Our neighborhood is changing. In the eight years I have been here, there has always been change, but recently the pace of change seems to be increasing. The McDonald’s south of our school is gone, and the enormous hole in the ground that took its place is now also gone as we see the beginnings of a 15-story building rise out of the ground.
One of the most significant changes in the last couple of years has been the mushrooming of student dorms to the west and north of our church. Hundreds and hundreds of student quarters have been opened in large high-rise buildings in our area. I have heard that 3,000 student beds have been lost on Riverside, as the City of Austin and the University of Texas work to concentrate the students closer to the University. The City of Austin wants to reduce the congestion of commuting by car or bus, and the University believes that students, especially first year students, who live within a mile of the University, do better academically. So there are powerful forces pushing the development of West Campus into student housing. The results are obvious.
What does that mean for us? Well, we are already seeing greatly increased foot traffic on 21st Street and streets to the north of us. Unfortunately, these bright university students somehow seem to lose their intelligence when it comes to safely crossing streets. The flow of students can be constant, going on for some time, and very often students seem blissfully unaware of motorized traffic and traffic signals. And young people on scooters not infrequently seem oblivious to pedestrians, bicyclists, and automobile traffic. It is a situation fraught with danger as well as frustration. I am surprised there are not more accidents. Near misses seem common.
It seems to me that it will be necessary to install traffic lights with walk signals at many of the corners in West Campus. Otherwise, there will be increasing frustration and certainly accidents. I just hope something is done before someone is hurt or killed.
Beyond the increased pedestrian traffic, all of these dorms located together will also change the character of the neighborhood and no doubt impact the nature of our ministry here at St. Austin Parish. Will students walk another two and a half blocks past St. Austin Church to attend the University Catholic Center or begin attending St. Austin Church? Programing for undergraduates is located, as it should be, at the Catholic Center. Nevertheless, we are not going to turn anyone away.
How will the immediate presence of thousands of university students affect our neighborhood? Will it be quieter, cleaner, neater, more calm and sedate? I doubt it. We will have to wait and see. I am sure whatever changes are coming, we will rise to address them, and perhaps add a new chapter to the story of St. Austin Catholic Parish.
PS HOPE TO SEE YOU THIS MONDAY–WEDNESDAY AT FR BELL’S MISSION!