Downtown Development

Downtown Austin and downtowns in general have seen a resurgence in popularity over the last decade. This resurgence has attracted new people that in turn attract new development and that cycle continues until we have a downtown that is light years ahead of where it was ten years ago in terms of jobs, residences, transportation options, cultural amenities and so much more. What do the changing demographics of downtown look like? And what do all these new people mean for mobility downtown?

Living downtown is no longer only for bachelors. It’s become desirable for families to live as well. The Statesman recently featured a story on downtown that included one such family. The article highlights that families have different mobility needs than singles and even professionals commuting to work every day. First and foremost, families want their children to be safe. They want parks, schools, and libraries within walking distance. An urban street where parents feel their children are safe to walk to school looks much different than one in which your average twenty-something office worker feels safe walking to lunch.

 Another demographic shift in downtown is happening in the job market. Downtown is no longer the sole domain of lawyers and politicians. It is now home to over 30 technology companies and it seems that number grows daily. Facebook, Cirrus Logic, WhaleShark Media and many more high profile tech companies all call downtown Austin home. This influx of creative class jobs is shifting the demographics of downtown workers and residents. These new employees are young, most landing in the Millennial generation and highly educated. And we know that Millennials tend to drive less and bike, walk and use public transit more. These new, younger, creative class workers’ expectations are much different than their predecessors who worked downtown before them. In the not too distant past, employers and employees expected plenty of space to park cars and roads to get them into work. Now that we are experiencing a cultural shift, we understand that type of development has negative effects on our quality of life through increased driving and decreased physical activity. The Millenials are calling for more walkable and bikeable, transit rich urban places. In fact, a recently released report, shows a dramatic increase in the number of people demanding these types of places and, as such, developers are building them. Some say this is creating a new real estate paradigm that pits drivable versus walkable, with walkable being the clear economic winner.

For Austin to remain competitive in attracting the types of industries, companies and talented workers that will grow the local economy, we need to be making strategic investments and choices regarding our transportation network. Investments need to not only be in expanding our current infrastructure systems (transit, biking, walking) but also in the technology needed to make using these systems even easier for current and potential users. In order to attract families of all stripes to live and play downtown, we need to be sure to offer safe mobility solutions, like walking. To attract young, talented workers in all industries, we need to increase and strengthen public transit options. If we do not continue to invest in biking, walking and transit, other cities may start to seem more attractive than Austin. Palo Alto and a number of other cities are making mobility a priority in the pursuit of a competitive edge.

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