Austin at Large: Reading the Palm District: New plan of plans shines a light on the harsh, rough edges of downtown’s east – News

This is the map the Palm District planning team started with; even since 2019, the city notes, new developments have made it slightly obsolete. The plan’s “preferred scenario” identifies locations for new hotels and venues along the Red River and places where affordable housing for long-time residents can be built.

I have nothing more to say about the 2022 election: Anyone who can vote this year but does not deserve a spanking. So let’s talk about the city stuff! Remember the Palm District? It first appeared as a concept for City Hall in 2019’s Before Times, amid disputes over the future of the historic Palm School at I-35 and East Cesar Chavez, which is owned by the Travis County. (The name “Palm” that adorns the old schoolhouse and adjacent park, as well as a current AISD campus near McKinney Falls, does not refer to a tree but to a Swedish nobleman; many of his compatriots are settled in and near the new Palm District in the 19th century, including the Swede Hill area where I live and where, in Oakwood Cemetery, Sir Svante Palm is buried.) The neighborhood was a medium for the hotel of town, by which I mean Kathie Tovo, to make sense of the ambitious plans and projects to transform, in various ways, the eastern edge of downtown, which even after floods of booming dollars , can still be a bit hard and rough. These would include a new and different Austin Convention Center, the full bloom of the Waterloo Greenway, an ever-bustling Red River Cultural District and ever-higher Rainey Street, and at its northern end the Innovation District around the former campus of Brackenridge Hospital and anchored by the growing UT Dell Medical School. There are also more uncertain forces in the area: the city’s beleaguered emergency shelters for the homeless; its unloved but also unrepairable police headquarters, where more than a dozen people were maimed by cops during the 2020 protests; the rapidly unraveling cultural fabric of the Mexican American community that for 80 years sent its children to the Palm School; and the upcoming disruption of rebuilding I-35, no matter how it’s designed.

Plan before we act

For more context, in 2019 Mayor Steve Adler was still working on his “downtown puzzle” concept that aimed to direct hotel money to the homeless, then-county judge Sarah Eckhardt, was prepared to sell Palm School (whose historic structure is protected by deed restrictions) to the highest bidder and reinvest the proceeds in the district (and use hotel bed tax funds to upgrade the exhibition center in Far East Austin), and community champion and former school administrator Paul Saldaña was lobbying Tovo and City Hall to make Palm School an anchor of a neighborhood Chicano cultural that would stretch to the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center on Rainey and then east along the lake. Ultimately, the Board decided to request a plan for the Palm District that reflected all of these considerations, which were delayed by COVID et al. but is now complete and ready for consideration by the Planning Commission on November 8 and the Council on December 1, at last report.

The plan produced, spearheaded by the city’s Department of Housing and Planning and a team of consultants led by Asakura Robinson, one of Austin’s premier urban design outlets, reflects to the various community actors engaged what wanted to see more of the area. It manages to do this without raising a lot of sand about the goals and priorities of individual actors whose existing visions are to be taken into account in the new neighborhood, which is an interesting result given that the start of this planning process has been strewn with lamentations over the gentrification and displacement and erasure and inequity and injustice suffered, above all, by the Mexican American community.

But let’s act before we die

This grief is real, but these things did not happen simply because of unstoppable natural forces. Among the early settlers who fled the Tonkawa people, someone, usually a white person, decided that daily life for the predominantly non-white people (Chicano and black but also Chinese and Lebanese) along East Avenue and Waller Creek did not represent the highest and the best. using these properties over and over again. Often what was deemed more useful for Austin as a whole was undesirable land use, from the first slaughterhouse district along the creek, to the hospital campus that was built after 13 acres of neighborhood were destroyed by ” urban relocation”, to the Salvation Army. Austin Men’s Shelter and Resource Center for the Homeless Today. And, of course, the highway.

These days, this corridor that faces the central core of the most interesting city in the world is far too expensive for unpleasant land uses like a major highway, which means it’s also too expensive for most people. of working class color. With its vision based on the four pillars of “Inclusive Growth, Culture, Connections, and Nature,” we’ll see just how influential this Palm District plan is to what the powers that be in Austin plan to do. today.

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James C. Tibbs