WHYS in Austin, Texas!

Hi, everyone, this is Emily From KUT Radio in Austin, Texas. We’re very excited that WHYS will be broadcasting from Austin for a week in mid-November. I wanted to let you know about a few of the big issues here in Austin at the moment, and start the global conversation ahead of the shows.
As you can imagine, there are a lot of people with a lot of opinions on the U.S. Presidential election next Tuesday. Austin’s a liberal island in a predominantly conservative state. Democratic Presidential candidate, Barack Obama, took the city from his party rival, Hillary Clinton, back in March. We expect the state of Texas to “go red” but Austin to “go blue.”

Austin’s city leadership is trying to make a name for itself and the city, as the greenest city in the world.
To that end, the City Council is considering making it compulsory for homeowners to undergo an energy audit before they’re allowed to sell their homes. Do you think that’s an example of a forward thinking city government or an overzealous intrusion into citizens’ privacy and property? Some folks think so. The City Council will discuss whether to make this idea law in November.

As the City Council keeps polishing its green image, it’s also wrestling with how to handle rapid population growth and the challenges of maintaining the quality of life. Some of the concerns include affordable housing, greens spaces, transportation (Right now, Austin only has a public bus service. Light Rail and Commuter Rail are being considered) and education. Many people are furious over the City’s decision to allow very high end condo developments all along the once wide-open spaces of its riverfront. City leaders say the best way to build is “up.” It’s certainly changed the skyline and the flavor of this once small Capitol City. Do you think high rises are an inevitable sign of a city’s progress? Or even a sign that a values its environment enough to discourage sprawl? How is your city coping with housing more and more people? Is it better to build up than out? It’s certainly an ongoing topic of conversation here.

There’s so much going on in our city, I can’t wait for you to learn more. We’re very interested in how people in other cities will view our challenges. Look forward to talking more very soon. Emily

13 Responses to “WHYS in Austin, Texas!”

  1. 1 Robert Evans
    October 30, 2008 at 01:21

    In the United Kingdom we do a simular thing with the energy efficiency and each house which for sale is given a grading from A to F. This all comes in package prepared by the vendors of the property about the condition of the property.

  2. 2 Jennifer
    October 30, 2008 at 01:52


    I am not so sure that I think highrises are the best answer but if you expand “out” as opposed to “up” cities would start running together. Many roads on Oklahoma interstates are undergoing construction to fix and expand. We have many new bypasses; especially in our smaller towns because it takes longer to get through them with all the traffic.

    I think it’s ideal to have energy audits. People can not consider information if it’s not provided for them. As for problems with population growth; it seems to me that maybe it’d be a good idea to offer sterilization for men if they would like it. Green spaces are wonderful and I think they enhance communities and also motivate families to spend quality time together outdoors.

  3. 3 Roberto
    October 30, 2008 at 02:46

    RE Austin energy audits:

    ——— Hello Emily. May have seen you during the fundraising drive last week.

    I’ve complained about Austin’s misbegotten policies long before. The progressive voters that elect city leaders are no different from any other voters across the country in that they don’t hold politicians responsible.

    Austin has the most bloated city budget of any community in the US I would guess thanks to almost doubling my property taxes in the midst of a global mortgage credit default crisis that has the world on it’s knees this year.

    They subsidize large energy users with cheap prices, but want to stick it to the little guys who are hit hardest by food, fuel, and global shakeup. Working folks are being driven out of the city by property taxes and the cost of living. Some 60% of children attending AISD are at or below poverty level and qualify for aid. The massive tax increases and poverty spikes are new developments and speak volumes about the city’s priorities.

    The city has done a great job by developers and other business highrollers, but a poor job for working class citizens. I had to sit thru a planning session in my neighborhood where the developer got a tax break by setting aside a portion of the project for affordable housing.

    In short, they raised the taxes in my neighborhood to give a developer a tax break to build a home that will be newer and nicer than my own so more people can move in and raise my taxes even more on top of all the rest of the bail outs. They mean to squeeze the average citizen dry and then mulch em at the city’s massive new compost plant i guess.

    Need to change the name to Neo Paris de la Colorado me thinks. Austin is dead.

  4. 4 Bob in Queensland
    October 30, 2008 at 09:27

    By pure coincidence one of the “Lifestyle” channels down here in Australia last week finished running a series about a home renovation in Austin. The dealt at length with Austin’s “green credentials” and I have to say I was very impressed with the forward-looking polices there. It appeared to be a very pleasant environment in which to live and (please take this as a compliment) didn’t live up to my stereotyped image of a Texas city.

    Admittedly I am seeing things from halfway around the world but it seems to me that Austin is simply a trendsetter and cities everywhere will eventually have to follow suit.

    Well done!

  5. 5 Pangolin-California
    October 30, 2008 at 18:57

    The proposal for energy audits before sale is a great idea. A house that is going to get a good score on an energy audit is also very likely to be a sound house that is well maintained. It’s a shame that the proposal doesn’t extend to rental properties also. Poor quality housing is a burden on the local economy as it can lead to illness, loss of work hours, sick children and excessive costs to schools.

