TURNING NEIGHBORS INTO STRANGERS
Colony Park is a hilly, undeveloped, 208-acre parcel of city-owned land in the northeast corner of Austin, TX. The land is surrounded by sprawling, 1970’s subdivisions of predominately African-American and Latino families, who settled here in part due to a north-side racial dividing line introduced by the City of Austin in the 1920’s. In 2013 the City successfully secured a grant from HUD to prepare a sustainable communities master plan for the site. In a tone-deaf move the application proposed that 40% of the site should be set aside for affordable housing, a target set without consulting the community. A national RFP led to the selection of a master planning team led by a joint-venture between Farr Associates and Urban Design Group.
A primary goal of the master plan was to help neighboring neighborhoods and families by providing amenities while minimizing displacement. This neighborly “halo” took the form of new parks immediately adjacent to park-free subdivisions, small commercial nodes in each of the four neighborhood centers, and an innovation district to support job creation. Each of the four neighborhoods sits on a hill and has a hilltop public park with a view to Austin’s skyline. The site is criss-crossed with waterways, natural habitats, and utility easements providing the perfect conditions for an open space and trail system to recreate the native Blackland Prairie.
To develop the plan with robust community input, Farr Associates led a five-day planning charrette and four public workshops involving both keypad polling and small table design exercises. University of Texas at Austin provided engagement support. Workshop 2 was called “Building Blocks” and presented the community with a menu of urban design choices each linked with quality of life outcomes. For example, residents preferred increased neighborhood density because it made possible more walk-to amenities. Nine housing types, from single family to apartments, were preferred to keep families in the neighborhood through different life stages. The final open house was a big neighborhood party—complete with food, games, and refreshments—that introduced the plan to the neighborhood spatially: a floor-sized vinyl master plan graphic that allowed participants to “walk the plan” and five-foot diameter helium balloons marking the sites of the future parks.
City Council adopted the plan in December of 2014, Catellus was formally selected as the master developer in late 2018, and pre-development activities are ongoing.