Boomtown tomorrow: Austin's future, and its past, are made up of creativity

From the past to the present, most will agree growth in the city of Austin can be attributed to one thing -- creativity. Austin's most creative -- and its youngest -- minds discuss the boomtown's creative expansion.

Austin's brightest, and youngest, minds had a lot to say about our future, from energy to health and from technology to construction.

AUSTIN - The class of 2030, also known as today's kindergartners, tried to help KVUE figure out what the future of Austin will look like. 

“That is a hard question,” said Brentwood Elementary Kindergartner Kian. “I think it’s going to look really beautiful.”

“It's going to look kind of the same, and there might be more houses, because in downtown, they keep building more and more buildings,” said Brentwood Kindergartner Malik. 

“Umm I do not know,” said Cunningham Elementary Kindergartner Samantha. 

“I think it’s going to look like Asia,” said Owen, a Cunningham Elementary School Kindergartner.

“We’re not taking care of the world, and we need to take better care of it, so it’s just dying because the predators are eating it, starting to kill it, so we need to start building less houses and start not killing fishies to eat, we need to start taking care of the fishies and not building as many houses,” said Alchemy, a Brentwood Kindergarten student. 

“A lot of snow,” said Devanhi, a Brentwood Elementary School kindergartner. 

“There is more buildings, and taller buildings,” said Brennan, a Brentwood Elementary School Kindergartner. 

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“A little bit bigger,” said Graeme, a Brentwood Elementary student. 

The future can be as confusing for Kindergartners, as many adults. 

So, KVUE went to ask a few experts what they think. 

The Silicon Valley of The South

Joshua Baer, founder and CEO of Capital Factory, said Silicon Valley used to be the place for technology breakthroughs, but now it could be Austin. 

“Austin has been one of the leading tech hubs in the industry for many years now, but it’s still not up to where everybody thinks it should be and everyone always looks to Silicon Valley and California as the place where all this innovation needs to come from, but the innovation coming over the next 10 or 20 years is in industries like energy, and health, and transportation, that actually aren’t the places where Silicon Balley has been the most successful so far, and maybe the solutions are going to come from other places in the rest of the country that are more connected to real world that those things affect,” said Baer. 

But he believes it’s important to make strategic moves.  

“We really need to make sure that as the city grows, and as we bring in great companies and technologies, and other solutions, that everybody benefits from it," said Baer. “And the technology is seen as something that lifts everybody up, not just makes the wealthy wealthier.” 

Baer said it needs to involve the spirit of both the past and the future. 

“The only way that we’re going to move forward as a city successfully is if we are able to bridge the gap between the old Austin that grew up as the hippie town, college town, and this place you went to get away from big business and other things, and this innovation and technology hub that we’re growing into,” he said. 

For Baer, he believes Austin is in a prime location for a successful future. 

“I think the future of Austin is actually all about being part of Texas,” said Baer. 

He predicts the four largest cities in Texas will grow into each other over the next 20 to 30 years. 

“There’s really nowhere else in the country where you’ve got four cities so large and so diverse, yet so close together,” Baer added. “You can be in any one city and drive to the other city for the day, and then come back and be there, and that’s only getting easier with daily bus service, with plane service, and maybe with high speed rail or Hyperloop.”

Speeding Toward a Hyperloop?

Steven Duong, a Senior Urban Designer with AECOM, works with infrastructure like the Hyperloop, and he agrees. 

"The model we've been currently developing and designing cities, doesn't work anymore,” said Duong. 

Hyperloop One plans to have a system functioning somewhere in the world by 2021, and Duong predicts it will be in the U.S. about five years later.

“Texas, one, is relatively flat which makes construction a lot easier compared to other regions of the world that have rivers, lakes and mountains in between,” said Duong. “Another is the high economic growth of Texas, along with the high population growth of Texas, so those factors together make a really strong future market for a technology like the Hyperloop.”

He also said the distance between Texas cities is optimum for the Hyperloop. 

“The actual distance between the cities themselves are very appropriate for a technology like the Hyperloop, so the distance between the cities are not quite convenient for short-haul air travel, and they’re not great for traveling in an automobile along a highway either,” sad Duong. 

So once companies are ready to build a Hyperloop in the U.S., Duong believes Texas could be a prime location. 

"We suspect Texas will absolutely be one of the first ones,” said Duong. 

And that means city boundaries aren't limited to a car drive. 

“The traditional urban boundaries that we have right now are largely based on the scale of an automobile, so 30-minute drives are kind of everyone’s comfort level with long commute drives, and that is kind of what today has defined your major urban boundaries around major urban dense notes,” Duong said. “So, with the Hyperloop, your boundaries extend really far out. So instead of having multiple cities in Texas, Texas becomes its own mega region, or mega city. Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Houston, all become more integrated as one urban metropolitan area, as opposed to several metropolitan areas.”

