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Austin’s oldest buildings and most diverse architecture, mapped

The Atlas of ReUrbanism makes a case for preservation

Austin has never been overly zealous about preservation. Lately, though, reaction to the idea has bordered on hostile (okay, has outright become hostile in some cases).

The antipathy, based on the idea that preservation of “character” in areas of a city can inhibit the increase of diversity, density, and affordability in those places, is understandable. A new, interactive map published by the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Green Lab, however, might complicate that argument.

The Lab’s Atlas of ReUrbanism is an expanding tool that looks at the built environment of U.S. 50 cities. The map enables users to see demographic, economic, and environmental data from the U.S. Census, American Community Survey, and other sources.

Also viewable are individual building and block characteristics, as well as something called the “Character Score,” established in the Lab’s Older, Smaller, Better report. The Character Score assesses the median age of buildings, diversity of building age within a 200-by-200-meter square, and the size of the buildings and parcels.

On the map, the red denotes older and smaller buildings, while the newer and larger ones are bluer.

A fact sheet published with atlas summarizes the study’s findings. It notes that, compared to areas with “large, new structures,” Austin’ “blocks of older, smaller, mixed-age buildings” contain 83 percent greater population density, 72 percent more jobs in small businesses, 61 percent more jobs in new businesses, and nearly 80 percent more women- and minority-owned businesses.

As one could predict, Austin’s map gets bluer (denoting more newer, larger buildings) as it spreads out from the central city. A couple of interesting local findings of note: the percentages of affordable rental units and number of people working in “creative industries” are higher in the blue areas. Depending on whether or not you include gaming and some tech jobs in the “creative” category, that makes sense, as many related companies’ campuses are not in the central city, but it somewhat undermines conclusions relating “Character Scores” and affordability, at least for renters.

Austin map [The Atlas of ReUrbanism]

Austin fact sheet [The Atlas of ReUrbanism]