Public input on the city's proposed new land development code has been anything but equal across the city. A map of online feedback shows the comments have been overwhelmingly focused on the wealthiest parts of the city – namely, Central Austin.
The comments become somewhat sparser in West Austin and virtually disappear along the eastern edges of the city.
“I guess the patterns that we’re realizing with the feedback is that there’s a lot of interest in providing specific feedback on specific properties or even on neighborhoods,” said Jorge Rousselin, a project manager on CodeNEXT. The new rules will have a significant impact on housing, transportation and commercial development in Austin in the coming years.
Rousselin said the comments don’t necessarily indicate where the people who wrote them live. Anyone can go on the city’s website and leave a comment about how CodeNEXT might impact any part of town – even if the person doesn't live there.
“The fact that it’s concentrated in the core of the city, it’s something that we don’t have control over in terms of how people provide comments,” he said. Still, those comments have led to changes and corrections in the code map.
What does it mean if only a few people are weighing in on East Austin?
“People who are facing huge threats of economic displacement are in this area, but we don’t want to see anything that accelerates that or any unplanned consequences,” said Carmen Llanes Pulido, executive director of Go Austin Vamos Austin, or GAVA. “This is also a really environmentally sensitive area with the flooding, and so it’s worth taking the time to look at the data and take the time to get it right.”
GAVA is a coalition of residents and nonprofits that does outreach in South and Southeast Austin. Many of the neighborhoods it works with show low participation in online comments.
Earlier this year, GAVA released its own Spanish-language handouts on CodeNEXT. Llanes Pulido said some residents have weighed in at city meetings, and that she hopes verbal comments are given equal weight to written ones. She said not everyone can comment online, especially people who speak other languages.
“I’ve seen cases where only a written comment is given validity, and that’s a 500-year-old trick in terms of marginalizing folks, whether it’s conscious and intentional or completely unintentional and completely unconscious,” she said. “It is a bias.”
The city’s Task Force on Community Engagement released a report last year that noted the need for more culturally relevant community outreach, but it also noted that city departments have limited resources.
The Austin City Council is set to vote on adopting CodeNEXT in April. More information on getting involved is available on the city’s website.