Members of the ULI Austin Transportation Strategic Council developed this document to recognize opportunities for Building a Sustainable Region of Inclusive Communities within Central Texas.
Studies, including those that have centered on Central Texas, have shown that the costs of housing and transportation are inextricably tied to one another. As the density of housing rises in urban areas, transportation cost burdens tend to decrease. However, if low density is prevalent in urban areas, residents seek housing further out from the urban core. While the cost of housing may decrease, transportation costs can increase significantly in the absence of affordable mass transit options. When analyzed together, housing and transportation costs are similar in urban, suburban, and rural areas in the Austin region, though the urban option is the lowest in terms of costs. Not only are these options the most cost effective, they are also the most environmentally friendly – a Sierra Club analysis showed that doubling neighborhood density decreased vehicle miles traveled per capita by 20 to 30 percent. A sustainable approach, such as allowing a majority of a region’s residents options to live in walkable places with lots of services nearby, is not only the best for the environment, but also provides options for cost savings for residents.
A great deal of suburban development requires clearing natural cover to install wide swaths of concrete and asphalt (used primarily for roads and parking), which is a practice that is increasingly unsustainable. Sustainable development could be created by considering not just what the land can do for the local economy, but also who it will serve on a day-to-day basis. Uncoordinated development contributed to the creation of urban heat islands, a phenomenon spurred by human activities such as building and clearing of natural cover, with those developed areas experiencing noticeably higher temperatures than nearby rural areas. Studies have shown that natural and developed areas must be planned together to reduce the urban heat island effect while also creating settings that are more hospitable to the casual visitor. An example of a complete community is transit-oriented developments (TODs), which are able to counteract the urban heat island effect by creating density with much less land use committed to roads and parking lots. With all important city functions located within a quarter to half mile of transit, density is achieved with greatly reduced parking ratios compared to typical built areas that experience the urban heat island effect.