Conservation Matters January 2016

The Texas Land, Water and Wildlife Connection

UT Austin research recommends ways to protect Hill Country while supporting growth

UT Austin research recommends ways to protect Hill Country while supporting growth Photo by Rob Greebon

New strategies for protecting the Texas Hill Country came out of a recently published study by regional planning experts and graduate students at the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) School of Architecture. The study addresses threats to water resources, scenic beauty and cultural heritage in the face of rapid population growth in the region, according to the authors.

The Texas Hill Country is one of the fastest growing regions in the nation. The study recognizes that both rural communities and urban populations face economic, social and environmental challenges when more land and resources are consumed further and further west of the Interstate 35 corridor and beyond the city limits of Hill Country municipalities.

UT Austin visiting professor Dr. Robert Yaro, the former president of New York’s Regional Plan Association and a University of Pennsylvania professor, led the project supported by 12 UT Austin graduate students in community and regional planning. The team drew upon local expertise, original research and analysis, national case studies and regional discussions to develop the following recommendations:

  • Establish a Hill Country Endowment to finance land conservation and infrastructure investments.
  • Identify areas most suitable for growth and landscapes most suitable for conservation, through suitability mapping and community input.
  • Map desired urban utility boundaries and secure an agreement among local governments to respect those boundaries.
  • Modify current land development policies and practices so that development maintains the scenic, historical and environmental values of the Hill Country.
  • Establish a Hill Country Trinity Water Conservation Area to manage groundwater in the Trinity Aquifer.

“If it were anywhere else in the country, the Texas Hill Country would be a national park,” said Dr. Fritz Steiner, dean of UT Austin’s School of Architecture, who also worked on the project along with co-instructors Meg Merritt and Jane Winslow. “It was an unparalleled experience for our students, and I expect that their work will inform future policy and practice to protect and preserve this beautiful part of Texas.”

Funding for the Hill Country Planning Studio came from the Hill Country Alliance; the UT Austin School of Architecture; and Deedie and Rusty Rose of Dallas, who created the Potter Rose Professorship held by Robert Yaro.

Read the full UT Austin article for more information. Fuller descriptions of the recommended strategies can be found in the report

The report also cites the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources’ Texas Land Trends data.

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