Challenging the land use planning status quo in the Austin metro area




Smith, Kayla Michele

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This report explores potential urban land use planning implications of changes both accelerated and brought forth by the COVID-19 pandemic that began in March of 2020. Analysis of current trends is first grounded by a literature review that examines the origins of urban systems and considers methodologies for conducting and evaluating land use planning and implementation efforts. The three notable trends studied are: increased remote and hybrid working arrangements, housing supply shortages and affordability challenges, and acknowledgement of disparate urban experiences based on race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Discussion of the disruptive potential of these trends aims to move the land use planning field beyond its reactive status quo toward consideration of how cities and metro areas can strategically position themselves to adapt and thrive in the face of changing futures. A case study of the Austin Metro Area examines specific manifestations of these trends and proposes challenges to the current land use planning approach in the region and its principal city. Planning and regulation of land use must be more flexible in the face of uncertainty, more cognizant of historical planning interventions and the disparate impacts of exclusionary policies, and more responsive to changing patterns of socioeconomic geographic distribution related to affordability, mobility, and economic opportunity for both households and the region. Additionally, future land use planning must center the needs of diverse types of people and their use patterns rather than seeking to achieve “ideal” urban forms derived from often outdated and worker-focused assumptions about how people interact with the built environment. To support this approach, planners require better means of collecting and monitoring real-time data about population characteristics, economic activity, mobility, and the real estate market, particularly in a quickly evolving urban system like the Austin Metro Area


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