Duong said they’re also looking into charging lanes for electric cars. 

“To alleviate range anxiety, the idea is that as your car drives over very specific marked lanes in certain places, there’s actually infrastructure underneath that road that charges your car battery as you drive over it,” said Duong. 

For Duong, Austin is a place to watch as it moves into the future. 

“The future Austin you’re going to see, I think is very complicated, I think it’s definitely going to obviously get more dense, and bigger, but because of the transportation issues and the culture of Austin, I think you could very well see a fast adoption and comfort level with the public on the merger of transportation and the smart city concepts,” said Duong. “I think Austin’s in a really enviable but difficult spot at the same time for its future growth.” 

And he said transportation, like the Hyperloop, will be a big focus. 

“The size and infrastructure of Austin really needs to try to catch up with its growth, but because of that, you’re going to have a lot of people who feel the changes in the city are occurring too quickly,” said Duong. “So to actually negotiate those changes between those opposing forces is going to be really difficult. Austin is one of those cities where you can see a combination, where you have these major urban issues because of your fast growth, but you also have a lot of opportunity because you’re a rising tech sector in Austin.” 

So when these kindergartners are graduating high school in 2030, they could be treating Dallas and Houston like somewhere they go for lunch. 

But that's not quite appealing to everyone. 

“Most of us are a little worried about the future,” said Dad Kelly Chappell, who has a kindergarten student this year.  “My kids are sixth-generation Austinites. It’s just been a great place to watch things grow and change.”

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But some of it he wants to stay the same. 

“I think everyone would describe it as a big small town, now we’re just a big town, and it’s lost I would say most of the charm, there’s still great things to do, and great people and great places, but everything else that’s moving to Austin, and I’m not against growth, and I’m not against people moving here, but the right things need to be addressed, and so we kind of need to preserve the reasons people came here, music, small businesses, all the things that make Austin, Austin,” said Chappell. “We don’t really see the need to give incentives for people to come here. Austin’s incentive enough, so why not just let it be what it is, and people that like it, come, and people that don’t, that’s OK too.”

He wants to preserve Austin's history of art and music. 

“Austin was different from the rest of Texas, and it was different from the rest of the country, and what it’s becoming now, it’s just another city,” said Chappell. “That's what I'm afraid of, in the future, is my kids missing out on why Austin was great in the first place.”

Festivals and the Future

But Hugh Forrest, the chief programming officer for SXSW said the Austin of the past, and the Austin of the future, can still live under the same roof of creativity. 

“SXSW has thrived because of the creativity of Austin, SXSW puts a very bright spotlight on that creativity and I think that as long as the city is creative, SXSW will continue to thrive,” said Forrest. “I think there's a common thread there in the terms of creativity of whether they be engineers or artists, they're very very creative people, is what makes Austin special.” 

And he doesn’t think that creativity will change any time soon. 

“I think the community, there are so many creative people, in Austin, whether musicians, whether film makers, whether it people who are involved in technology in one form or another,” said Forrest. “Again, the basis of everything we do, of all the success we’ve had is the creativity in this community, and while the community continues to change, the creative aspect of the community remains very, very strong.”

That's what he said SXSW will continue to specialize in, right here in Austin. 

“The focus we had on creativity in 1987 is the same focus we have on creativity in 2017 and 2018,” said Forrest. 

We also asked the Austin City Limits organizers where they see the festival fitting into the future of Austin. 

They told us, since 2006, ACL has generated more than $1.5 billion for the city’s economy. According to their representatives, in 2016, they created more than 2,800 full-time equivalent jobs. They believe those numbers will continue to grow in the coming years. 

ACL representatives also said the festival has contributed more than $26 million to Austin Parks in 2006. 

“We are extremely proud that one of the top music festivals in the world can be found right here in Austin, Texas,” ACL representatives said in a statement to KVUE. “We are passionate about delivering a world-class festival every year, and that includes making it better year after year. By talking with our patrons and reviewing our annual fan feedback surveys, we are able to constantly develop improvements to create the best fan experience possible, and continue to draw thousands of fans from around the world to Austin.”  

They continue to grow worldwide, with a festival now in Auckland and Sydney. 

“This growth has proven to be a great benefit locally, serving as an introduction to this part of the world for our friends at KLRU and the long running Austin City Limits TV show,” representatives said. 

All Eyes on the Capitol

And the festivals aren’t the only reason people from all over the world have their eyes on Austin. 

More than 1 million people visit the Texas State Capitol every year.  

“When I think of the future of Austin, you have to think of the fact that we’re the Capitol of the State of Texas, and with that I think comes some specific responsibilities because we’re not only Austin, we’re a place that Texans from all over come to visit,” said Senator Kirk Watson. “I don’t think you can talk about Austin’s future, in the way we want it to be, without making sure that Capitol Complex is as glorious as the building itself.”

