Austin, TexasBiophilic Cities Member since October 11, 2016
Austin has a long history of working to protect environmental features, such as Barton Springs and their watershed, and supporting biodiversity within and around the city. Efforts across Austin are being made to increase coordination and collaboration within the city and through leveraging of partnerships with local non-profits and institutions. As Austinites look forward to the city that will exist in 50 years, they see: nature integrated seamlessly into the city’s legal, and planning and design process; development and redevelopment that prioritizes vegetation, ecosystem function, and the human experience; and access for all Austinites to a healthy dose of daily nature.
City Contact: Lucia Athens, Office of Sustainability Leah Haynie, Urban Forest Division, DSD
- “Cities like Austin serve as engines for innovative and forward-thinking policies such as the Biophilic Cities Network,” said District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool, who chairs the Council’s Open Space, Environment & Sustainability Committee. “Our community has historically placed high value on preserving and promoting our natural environment.”
- “Since research shows that children who learn and play in nature are healthier, happier and perform better in school, Austin’s CCCN Plan will focus on greening schoolyards and creating a new network of School Parks,” says Children in Nature of Austin (CiNCA) co-founder, Hayden Brooks. “Austin’s CCCN Plan seeks to provide daily access to rich nature environments for tens of thousands of underserved students and strengthen communities with nearby nature across our entire city.”
- “Austin is a beacon of sustainability, social equity, and economic opportunity; where diversity and creativity are celebrated; where community needs and values are recognized; where leadership comes from its citizens, and where the necessities of life are affordable and accessible to all.” -Imagine Austin Website
- Inspire Austin, the city plan, explicitly states that their goal is “to protect environmentally sensitive areas and integrate nature into the city.”
- Austin’s Comprehensive Plan, ImagineAustin, was adopted in 2012 and sets a vision for Austin’s future to be a “beacon of sustainability, social equity, and economic opportunity”. Many of the environmental concerns facing Austin, such as increasingly extreme temperature shifts, flooding, decreasing greenfields, and more and longer periods of drought provides opportunities for innovative initiatives aimed at improving environmental concerns while also increasing resident’s connection to nature.
- Austin’s City Code is being updated to reflect a desire for more vegetation, continued protection of Austin’s watershed, and increased ecosystem function. Part of the proposed updates will include something called Functional Green, whereby developing properties with 80% impervious cover will be required to provide the same level of ecosystem services through vegetative cover as other, higher pervious cover properties.
- The objective of the Alley Flat Initiative, an initiative for new sustainable and affordable housing in Austin, is to create an adaptive and self-perpetuating delivery system for sustainable and affordable housing in Austin. The “delivery system” includes not only efficient housing designs constructed with sustainable technologies, but also innovative methods of financing and home ownership that benefit all neighborhoods in Austin.
- For 20 years, the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, jointly managed by the City of Austin, Travis County, and non-profit partners, has provided habitat for threatened local species as well as hiking trails and conservation activities. In total, the city currently owns and manages 20,000 acres of parkland, 30 miles of urban trails, 38,361 acres of Water Quality Protection land, and 13,610 acres of Balcones Habitat Preservation land. City educational programs, such as Wildlife Austin, complement these natural amenities to connect residents with nature where they live, work, and play.
- In 2014, the City recognized that there was an intersection between the need to increase tree canopy in urban and suburban areas and decrease food insecurity. To help tackle these complex and multifaceted issues the existing NeighborWoods free tree program was expanded to include edible fruit and nut trees. Currently, the NeighborWoods program distributes 4,200 shade, ornamental, and fruit and nut trees annually throughout Austin including households, community organizations like churches, and small businesses. Edible trees in front and back yards, and along right-of-ways are slowly turning Austin into a citywide food forest. NeighborWoods is a model of how Austin seeks to meet multiple goals through nature-based initiatives. It provides nature where people live, work, and play, and brings people in closer contact with nature and the seasons through an increased awareness of fruit and nut production. Additionally, it helps meet the City’s long term goal of increasing tree canopy and related ecosystem services, and reducing food insecurity.
- Connecting Children with Nature Initiative: The initiative is one example of a collaborative partnership working to ensure that all children have the opportunity to play, learn, and grow in nature, from city parks to the great outdoors. The city is also set to make progress in providing more equitable access to natural areas through its Cities Connecting Children to Nature Implementation Plan (CCCN Plan), which has identified school sites in underserved areas to pilot a project that will infuse nature into school grounds.
- Watershed Protection Master Plan is the department’s strategic plan that assesses erosion, flood and water quality problems in Austin. It also prioritizes and implements effective solutions that address all three problems. Solutions include projects, programs and regulations.