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BBB: UT med school and innovation district recap

Wednesday, April 29, 2015 by Sunny Sone

A panel consisting of University of Texas Medical School Dean Clay Johnston, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, Central Health President and CEO Patricia Young Brown and Civic Analytics’ Brian Kelsey on Tuesday night expressed optimism about and aired concerns for the medical school and planned innovation district.

The Austin Monitor and the Capital of Texas Media Foundation hosted the panel as part of its ongoing Beer, Brains and Betterment series, moderated by Monitor publisher Mike Kanin.

Among the panel’s largest concerns were the need for community input, good timing and practical planning efforts. Johnston communicated a vision for the innovation district to serve as a model for other such planned districts across the world and for the medical center to serve as a model for better health care.

“At the core, it has to come from listening carefully to people — not patients, people — and to the community and then creating the systems of health — not health care — to support that community,” Johnston said.

Though construction of the school is already underway, Johnston said plans were still in need of serious revision to address housing and transportation concerns. He said medical school students and employees needed to live in the area, but that housing need must be balanced with the impact on existing neighborhoods.

“We don’t want to put pressure on East Austin,” Johnston said. “I also don’t want to impact adversely the neighborhoods around it.”

Tovo said the downtown area needs housing, and mentioned efforts in the Waller Creek Neighborhood Plan to include housing. She said it is possible that staff may recommend a new zoning category specifically for the innovation district.

Tovo also addressed the topic of transportation. Johnston does not want students spending hours commuting in, and Tovo said most innovation districts like those planned around the medical school have public transportation more akin to the plan for rail that Austin residents voted down in November.

Housing wasn’t the only planning concern broached during the forum. Johnston also stressed the need for planners to incorporate incubator space, expand hospital and clinic space, and expand space for psychiatric care and cancer care. The university is currently leasing lab space around the medical school. Central Health hopes to combat some of these issues with community clinics and expanded services at the Southeast Health and Wellness Center. The center is building a crisis center for psychiatric care.

Kelsey’s chief concern centered on inclusive economic development and making plans and goals based on hard data from similar projects around the world. He emphasized workforce-training programs, working with minority-owned businesses under the city’s procurement policies and looking toward community input.

“If you live in Travis County, if you are a renter or a homeowner, you are now an investor in this project,” Kelsey said. “I think we need to have a pretty broad and far-reaching conversation about what we want out of this.”

Brown took workforce training a step further. She wants to begin reaching out to elementary school students to prepare them for career paths in the medical field. This can be accomplished, Brown said, through partnerships and connections between the Austin Independent School District, Austin Community College, UT and the medical school.

“The collaborative efforts of this community are what made this all come to be,” Brown said.

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