land development code myths


  • Austin Mayor Steve Adler recently called for an end to misinformation in debates over important local issues
  • Adler also announced City Hall will restart the rewrite of Austin’s land development code
  • To help combat misinformation, Community Not Commodity will spend the coming weeks debunking myths about the land code, some of which have been spread by city leaders themselves

When he stepped to the podium to deliver this year’s State of the City address, Austin Mayor Steve Adler focused on one problem in particular: misinformation.

Taking aim at critics of the city’s homelessness and policing policies, Adler attacked those who use misinformation “to polarize and divide our community” and to “divide us to gain a political or rhetorical advantage.”

To combat the problem, he urged local residents to “[f]ight fear with facts, and misinformation with listening and truth.”

We agree with the mayor: It’s time for all of us to come together and begin solving Austin’s problems using facts instead of uninformed assumptions.

One of those problems is the controversial rewrite of our land development code, a process that began in 2017, with the now-infamous CodeNEXT initiative. Adler and his allies recently announced they’re planning to restart the effort later this year.

Before City Hall tries to tackle the rewrite yet again, Community Not Commodity will work to dispel some of the most common myths and persistent misinformation about Austin’s land development code. We will provide local residents with unvarnished facts and in-depth research to help them make sense of this complex and contentious topic.

Here’s a preview of one of the first myths we’ll be debunking, taken from a recent interview with Adler:

The previously proposed [land development code] changes would largely allow more dense development, which is intended to produce housing units at more affordable rates. Few question that a revamp of the [land development code] would yield needed housing and potentially curb traffic and home price growth to some extent.

Austin Business Journal, June 4, 2021

Though it’s often repeated by the mayor and his allies, this claim is false. A growing number of experts doubt that a rezoning plan encouraging new, denser developments will produce the truly affordable housing Austin needs—and many believe it could make our affordability crisis even worse.

One of them is urban-studies theorist Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class. Once regarded as urban density’s biggest champion, Florida spent years trying to convince mayors and city planners to enact policies designed to attract young, wealthy, tech-savvy newcomers. But he has since surveyed fast-growing, increasingly expensive cities like Austin and all but admitted he was wrong.

Florida provided further explanation in a recent article for Bloomberg CityLab, where he dismantled pro-density claims like the one above as “too good to be true”:

[Urbanists] want to relax regulations that limit the supply of housing in already expensive cities, and start building taller and denser. It’s supply and demand at work, they argue. Prices—in this case, housing prices—rise when supply is limited. Add more supply, and housing prices fall, making housing more affordable for more people, spurring more and better economic growth in the process. A new paper by two leading economic geographers suggests this argument is simply too good to be true. … [A]s [one of the paper’s authors] told me via email: “Upzoning is far from the progressive policy tool it has been sold to be. It mainly leads to building high-end housing in desirable locations.”

— Richard Florida
Bloomberg CityLab, May 9, 2019

Stay tuned! We’ll take a closer look at the study Florida cites in our next post, and we’ll be dispelling other myths about zoning and the land code in the coming weeks. Make sure to follow us on Facebook for all the latest updates.

Together we can build an Austin for everyone!