4. Use Green Infrastructure to Protect Environmentally Sensitive Areas and Integrate Nature into the City

The information shared on this page is no longer being updated. For more information about Imagine Austin and its ongoing update, please visit speakupaustin.org/ImagineAustin
This Priority Program addresses a key Imagine Austin goal of integrating nature into the City. Green infrastructure, as broadly defined in Imagine Austin is “strategically planned and managed networks of natural lands, parks, working landscapes, other open spaces, and green stormwater controls that conserve and enhance ecosystems and provide associated benefits to human populations.” 
The Green Infrastructure Priority Program Implementation Team (GIPPIT) was chartered with the a goal of managing Austin’s urban and natural ecosystems in a coordinated and sustainable manner. The GIPPIT objectives are as follows:
  • Continue public investment in green infrastructure
  • Incentivize and/or require private investment in green infrastructure
  • Maximize ecosystem function and services provided by green infrastructure on city-owned land
  • Improve inter-departmental collaboration and coordination in the management of city-owned lands

Green Infrastructure Indicators Summary

We're Improving
community and school gardens per 1,000 people
residents living within walking distance to parks
environmental integrity index of stream water quality
amount of permanently preserved land
We Haven't Changed
tree canopy coverage

The indicators associated with the Green Infrastructure Priority Program have mostly seen improvement over the past 5 years.
Below you will find a detailed analysis and description of each of the Green Infrastructure indicators. 

#8 community and school gardens per 1,000 people

Description: This indicator measures the acreage of community and school gardens as a function of population. Community gardens are areas gardened collectively by a group of people. School gardens are included in the total garden acreage. Although school gardens do not serve the same purpose of community gardens, they are teaching future community gardeners, and have therefore been included.
Community gardens integrate nature into the city and allow for a space where people can gather to learn about local food production, healthy diets, and the natural sciences.
Analysis of Results
There has been a sizable increase in the acres of community and school gardens maintained by the City of Austin since 2012. Total acres increased from 18 acres in 2012 to 47 total acres of community and school gardens within the City limits in 2016.
The Parks and Recreation Department has continued to add from 1 to 4 acres of new community gardens annually. The continuing improvement can be attributed to a new permitting process that makes garden establishment easier, identification of city lands available for garden permitting, and increased staff to assist with community garden establishment.
The acreage of all community and school gardens within the Austin city limits is totaled and divided by the City's population and multiplied by 1,000.
Data Source + Collection Cycle
Additional Notes
The Parks and Recreation Department made concerted efforts since 2013 to acquire more data about school, church and private community gardens. The increase in community and school garden acres per 1,000 population over the past year may reflect increased data collected rather than increased acreage. In the future, the measure will provide a more accurate account of new gardens.
Learn More
You can view all Austin community gardens in the interactive community gardens viewer map here

#36 residents living within walking distance to parks

Description: This indicator measures the percent of residents living within ¼ mile walking distance of a park or accessible open space if inside the urban core or 1/2 mile walking distance of a park or accessible open space if outside of the urban core. Austin City Council policy calls for publicly-accessible and child-friendly parks and greenspace to be provided within ¼ mile and 1/2 mile walking distance of all residents inside and outside of the urban core respectively.
Imagine Austin calls for expanded and equitable access for active and passive parks throughout the city. This indicator also closely relates to the Imagine Austin vision of becoming a city of complete communities in which all Austinites have access to their daily needs within a short trip.
Analysis of Results
The rise in percent of residents living within walking distance to parks from 37% in 2011 to 66.9% in 2016 reflects the City's efforts to acquire more parkland through parkland dedication, the dedication of land through Planned Unit Development (PUD) negotiations, and the heightened requirements of the 2016 Parkland Dedication Ordinance.
Parkland Deficient Area Map

To calculate this indicator, the Austin full and limited purpose population total was divided by the population totaled from the City of Austin Parkland Deficient Layer to get the percent of population that is park deficient. 
Data Source + Collection Cycle
The City of Austin updates the Parkland Deficiency Layer every 5 years.
Additional Notes
The Parkland Deficiency layer was updated in 2016 to reflect policy changes made by the 2013 Watershed Protection Ordinance, adoption in 2014 of the Urban Trails Master Plan, and changes to the Parkland Dedication Ordinance in 2016 which included counting private parkland. Therefore, values going forward will better reflect annual increases to the data.
Learn more
View the citywide Parkland Deficiency map here and learn more about City of Austin Parkland Dedication on their website. 

