Tuesday, October 28, 2008

State proposes suburban creep

The much-maligned state office ghetto between the Capitol and UT may not be long for this world.

The state is looking at moving 9,000 of its employees from downtown Austin to a new, improved ghetto to be constructed somewhere off Texas 130 in eastern Travis County. Texas Facilities Commission executive director Edward Johnson envisions "a new company town" sprawling over 250-300 acres on a site to be determined. The former state offices would presumably be replaced with more mixed-use totems to the well-heeled god of Live-Work-Play.

I find it unsettling that we've reached a point where downtown Austin is too gentrified to house anyone in state government beyond ribbon-cutters and their immediate underlings, but subdivisions to the east and north are teeming with state workers because owning a home anywhere near central Austin and raising kids on state salaries is an increasingly unaffordable proposition. Those folks would likely welcome the shorter commute and our local tax districts would undoubtedly welcome the prime real estate to their rolls.

The proposed new complex might be nominally better than much of what passes for state office space now. State Sen. Kirk Watson says this is "an opportunity to do it right," suggesting that the campus could include worker-friendly amenities such as access to public transport and childcare. Having spent nearly all of my adult life in state buildings, I think the key word here is "opportunity."

In a state that battles Louisiana and Mississippi in a race to see how many of its citizens can be left wanting for health insurance, it isn't hard to imagine a public complex of this scale devolving into a low-bid nightmare that makes Boston's Government Center look like the architecture of promise. Even better, our government center would be next to a tollway through suburban nowhere, a setting that is unlikely to engender livability, authentic culture or even a vague sense of place.

If it were left up to me, I'd prefer to stay in a shitty old building near stuff that at least lets me know I'm still in Austin.


McChris said...

I followed the link to the Wikipedia article about Government Center in Boston, and I thought it looked nice in the photos. Brutalism might be out of fashion these days, but the buildings certainly don't look cheap, especially if you contrast them with the mess of state buidings along North Lamar.

I do agree that moving state offices out to sprawl country would be a very bad thing.

M1EK said...

What would be even better, though, would be an incremental concentration of state workers - through demolishing some of the low density crap. That concentration happening downtown would be ideal, but a better concentration out at SH130 could arguably beat the low-density scattershot we have now.

Either way, though, I don't see much happening - see Austin Contrarian for more insight.