Watson, who is on a joint committee that oversees the development of the Capitol Complex, told KVUE that in 2013, the legislature created a Capitol Complex Master Plan. 

The Capitol Complex includes everything between MLK and 10th street, and Trinity to Lavaca. 

“I think the Capitol is one of the great symbols of Texas, and so the grounds around it should be as well,” said Watson. “You have this glorious building, the Capitol of the State of Texas, and what are we doing to make that visitor experience, and make the experience around that building, as glorious as the building itself.”

Senator Watson told KVUE the legislature designated $580 million to begin construction on Phase 1 of the plan. It would include a new four-acre pedestrian green space, a new underground five-level parking garage, and two office buildings that will include an amphitheater and stage. 

“This is going to be a wonderful urban setting that’s as green as we can make it,” said Watson. “When I think of the future of my city, one of the things that I just grab onto is the idea that we’ve done a pretty good job of preserving green space even in the most urban of settings.”

And he said this movement forward came at just the right time. 

“The truth is that the legislature and the state haven’t done much with regard to the complex around the Capitol in a long time,” said Watson. “Around the building, there hasn’t been much focus, and frankly, there’s been a delayed, in my view, emphasis on what we do in terms of upkeep of other buildings, we’ve probably wasted money by not doing deferred maintenance, and keeping people in lease space, where we could be saving the taxpayer money.”

While there are future phases in the master plan for the complex, Watson said any progress would be left up to funding. 

“In order to go forward, what we’re going to need to do is the legislature will need to appropriate money for those things,” said Watson. 

Reinventing Health Care

And the forward movement isn’t limited to government. 

Over at the Dell Medical School, they're working to reinvent health care.

“We're really creating new ways to think about delivering health care, and filling the gaps in innovation that don't currently have solutions,” said Beto Lopez, managing director of the Design Institute for Health at Dell Med. “We’re able to really think differently about how to deliver health care services.” 

“What if we could make the experiences of taking into account your health, far before you ever got sick or were in the hospital, delightful,” said Lopez. 

He said they talk to patients to understand their experiences.

“From those insights, really develop a broad understanding of how we can improve the health system,” said Lopez. “Health care particularly oftentimes doesn’t really consider that experience mainly because there’s so many other things that challenge them.”

He said they will meet patients in their home, or wherever is easiest for them. Then they talk about the parts of the health care system that aren't so easy. 

“If we can start with people who have low means or have challenges with the health care system today, we can learn so much about how to make it better for everyone,” said Lopez. “Starting with folks that experience those challenges in the health system, we get to learn a lot about how the health system works, but also where it’s broken, and through that make those experiences, hopefully when we start designing them, more person-centered, more human-centered, so they actually respond to the needs and motivations they have as individuals.” 

Then, he and his team will work to design a new health care system. 

“Once we do that, we're hoping that those models can really change the way that people think about delivering health services here in Travis County,” said Lopez. “With that, hopefully affect our larger community here in Texas, and then with that nationally, so we can be that, the first folks to really try very different things.”

He calls it a unique opportunity. 

“So far, from what we know, we’re the only one at a medical school,” said Lopez. “The medical school has an opportunity to really showcase the different models that it wants to put forward as potential solutions for those challenges and with that, hopefully we learn a lot.”

He said their partnership with Central Health can bring change to the community. 

“The investment from the community to have that here is a really big part of making a difference and making change happen,” said Lopez.

Dreaming for Tomorrow

So the future in Austin holds a lot of possibilities, and those kindergartners from earlier might be more help than we think. 

“I want to be a farmer,” said kindergartner Kian. 

“I want to be a navy soldier,” said Brentwood kindergarten student Graeme. “Because I like airplanes and aircraft carriers.”

“A firefighter,” said Brentwood Elementary kindergartner Talia. 

“A teacher,” said Sonya, a Brentwood Elementary kindergartner. “Take care of our kids.”

“I want to be lots of things,” said Sarah, a Brentwood Elementary Student. 

“I have a hundred things I’d want to be,” said Brentwood kindergartner Alchemy. 

Some will choose to go a more traditional route. 

“I'm going to be a veterinarian at a zoo,” said Cunningham Elementary student Samantha. 

“I want to be a pilot of planes,” said Brentwood Elementary kindergartner Devanhi.

“A teacher,” said Brentwood Elementary student Jose. “Because I want to keep people learning.”

“A police girl,” said Layila, a Brentwood Elementary School kindergartner. “They protect people from getting hurt.”

Others, will choose to be a bite more Austin unique. 

“I want to be a mime,” said Brentwood Elementary student Eli. 

“I want to be a lizard wrangler,” said Cunningham Elementary kindergartner Owen.

“Race car driver,” said Brennan, a Brentwood Elementary student. 

“An artist," said Brentwood Elementary kindergarten student Sam. 

It’s clear the future of Austin is in good hands, even if right now they're still little.

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