and Seattle."

Rte. 9 already has various areas where people can live, people can work, or people can shop. But they're not integrated in a way that anyone wants to walk from one to the other, which is a pity. The condos being added to the Natick Mall expansion are the right idea but the wrong implementation, because condo-dwellers will likely only be walking to stores within the mall itself, not to anything else nearby, thanks to the '50s-era parking design that surrounds the new mall with a sea of asphalt. What a golden opportunity lost.

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