Case Study: Austin TX is Booming

Earlier this year, we posted a series of blogs that highlighted the progress of past EcoDistricts Incubator teams. To kick off the 2016 Incubator application cycle, we’ve checked in with some of the teams from the 2015 Incubator to see what they’ve accomplished in the past seven months.



The City of Austin, Texas is booming. It has the fastest growing population of any large city in the country, and its economic growth is not far behind.

But not all residents are benefitting from Austin’s significant growth. For example, Central East Austin, which sits just outside of the booming downtown area, is a residential, ethnically mixed neighborhood with nearly 33% of residents living below the federal poverty line. Interstate 35 has geographically and racially separated the area from downtown Austin since the middle of the 20th century, but, as Austin grows major development projects are beginning to creep past that boundary. Currently, many long-term, lower-income residents are in danger of being priced out — losing access to housing, jobs and services — as the area experiences rapid growth and pressure from gentrification as the northeast downtown area pursues high-density development projects and planning for an innovation zone.


About the Project

Central Health Brackenridge is a 14.3-acre health care district located next to a park system, a new medical school and teaching hospital, and serves as the planned innovation zone. Central Health Brackenridge has been a historically important asset to the Central East Austin community — it is responsible for providing affordable health care to the county’s low-income residents. In 2014 alone, it provided care for nearly 97,000 people who otherwise may not have received health services.

The opportunity to redevelop the Brackenridge campus was initiated in part by the commitment of local tax dollars for health care transformation in 2012. In 2014, Central Health initiated a master panning process for the Brackenridge campus. Project leaders recognized how important it was to put inclusivity, sustainability and public health square in the middle of the redevelopment plans.

For example, core to development of the master plan is an extensive and ongoing stakeholder and community input process. It also includes affordable housing and enhanced mobility options with a new street grid and public transit. It will support the medical school, new teaching hospital and the planned innovation zone with new facilities such as wet labs and incubator space. Mixed-use development may include a hotel, entertainment, cafes and retail that will provide new jobs and partnerships with existing small businesses.


Why the EcoDistricts Incubator?

Taking a cue from Austin’s Seaholm District, which attended the 2012 EcoDistricts Incubator, the Central Health team attended the 2015EcoDistricts Incubator for the opportunity to connect their multi-stakeholder team and coalesce around common outcomes for the project. According to Sarah Malm, Director of Communications at Central Health and Incubator lead, the team saw the Incubator as a chance to learn a common language, work together and get intensive education around some of the issues that drive district scale development projects.

Central Health and the EcoDistricts approach share a core commonality: an integrated delivery model, collaboration, shared investment and rigorous metrics. Equity and resilience also are essential components for the successful redevelopment of the Brackenridge campus. To achieve Central Health’s vision of transforming Central Texas into a model healthy community, the team identified the need for best planning tools, close collaboration with our partners and access to a national network engaged in urban regeneration. They recognized EcoDistricts’ important work with Austin’s Seaholm District and its national reputation as a leader in helping district-scale projects transform cities.



The Incubator helped the Central Health team solidify a clear plan moving forward. First, they implemented a district governance structure by creating a quarterly advisory team of stakeholders. Several stakeholders are also assigned staff positions for the project, creating a system of management to keep things moving forward. They also brought their Incubator team facilitator, Dave Ramslie of Integral Group, to Austin to help shape the mission of the project and the advisory council.

The Incubator helped the team finalize a district-scale master plan that had stalled. After the team traveled to Portland, they were able to create huge buy in from multiple stakeholders. In December 2015, the master plan was sent to the Central Health board for adoption in January 2016.

EcoDistricts’ emphasis on community engagement affirmed the outreach work the Central Health team had already begun. They continued to implement engagement activities in Central Austin, such as surveys, neighborhood meetings and presentation. In October 2015, they launched an online open house website that allows the public to tour six stations of sample concepts for the district and give their feedback.