Prentiss Riddle: Austin

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PhotoShopping Austin

M1ek Dahmus and Michael Schliefke both recently posted aerial views of downtown with some changes penciled in.

M1ek's post was one of his patented screeds on Austin transportation issues, in this case the rail we're going to get, the rail we might get, and the rail that got away. In the illo, the green is the 2000 light rail plan rejected by voters; the teeny bit of yellow in the corner is the 2004 commuter rail plan (not light rail!) approved by voters; and the red is the hypothetical streetcar to Mueller. M1ek's point, which bears repeating, is that the commuter rail doesn't go where people need to go, whereas the slightly better-situated streetcar has no dedicated right of way and so will be slooooow. (Be sure to click through both to his blog post and the full-sized image.)

proposed rail lines in central Austin

Michael Schliefke, meanwhile, is the first person I've noticed who bothered to paste the various high-rise plans currently in the pipeline into a combined view of Austin's future skyline. (Note whose PhotoShop has the better production values; four years of art school paid off!) God's nose-hair trimmer, AKA the Frost Bank Tower, is about to be lost in the crowd. Michael wonders whether anyone's really thinking about the impact of suddenly having 25,000 ├╝ber-rich people living in downtown Austin and no effective mass transit, although he does note that all those bare walls might represent an opportunity for artists like him.

proposed skyscrapers in central Austin

I'd add that I don't know where those 25,000 childless, lawn-hating, downtown-employed (if employed at all) rich folks are going to come from. I recently got my ears boxed on the Austin Urbanists mailing list for suggesting that, even if all condo projects in sight are pre-selling units faster than they can print contracts, there might be some limit to Austin's supply of rich people.

For the record, I consider myself an "urbanist" too. I wish, for example, that Austin's neighborhood associations would stop playing NIMBY and start figuring out how to plan for central Austin neighborhoods that will be liveable when, not if, Austin's population doubles again. I agree with Cap Metro's critics that the rail plan they hoodwinked us into approving in 2004 is a suburban plan, not an urban plan. But I do think there's more than a whiff of "let them eat cake" in the air when M1ek says, "the 'bubble' concerns me not in the least - in fact, the more properties that get built, the better; for those future residents after the bubble pops, that is." It's a nice fantasy that the rich will build Altavida and the Austonian, default on their mortgages when the bubble pops, and then let the middle class move in for pennies on the dollar. I just hope somebody keeps the elevators running. Meanwhile, I wish that a little of the civic excitement going into ultra-high, ultra-hip, ultra-dense housing for the ultra-rich would be channeled into some semi-high, semi-hip, semi-dense housing for the semi-scraping by.

austin 2007.02.07 link


They're having bandwidth problems, but M1ek linked to this pretty interesting resource for both skyscraper news and skyline porn: the Austin Skyscraper Forum.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2007.02.07
And let me be the first to whack myself upside the head with a small hole in Michael Schliefke's point, at least as I compressed it here:

Although the Mayor and others have expressed the goal of bringing 20,000 new residents to downtown, the three skyscrapers Michael discusses total only 803 units, or well under a tenth of that. So yeah, I don't think we will have exhausted our supply of the filthy rich just yet.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2007.02.07
Hmm, 803 units that will surely house 2 people, no?

Carter B. • 2007.02.08
Some would no doubt like to pretend that a lot of the 803 units will house families of 3 or 4. My guess is that there will be few families, some roommate situations, a lot of couples and a lot of singles. Call it 1600 people out of the Mayor's 20,000.

I'd love to hear what the actual housing patterns are in the high-end condos already in place.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2007.02.08
It's a quality of life issue. I would love to live on the 22nd floor of some uber-highrise downtown. But I can't afford and neither can the rest of us. It all comes down to mommy and daddy who are equity rich from the overinflated state of California using the gift tax to find a nice place to live (Austin) and leaving the old homestead (California) to their children who lack an understanding of homewownership so they can depart all of the hatefulness and SOCAL life style to screw us all.

We are seeing it in South Austin. And I do live South. We must be diligent but it will be easy - their children are stupid and will shortly move to Seattle since they believe grundge music is on a revival.

Old South Austin guy...

hazmatguy [afdhm cxe yahoo punkto com] • 2007.02.08
I just added another picture of downtown to my page, with a leaning west towards the new developments around City Hall - it was something I was meaning to do but never got around to with my meager (I'm not being modest) photoshop skills.

