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Publisher’s Note: Fun and Game Night

Monday, May 23, 2016 by Michael Kanin

Last week, your Austin Monitor team tried something new.

From the start, we’d planned on building an events series to further our mission of civic engagement. Our thinking was that direct outreach might more directly impact our readers (and earn us a few more eyeballs along the way).

That happened. Thanks to the generosity of the folks at the North Door and a handful of sponsors such as Milestone Community Builders, the Downtown Austin Alliance and Yellow Cab Austin, we were able to expand our mission with live forums, where elected officials, leaders and community members brought lively discussion to a live audience. This will continue. (In fact, look for something in September.)

IMG_2263But, after a certain point, we realized that we would often find ourselves retreating to familiar corners even as new wrinkles presented themselves. We wanted something more practical. Something that would force us to confront known issues in a new way. Something that would bring all parties to a table around a defined set of parameters. Something that would create the potential for a new kind of discussion.

So we went in search of something more tangible than a discussion forum. And we came up with Game Night. More a challenge than a discussion, we figured that a little light competition thrown open to the city at large might produce something really interesting.

And it did. A week ago, with help from the Drenner Group, the Ryan Companies, STG Design, the Real Estate Council of Austin, RVi Planning, the Austin Neighborhoods Council and the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects, we put on our inaugural Development Game Night. In the first of three planned game nights this year, we asked teams to put together a development proposal for a slice of AISD property set for sale near the intersection of 183 and East 51st Street.

RVi's Peter Dufrene with his team's design.

RVi’s Peter Dufrene with his team’s design.

We were flat stunned with the result. Five teams offered fully conceived designs that ranged in terms of concept from a relatively dense, modular idea based around containers to a mobile home park surrounded by green space, multifamily and retail.

To be clear, our intent was not to offer some kind of prelude to redevelopment of this specific tract. Rather, we were after discussion framed in the practical, hoping it would stoke conversation outside of the familiar ruts. There were certainly flaws in the designs, and perhaps in the concept — City Council Member Ora Houston reminded us that any project should consider the position of the folks already in the neighborhood — but that wasn’t quite the point (nor was the fact that our judges saw fit to award a tie for first place between RVi and the Dan Keshet/Julio Carrillo design).

Dan Keshet and Julio Carrillo with their design.

Dan Keshet and Julio Carrillo with their design.

However, the amount of effort on display illustrates that this sort of discussion was a welcomed one. And, though twothree teams were made up of design and architectural professionals, two were not. And one of those “amateur” teams even managed to tie for first place with its concept of a dense space encircled by a set of residential units, which the team modeled after the ubiquitous (at least in some places) triple-decker apartment building.

That was the point: to create a space safe enough for reasoned discussion framed by reasonable parameters — something that might push forward possibilities that otherwise might not see the light of day.

Ultimately, this post is a very long thank you note. We are grateful to our community for buying into this idea. As with everything we do, it would not have been possible without you. We very much hope that you’ll join us next time (August 16th!).

Lead Photo: David King with his Development Game Night design.

This post has been updated to reflect the correct number of professional design teams at game night. There were three, not two as originally indicated.

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