CodeNEXT and Austin’s tech industry: Mayor Steve Adler, consultants and policy advocates weigh in

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Austin Tech Alliance's CodeNEXT panel discussion included moderator Michael Kanin (from left), publisher of the Austin Monitor; David King, former president of the Austin Neighborhood Council; Andy Cantú, Austin Chamber of Commerce’s regional mobility director; Niran Babalola of the urbanist organization AURA and John-Michael Cortez, a special assistant to Austin Mayor Steve Adler.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler joined CodeNEXT consultants and policy advocates to discuss the intersection of the land development code rewrite and the tech community on Wednesday.

The evening’s roster included a range of speakers: Adler, Andy Cantú, Austin Chamber of Commerce’s regional mobility director; Niran Babalola of the urbanist organization, AURA; John-Michael Cortez, a special assistant to the mayor; David King, the former president of the Austin Neighborhood Council; Greg Guernsey, director of the Austin Planning and Zoning Department and Peter Park and John Miki, two of the head CodeNEXT consultants.

Each speaker provided a unique perspective on CodeNEXT to a diverse audience of technology industry professionals who packed the Capital Factory on Brazos Street to glean further knowledge on one of the city’s focal issues of 2017.

Here are the highlights:

    • While the tech industry deals in data-driven decision making, the CodeNEXT process, according to Adler, will be achieved through “consent-driven” decision making. “The goal is not to find the perfect answer because we’re never going to be in agreement of what is a perfect answer,” Adler said.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler, at the Austin Tech Alliance's CodeNEXT discussion on Thursday, said while the tech industry is data-driven, the CodeNEXT process will be consent-driven.
    • Adler again brought up the “Austin Bargain”, a term he coined in his State of the City Address earlier this year that refers to constructing a code that protects the neighborhoods and adds much-needed density along the city’s activity corridors.
    • “If we agree to the base bargain, we will have 90 percent of the city mapped out,” Adler said. That remaining 10 percent? Adler refers to them as the transition zones—areas between the corridors and the neighborhoods—and said they will be “more difficult” to deal with.
    • An auto-centric code is a thing of the past, according to Guernsey, who said a central focus of the new code will be to move away from a code that assumes automobiles as the central mode of transportation, and looks more towards biking, walking and public transportation options.
    • The maps that come out in April will not be wrong, said Park, a chief consultant on the development of CodeNEXT. This opposed the assertion that Adler has made his mantra over the last several weeks. “They may be incomplete,” Park followed up. “But they won’t be completely wrong.”
    • The West Campus area is a good example of why the city needs a new land development code, according to Cortez, the mayor’s assistant. He said the West Campus area was a prime example of a good development in the city, but required a unique regulating plan because it was technically illegal under the city’s current code. He said this was also the case with the Burnet Gateway.
    • Fair housing and getting people comfortable with change, were the goals expressed by Babalola and Cantú, respectively, they hope to see realized through the CodeNEXT process. Babalola asserted that Austin issues with economic disparity are due in part to the days when zoning was used to segregate the city. He said the shape of neighborhoods should not be shaped by jobs and income, but by the people who choose to live there; a choice, he said, that needs to be offered to a broader demographic of Austinites.

Cantú said people need to not fear change, but instead, get educated on how they stand to benefit from it. He encouraged the public to challenge commonly held assumptions, specifically, what “neighborhood character” actually means. Cantú said that to him, neighborhood character is not defined by aesthetic, but by the people who live in a neighborhood.

“We need to build the environment so that people we’ve lost who have been priced out can come back,” Cantú said.