I always think its a bit funny to blame all of Austin's growth problems on Californians. I'd be willing to guess there is a lot more wealth in this town than people let on. The blame for the ever increasing number of upscale boutiques, design shops and hip little districts popping up everywhere - from 2nd Street to SoCo (I'll refer to it as that here) can't be strictly placed at the feet of Californians. I also know a few thirtysomething folks without kids sharing houses in Bee Caves that can't wait to move downtown. Perhaps that'll spur a new exodus to suddenly cheaper land out west. People tend to forget to look at the racial and economic turnovers that took place in Tarrytown and Clarksville over the past half century. As the population grows and shifts throughout Austin, they'll always be an 'East Austin', 'Bee Caves', 'South Austin' and the like, it just may not be geographically correct or where its traditionally been located.

I would just love for once to see a city west of the Mississippi use innovative urban planning and mass transit in some sort of unified vision that could create the dynamic neighborhoods and ethnic, cultural and economic mixing that took place with streetcars and subways in the east. I don't know if Austin will be that town though.

Michael S. [info cxe schliefkevision punkto com] • 2007.02.08
Thanks for the call-out. The argument about the real estate bubble is based on my experience buying a condo from Bubble N-1 (the 1980s condo bubble) in the mid 1990s for pennies.

IE, since the close-in neighborhoods won't let anything get built (as you note), the only place we can get more supply is downtown, so I'd argue we'd better make sure we build so dang much that we end up overshooting that bubble; it's our only hope for affordable units down the road (although it'll be a trickle-down affordability I'd bet; i.e., the older MF properties in our neighborhoods will stop rising and maybe even decline as the downtown properties suck up more of their prospective tenants).

This happened with my property in the dot-com mini-collapse by the way; the rent I pulled in dipped by a hundred bucks a month and still hasn't completely recovered - thanks to the new downtown construction siphoning the high-end away from that neighborhood; then the old mid-end moves up to the old high-end properties in OWANA; ...

M1EK [mdahmus cxe io punkto com] • 2007.02.08
Oh, and don't forget my favorite screed:

"the green is the 2000 light rail plan rejected by voters"

Lost by 2000 votes in a rigged election forced (early) by Mike Krusee, in a bill he wrote to apply only to Capital Metro. (CM was preparing for a 2001 election; they were not remotely prepared for a November 2000 up/down; and Krusee knew they'd get killed since Dubya was on the ballot to drag out the mouth-breathers).

Despite all that, again, they still only lost by 2000 votes. Inside the city of Austin, it passed.

And what we ended up with in 2004 is a commuter rail plan that serves the far suburban reaches poorly; and the central-city not at all; but promises an eventual expansion to Krusee's district (who doesn't even pay Cap Metro taxes).

M1EK [mdahmus cxe io punkto com] • 2007.02.08
Ooh, Michael, very nice job with the second pic! I'm trying to find Seaholm in there -- is it hidden to the east of Block 21 somehow?

If I were Michael Dell -- no, if I were Anne Elizabeth Wynn -- I'd try to wangle a deal so Lombardi could get a permanent space inside the West Austin Hotel and Residences. Hell, maybe on the roof! Dream big.

Thanks also for the link to the Urban Austin Wiki. Gotta explore that one.

M1ek, thanks for the reply. I take your point about trickle-down affordability. I guess how hard a bubble pops may determine whether it results in trickle-down or just splatter. I recall some wastelands of abandoned condo projects in Dallas which ended up being occupied by nobody until they were torn down years later.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto punkto com] • 2007.02.08
OK, Prentiss - you win, I hacked in a version of Seaholm into the picture, but there wasn't much to work from.

Of course, that latest picture doesn't include what tower the central Post Office may turn into, as well as the Federal Courthouse.

I just added up the proposed living spaces in the buildings in the second picture: 1577 total, and that includes the million dollar penthouses of the Austonian.

Michael S. [info cxe schliefkevision punkto com] • 2007.02.08
OK, Prentiss - you win, I hacked in a version of Seaholm into the picture, but there wasn't much to work from.

Of course, that latest picture doesn't include what tower the central Post Office may turn into, as well as the Federal Courthouse.

I just added up the proposed living spaces in the buildings in the second picture: 1577 total, and that includes the million dollar penthouses of the Austonian.

Michael S. [info cxe schliefkevision punkto com] • 2007.02.08
I am temporarily living in an expensive, high rise in Arlington, VA (DC Metro area). I own a house in South Austin and am moving back very soon. I was so looking forward to moving back to Austin. I'm sick of the high rise life. I do enjoy the excellent mass transportation system and not having to drive every day. I've been hearing about a lot of changes to Austin and am worried that the Austin I knew will be gone soon and I won't be as happy there as before. And after stumbling across this and the blog that got me here, I'm even more worried.

H.M. • 2007.02.22
News 8 Austin picked up on Michael's work, printed it out and took it to Auditorium Shores for folks-in-the-street comments. Here's the story -- be sure to click through to the video.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2007.02.22
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