    A family living in a more energy efficient house has more money every month to spend at small businesses in the local economy. They should experience reduced stress and enjoy greater health as a result. I would suggest even further improvements by implementing a solar-panel installation program such as the ones Berkeley and San Francisco in California have implemented. A final energy saving measure to encourage would be the installation of ground-source heat pumps like the one George Bush has installed in his Crawford house.

    b.t.w.- Check out those bats under the bridge in Austin. Famous mosquito eaters those.

  6. 6 Luci Smith
    October 31, 2008 at 13:51

    Hi, Emily!

    I lived in Austin in 1977-78 and went to UT before heading off to Copenhagen, where I still live. It used to be a great place to ride a bicycle.

    It is sad to think about Barton Springs becoming high-rise territory. It used to be the only place you could skinny-dip between the East and the West coasts of the Continental US- (or so we thought).

    Copenhagen’s city planners have also plastered any available waterfront surface with high-rises in the last 10 years. Here, there are some new venues like an Opera House and a new Royal Theater Playhouse, which in practice also are mostly used by the same people who can afford to live in high rises. And then all of the hotels and office buildings…

    After listening to Toni Morrison on The Strand on Tuesday the 28th of October, I can only guess that it is a matter of rich people cutting the rest of us out of the good views, just like they always appropriate everything else that is in short supply.

    I wonder who buys all of these expensive condeminiums with river /lake/ harbour views? If you can afford it, then you have one in Austin, one in Rio, one in London, one in Copenhagen, Sydney – whatever.
    When I think about all of the people who have no home, it makes me angry.

    I am pretty sure that history will prove that high rises have a tendency to become slums with time, whereas what is built low and allowed to sprawl becomes unmanageable in regard to zoning.

    Copenhagen’s Lord Mayor Ritt Bjergaard, who was previously the EU Comissioner for The Environment has tried to build ‘affordable housing’ for families for a couple of years now, but she has been met with lots of criticism and stymied at every turn. It was one of her election promises but every time she selects a site, all of the neighbors are up in arms about anything being built there at all!

    “It’s gotten pretty built up around there”, was a phrase we used when I lived in Dallas. As the green spaces in our cities disappear, the concept of ‘green’ inside the home becomes more important. All homes in Denmark that are put on the market also have to have a compulsory energy audit. (Of course, these certificates depend on the honesty of the evaluator. ) Our Government runs campaigns with incentives to help homeownwers and residents of rental and co-op apartments make their dwellings more energy efficient and to encourage people to save energy and to use renewable energy. But then we also have lots of old buildings and it gets seriously cold here in the winter, whereas you have problems with the heat in the summer in Austin.

  7. 7 Luci Smith
    October 31, 2008 at 14:42

    I am sorry that I can’t ever be concise enough. See above.

    But talking about Austin is also talking about the music scene and Mexican food. And education. What other city has so many students as a proportion of its population?

  8. 8 emilydonahue
    October 31, 2008 at 17:55

    Hi Everybody,

    Thanks so much for your comments! You all make great points – from the positive side of home energy audits to the downside of expensive development along the waterfront. It’s good to know that other cities in other parts of the world are dealing with similar issues. We have a lot of opinion in Austin about whether those high rise, high end condos are cutting off views and access for the rest of city residents. And a lot of opinion about who’s buying them: the common perception is it’s rich people from out of town or out of state, with no stake in maintaining the unique Austin lifestyle. Whether that’s true or not is the subject of ongoing debate. So’s the idea that these higher end homes for higher salary transplants is making Austin less affordable. But some believe one staple of Austin’s identity: its live music scene, may be a casualty. The numbers show more people moving to Austin, but fewer attending live shows. The live music scene contributes millions each year to the city’s economy. One group, Save Austin Music, is practically making a living out of keeping people aware of what it calls the threat to live music.

    Lots to think about. Would be very interested in your thoughts. Keep ’em coming! —Emily from KUT.

  9. 9 Jose Meras
    November 2, 2008 at 19:26

    Hi Emily,

    I am a Houston-based listener of WHYS. I am looking forward to listening, and possibly attending, to WHYS when they broadcast from Austin. It is my fervent hope that listeners from around the world will get to see another side of Texas during the broadcast. Many don’t realize that Texas has many thoughtful, globally-minded people that care about living in a better world. Houston, in particular, is fast becoming a world class city with global impact.

    Best regards,

    Jose Meras

  10. 10 Jack Hughes
    November 3, 2008 at 00:33

    The “energy audit” is just a big crock.

    The job of the local council is to organise a small number of local services – then just get out of the way and let people do their own thing.

    If the buyer and seller both want an “energy audit” then that’s fine. Let ’em do it.

    If the buyer wants it – let the buyer arrange it. Why do they need a new law ?

    And why do greenies turn into control freaks ?

  11. 11 Vijay
    November 3, 2008 at 07:44

    I can only think of that Linklater film “Slacker”

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