“We are pro-people, not pro-development. We are anti-displacement, not anti-development.”
This is the slogan of Planning Our Communities (POC), a new organization focused on bringing more nuance into conversations around Austin’s land development code, as well as creating space for communities of color and working class people to share their perspectives about the future of our city.
AEN Editor-In-Chief Amy Stansbury sat down with several members (Isabelle Atkinson, Marla Torrado, Shavone Otero) of the POC Steering Committee earlier this week to learn more.
“I love that POC is creating a space where all of us can get involved in a different way,” said Shavone during our interview. “Because I often found that it was very polarizing around issues of development, the land development code. You’re either on this side or that side.”
With POC, Shavone explained that they’re creating a more inclusive space for people to talk about our land development code, gentrification, and affordability, especially for those who might not have been as engaged in the past.
At their first official happy hour (held in October), 60 young people of color showed up to discuss these important issues facing our city.
“It’s really inspiring and galvanizing to be in that space,” said Isabelle.
Since the city is currently rewriting its land development code, that’s where a lot of the group’s focus is right now, but other things they’re working on include:
- supporting the creation of more housing options all over Austin
- fighting gentrification and displacement
- promoting civic engagement, equitable transit, and community health
(PS – A quick reminder, in case you forgot. A land development code is basically a rule book for the city, explaining what can be built where, as well as how much can be built. It affects everything from transportation, to affordability, to the environment… although it’s far from the only thing that impacts those issues.)
So how is Planning Our Communities dealing with the land development code rewrite?
For starters, Marla said, they’re acknowledging the racist of history of how land planning and development has been handled in Austin. “So we need to make sure that as we plan for the future, that is being accounted for…. but we also need to make sure that we’re planning for the future, not only for people who are coming, but also thinking about working class families who are having kids. Hopefully they will also be able to find a place to live.”
This makes the issue very complex, explained Marla, but through it all, her focus is on planning in an equitable way throughout the entire city.
“Yes, we need more housing, but can we make it more distributed… along the whole city,” Marla said during the AEN interview. “Not just having some sectors be the one who carry all the burden of having to increase their supply.”
The other thing that POC is trying to focus on is bringing more people into the land development code/housing affordability conversation.
“Especially because in Austin there is such a geographic contrast between access to resources and time to talk about these things,” explained Isabelle. “And so, while in one part of town you might be saying okay I don’t want any development to happen, the city is still growing. It doesn’t mean that the development is going to stop. It just means it’s going to be concentrated where there’s less resources and time to put towards being more conscientious about how development happens.”
In the end, it’s all about building an Austin where communities of color and working class people can thrive.
“Customarily these planning spaces and these discussions are heavily dominated by white voices,” Isabelle said. “And so it would be great to see everyone having equal opportunity to advocate and speak on what they want to see for their city.”
Want to learn more about Planning Our Communities? Follow their Facebook page for upcoming events, including a Code 101 workshop series.