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MAP: Central Austin neighborhoods are providing the most feedback on CodeNEXT

Thursday, August 10, 2017 by Syeda Hasan

The complete rewrite of the city’s Land Development Code known as CodeNEXT will have significant effects on housing, transportation and commercial development throughout Austin in the coming years. But so far, public input on the code has been anything but equal across the city.

Online feedback, in particular, has been overwhelmingly focused on the wealthiest parts of the city.

City staff recently released a map of online comment on CodeNEXT, showing which parts of the city people have weighed in on. Those comments are overwhelmingly concentrated in the city center. They become somewhat sparser in West Austin and virtually disappear along the eastern edges of the city.

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“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, the city’s project manager on CodeNEXT.

Rousselin said the comments don’t necessarily indicate where the people who wrote them live. That’s because anyone can go on the city’s website and leave a comment about how CodeNEXT might impact any part of town – even if they don’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. So what does it mean if few people are weighing in on East Austin? Carmen Llanes Pulido is the executive director of Go! Austin/Vamos! Austin. The coalition of residents and nonprofits does outreach in south and Southeast 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,” Llanes Pulido said. “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.”

Many of the neighborhoods GAVA 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 they worked with have weighed in at city meetings, but she hopes that verbal comments are given the same weight as written ones. She said online comments aren’t accessible for everyone, especially people who speak another language.

“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.”

Last year, the city’s Task Force on Community Engagement released a report that noted the need for more culturally relevant community outreach, but it also noted that city departments have limited resources to take on those strategies.

City Council is set to vote on adopting CodeNEXT in April. More information on getting involved is available on the city’s website.

Curious about how we got here? Check out the Austin Monitor’s CodeNEXT Timeline.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here.

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