Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Texas Big Six: 2016 Edition - "Make No Small Plans"

Texas is channeling its inner Daniel Burnham. The Chicago architect responsible for 1909's The Plan of Chicago never uttered the exact words that are the theme of the 2016 Texas Big Six workshop, but the idea sets a guide for the future of the six largest cities in Texas. Burnham's penchant to "make no little plans" would be well received here in Texas, where everything seems bigger, grander (and not always for the better). The 1909 Plan of Chicago was a "comprehensive, systematic and regional" attempt to guide the Chicago region's development.

While Chicago faced tremendous growth at the turn of the 20th century, cities in Texas are seeing that same sort of growth here at the beginning of the 21st century. It's clear that cities are planning for their future growth. Some are doing it better than others. Some take different approaches. Some cities are just starting to do so in a more comprehensive manner (Hmm, Houston), and others have been doing it for much longer (for example, Dallas). Some cities, like Houston, are continuing to grow in area, not simply population (San Antonio). Either way, with this continued growth of Texas cities, it is important to cast that same vision Burnham had for Chicago, and gaining a perspective of the challenges that lie ahead for Texas' growing cities.

In 2014 the American Planning Association's Houston Section hosted "The Texas Big Six 2040 - Conversations about Our Future", where the planning directors from Texas' six largest cities (Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio) addressed the major plans, policies, and projects that will shape the livability, resiliency, and competitiveness of these cities and each region's future.

The planned biennial event is back for 2016. This year, the workshop will be held in Austin (whose region recently passed two million residents) in the Texas State Capitol Auditorium, hosted by both the American Planning Association's Houston and Central sections. Each planning director from Texas' six largest cities will be asked to discuss the “game changers” in their cities and regions that will improve or enhance that area's transportation, housing, economic development, environment, public health, and culture. Each director will be asked how each of these planning areas will impact equity and resiliency by outlining a "top six" list associated with each of the big six subject areas.

The event is a valuable time for planners, engineers, designers, architects and students to openly discuss major issues in cities. The casual happy hour and lunch sessions allow planners from different cities and practices to interact and learn from one another, and provides access to each city's highest ranking planner. While more plans aren't likely to be a result of this workshop, the conversation that takes place and understanding of how other cities in a region or state respond to challenges, is tremendously valuable.

Thursday, March 3, 2016 will feature an evening happy hour with workshop attendees. This event will take place at III Forks Steakhouse at the corner of Cesar Chavez and Lavaca in Austin.

Friday, March 4, 2016 will feature the all-day event, tentatively scheduled from 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM. Breakfast, a snack and lunch will be provided for all workshop attendees on Friday.

The event's keynote speaker is Steve Cover, who serves as the Director of the Department of Community Planning, Housing, and Development in Arlington County, Virginia. Mr. Cover previously served as the Director of Planning and Community and Economic Development for the city of Madison, Wisconsin.

I hope to follow this post with a look at the planning related topics that are current in each city, and to feature a perspective from someone in each of the other five cities. It's important to have an understanding of each of Texas' other big cities are currently experiencing related to our topics of transportation, housing, economic development, environment, public health, and culture.

Anyone is welcome to attend the Texas Big Six. See the registration page for more details. This is a chance for anyone to engage in dialogue with the planning directors from the state's largest cities. This is also a chance for students or community leaders to gain a greater understanding of each city's planning processes and challenges that each city faces. (If you're a student, please sign up to attend! There is a student discount.) We hope that this workshop allows continued discussion between Texas' largest cities, and provides fruitful for planning for each city's continued growth.

Texas cities continue to grow, and there's no sign that this growth is going to slow down any time soon. As planners, we must continue to grow in our knowledge and understanding of our cities, and how we can share information to serve other cities. All of our cities have big plans. But sharing our challenges and experiences might be the biggest magic to stir our blood toward greater city building.

Register for the workshop