Does New Urbanism Have a Racial Problem?

In two parts, NPR's City Project examines Austin's premier mixed-use urban village built on the 700-acre site of the former Robert Mueller Municipal Airport which relocated in 1999. Part 2 is about racial tensions that have surfaced in the community.

2 minute read

February 16, 2015, 5:00 AM PST

By Irvin Dawid


Austin Race map

Eric Fischer / Flickr

"Mueller is an award-winning master planned and designed community, [built] in accordance with new urbanist principles," according to its website. And it has won a lot of awards, from protected bike lanes to sustainability to landscape architecture.

Construction began in Austin's "new urbanist enclave," as John BurnettNPR's southwest correspondent, refers to it, in 2007. In Part 1, and archived in NPR Cities Project, Burnett does an excellent job of describing the design of the mixed-income, mixed-use community.

"But what happens when one of Austin's most progressive, welcoming neighborhoods experiences racial incidents involving some of its own African-American residents who don't feel so welcome?" he asks.

Burnett describes several incidents that showed that residents were suspicious of the presence of African Americans in the community, who turned out to be residents. The close-knit community, helped by the physical design of the community itself, recognized there was a problem and acted.

Taken together, the incidents convinced some Mueller residents that they needed to open a frank dialogue about race in their community. Two neighborhood meetings have followed. NPR was invited to the latest one, in early December.

"By and large, there was a collective sense of both outrage, shock and honest, sincere sadness," says James Nortey, 28, a black attorney in Austin and president of the Mueller Neighborhood Association

A broader issue is the state of race relations in the state's capital, Austin, population 885,400. "University of Texas report on U.S. Census data reveals that Austin is the only large, fast-growing city in America with a declining black population," writes Burnett.

From 2000 to 2010, Austin's general population jumped 20 percent, but the number of African-Americans shrank by 5 percent. Among the reasons given in the study: high property taxes, bad relations with police and disparities in public schools.

That's not to say that Austin is not completely lacking in racially diversity. Although Austin-Round Rock was rated #30 by the US2010 Project at Brown University, according to The Wall Street Journal (and posted here in Sept., 2012), the Hispanic share of its population was 31.4 percent.

Burnett ends his piece on an optimistic note. Referencing the racial strife that has erupted due after the Ferguson, Mo., shooting last August and the resulting calls for a national dialog on race, he writes that in Mueller, "that conversation is already quietly taking place."

Saturday, February 14, 2015 in NPR

Green rapid transit bus pulled into station in dedicated lane.

Indiana Once Again Considering Ban on Dedicated Transit Lanes

The proposed legislation would impact the construction of planned IndyGo Blue Line, the third phase of the city’s bus rapid transit system.

February 25, 2024 - Fox 59

Aerial view of New York City architecture with augmented reality visualization, blue digital holograms over buildings and skyscrapers

4 Ways to Use AI in Urban Planning and City Design

With the ability to predict trends, engage citizens, enhance resource allocation, and guide decision-making, artificial intelligence has the potential to serve as planners’ very own multi-tool.

February 20, 2024 - ArchDaily

View from shore of Sepulveda Basin water catchment basin with marsh plants along shore.

LA’s ‘Spongy’ Infrastructure Captured Almost 9 Billion Gallons of Water

The city is turning away from stormwater management practices that shuttle water to the ocean, building infrastructure that collects and directs it underground instead.

February 25, 2024 - Wired

Ice fishing tents surrounded by fence in Safe Outdoor Space for unhoused people in parking lot in Denver, Colorado.

An Affordable Housing Model for Indigenous Americans

Indigenous people make up a disproportionately high percentage of the unhoused population, but many programs designed to assist them don’t reach those most in need.

7 hours ago - High Country News

An electric bicycle is shown with the legs of a human who is riding the e-bike.

Oregon Bill Would Ban E-Bikes for Riders Under 16

State lawmakers seek to change Oregon e-bike laws following the death of a 15-year old last summer.

March 1 - Oregon Capital Chronical

Aerial view of canal cut into beach in Charlestow, Rhode Island with boats parked in sand.

Northeastern Waterways More Polluted After Wet Year

Intense rains washed more runoff into local bodies of water, while warmer temperatures contributed to the growth of an invasive bloom.

March 1 - University of Rhode Island

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.