Progress announced in the visionary, $8 billion initiative for equitable, transit-based revitalization and resilience in Austin, Texas

Here in REVITALIZATION, we have previously reported on Austin, Texas‘ visionary $8 billion Project Connect is a transformative, voter-approved investment intended to revitalize the city and make it more resilient that includes light rail, expanded bus routes and more services across the city.

In November 2020, Austin voters approved Project Connect and the creation of the independent entity Austin Transit Partnership to implement this landmark investment in transit.

This transformative investment includes $300 million in funding to help prevent the displacement of people and creating more affordable places to live.

In partnership with the City of Austin, CapMetro and the community, ATP is intended to deliver on the community’s vision for transit in a way that embeds equity, sustainability and transparency as overarching priorities.

Project Connect took a major step forward on March 6, 2023, when the Austin Transit Partnership (ATP) selected a team comprising UNStudio, HKS and Gehl to handle system-wide architecture and urban design.

UNStudio, HKS and Gehl will design a technologically advanced, human-centric transit experience true to Austin’s culture and landscape.

The team comprises architects and planners with collaborative mindsets and local knowledge. Their global infrastructure expertise includes similar award-winning projects in Doha, Los Angeles, Melbourne, The Netherlands and Beijing.

We are thrilled to work with this visionary, interdisciplinary design team,” says Peter Mullan, ATP Executive Vice President for Architecture and Urban Design.

The design team brings both broad international expertise delivering transit and public realm projects at the highest level of design and an acute sensitivity to Austin’s specific culture and heritage. Project Connect gives us the opportunity to stitch our community together more closely and to adapt our core values to our continued growth and our increasingly urban future. To deliver on that promise, we need to bring a human-centered approach to the center of our design process, and this team brings that focus to our collective work,” he added.

Design research and visioning will begin in March 2023, and will continue through the Project Development phase. ATP will share an updated light rail implementation plan in spring 2023.

Ben van Berkel, Founder and Principal Architect of global architecture design network UNStudio, said “Project Connect will be transformational for the city of Austin. Austin is a city experiencing rapid change as more and more people are drawn to its high quality of life and vibrant cultural scene. Project Connect will advance this by creating a human-centric transit system that celebrates Austin’s culture, history and diversity, while making the city more accessible for all of its citizens through an efficient and sustainable transportation system. We are thrilled to contribute to the city of Austin in such a meaningful way alongside our partners HKS and Gehl.

HKS is a global architecture, design and planning firm with offices in Austin. Chi Lee, HKS Principal and Austin Office Director, added “We are humbled by this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to demonstrate people-first design that prioritizes equity, well-being and resilience as we design stations for the future light rail programme. Project Connect will transform Austin by making more neighbourhoods accessible and affordable while promoting sustainable growth and development.

Gehl is an urban strategy and design firm that centers public life and the human experience in the city transformation process. Anna Muessig, Director at Gehl, explained “Mobility systems work when they center people’s needs in the design process and when mobility infrastructure is an integrated part of a high quality public realm. We are honored to be part of this fantastic team and to work with ATP and the people of Austin to design a station system that celebrates the city’s culture and invites people to choose transit to get around.

Project Connect is designed to improve access to essential jobs, health care, education, entertainment and more—making our communities more livable, equitable and sustainable.

UNStudio, founded in 1988 by Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos, is a Dutch architectural design studio specializing in architecture, interior architecture, product design, urban development and infrastructural projects. The name, UNStudio, stands for United Network Studio referring to the collaborative nature of the practice. They have offices in Amsterdam, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Dubai, Frankfurt and Melbourne.

HKS is a global firm of architects, designers, planners and advisors who create places noted for their beauty and performance. Our 1,500 people in 26 offices are united by the belief that an environmental, social and governance approach to design achieves design excellence.

Gehl is an urban design and research consultancy offering expertise in the fields of architecture, urban design, landscape architecture, and city planning. Headquartered in Copenhagen, with US hubs in San Francisco and New York City, Gehl is a networked organization working globally on urban strategy in a wide range of contexts. Gehl partners directly with both public and private sector clients to envision better futures and better outcomes for people.

Austin Transit Partnership (ATP) is the independent entity, accountable, and responsible for the financing, design, construction, and overall implementation of Project Connect—the transformative, voter-approved investment in new transit services. ATP’s charge is to deliver on the Austin voters’ transit vision in partnership with the City of Austin, CapMetro, and the community – and in a way that embeds equity, sustainability, and transparency as overarching priorities.

Citizens of Austin who would like to get involved in Project Connect are invited to do so.

All images of Austin and the Project Connect public engagement process are courtesy of the City of Austin.

Learn more about getting involved.

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