Mediators spark discussion about Austin housing, transportation during presentation on city’s land code draft

Aria Jones

After breaking down more than 1300 pages of the City of Austin’s land code draft, a communication studies organization mediated a conversation Friday about how the new code will impact Austinites.

The organization, called the UT Project on Conflict Resolution, consists of students and staff who provide conflict mediation sessions for the community, according to the Communication Studies website. Many people attended the event at the Belo Center for New Media, and they were asked what issues should be addressed before the land code is changed. 

The city’s goal is to propose 405,000 new housing units with an estimated 9,000 of them for low-income residents, according to an event presentation by the organization. 

It took a team of about 30 students in a conflict mediation course nearly a month to sort through the land code draft and create the presentation, said Caleb Newton, the president of UT’s Society of Professional Mediators. 

“We were very scared that no one would show up to talk about the land code, because local politics, especially in Austin, aren't really talked about that much,” government junior Newton said. “Some people who come to school here are only here for four years at a time.”

Newton said the organization will possibly take the concerns raised about the new code to Austin City Council at the Dec. 7 public hearing about the code.

The organization separated the audience into four groups and asked them to discuss questions about the land code before announcing their ideas. Several groups voiced concerns about how the new land code and housing prices will affect lower-income people, the homeless and students.

International relations freshman René Otero said he is concerned about people having to live farther away from the public transportation they need due to high prices. He said a new land code will not solve all of the issues Austin faces, but having more open discussions with the larger community is a start.

“The event, while it was a class project, is truly reflective of what we need here in Austin,” Otero said.

Sydney Veatch, a human dimensions of organization junior, said she helped plan the event and said the facilitators wanted to have a proactive discussion.

“(The attendees were) not fighting or talking over each other but really listening to each other and responding.” Veatch said. “And (a proactive discussion) seems to be what we got.”