#39 environmental integrity index scores

Description: This indicator measures the percentage of watersheds having good or better Environmental Integrity Index (EII) scores. EII is a comprehensive set of water quality measurements which collectively assess watershed health. The EII is a program designed to regularly monitor and assess the chemical, biological, and physical integrity of Austin’s creeks and streams. The overall EII score is a comprehensive reflection of the health and resilience of Austin’s creeks. Austin creeks are now assessed every other year. It can be used to identify where problems occur and may be used to track the success of Austin’s water quality protection efforts over time.
Imagine Austin calls for actions that strengthen flood control, erosion, and water quality programs, incentives, regulations, and enforcement to incorporate best practices and meet or exceed national standards. EII monitoring collects the data essential to track present conditions and progress towards meeting these goals.
Analysis of Results
Based on the most recent (2015-16) Environmental Integrity Index (EII) watershed assessment by the Austin Watershed Protection Department and Travis County Department of Transportation and Natural Resources, 52 watersheds were assessed and 39 (75%) yielded "Good" or better scores.  Scores reported during the 2012 period were heavily impacted by the extreme prolonged drought.  Recent EII scores improved as conditions have changed in response to sustained baseflow in Austin creeks.  Relative to baseline levels of the EII from 1996-99, more than 89% of Austin watersheds sampled in 2015/2016 had the same or better score indicating that overall water quality in Austin creeks has remained the same or even improved despite continued increasing disturbance from urbanization.
The EII is a data collection system used to monitor and assess the chemical, biological, and physical integrity of Austin’s creeks and streams. Currently, all watersheds are monitored on a two-year rotating basis. More than 50 different types of parameters are measured to yield scores for contact recreation, non-contact recreation and aesthetics, water quality chemistry, sediment quality, physical integrity, and aquatic life support, which are combined into a single composite score. A rating of "good" means a given creek reach is in good overall condition and meets the minimum goals of the Watershed Protection Master Plan.
Data Source + Collection Cycle
data are collected every two years for each creek reach
Learn More
Learn more about Austin's creek health as well as our air quality, urban forest, and emissions in the 2016 State of our Environment Report.

#40 tree canopy coverage

Description: This indicator measures the tree canopy coverage of Austin's full, limited, and extraterritorial jurisdictions. This is represented as the percentage of the total land area that is covered by tree foliage and is strongly correlated with the overall health of the urban environment. This indicator is measured using image analysis and GIS software and is subject to error at smaller scales.
Imagine Austin calls for actions that maintain and increase Austin’s urban forest as a key component of the green infrastructure network. Austin's urban forest provides social, ecological and economic benefits to the community and enhances the quality of life for Austin residents. City policies and practices aim to preserve, maintain, and replace individual trees and the urban forest as a whole.
Analysis of Results
In 2010, Austin's tree canopy coverage was estimated at 35 percent of the total Imagine Austin study area. In 2014, the measured canopy was 36 percent of the total land area.
The area with the highest coverage is the Live Oak-Juniper Woodland, which dominates in the western portions of the city, and the lowest coverage exists in the Blackland Prairie areas along the eastern periphery of the city. 
To calculate this indicator, color infrared aerials are processed using GIS software to isolate tree canopy reflectivity to estimate total tree canopy coverage; grass, shrubs, and other plants are excluded.
data are collected every four years
Additional Notes
An original 2006 tree canopy estimate of 30 percent was included the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan. The difference between 2006 and 2010 and 2014 is assumed to be the result of more accurate data processing in recent years rather than due to a substantial increase in actual tree canopy coverage.
It is anticipated that canopy data will be collected every 4-5 years going forward, and city staff will assess establishing canopy coverage goals in 2018.
Learn More
Learn more about Austin's urban forest as well as our air quality, creek health, and emissions in the 2016 State of our Environment Report.

#41 amount of permanently preserved land

Description: This indicator measures the combined acreage of the City of Austin owned or managed lands that are permanently protected from development. This includes the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (BCP), the Water Quality Protection Lands (WQPL), and nature reserves managed by the Parks and Recreation Department. These lands are typically set aside for species and water quality protection. The goal of the BCP is to protect and enhance the habitat of endangered and rare species as mitigation for land development, as well as manage these forest ecosystems to protect water, air, and scenic resources. The primary goal of the WQPL is to produce the optimal level of high quality water to recharge the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer by managing protected land to restore prairie-savanna ecosystems and healthy riparian corridors. Nature preserves share these and other goals. (Note: Preservation lands owned or managed by county, state, or federal entities, are not included in these totals but further contribute to these regional goals.)
Imagine Austin calls for actions that direct development away from sensitive environmental resources, protect existing open space and natural resources, and improve air and water quality.
Analysis of Results
Total acres of permanently preserved lands have gradually increased as the City of Austin has been able to identify funding sources or partnership opportunities to permanently protect land via fee simple purchase and/or conservation easements.
The WQPL currently protects about 25% of the recharge zone and only 7% of the contributing zone. To meet the WQPL mission of supplying the optimal amount of clean groundwater flowing to Barton Springs, as well as many wells, requires the acquisition of more conservation land. Preservation of additional lands balances the growth of urban infrastructure and protects existing green infrastructure.
The future of this indicator is uncertain due to the fact that no bond funds remain to support the purchase of additional lands in the near future, and land values are rising dramatically.
City of Austin Permanently Preserved Land map

Totals were generated by adding together acreage of City of Austin-purchased, owned, or managed lands in the WQPL program, BCP program, and designated "Nature Preserves" in the PARD inventory, including areas located within and outside the City of Austin’s full purpose jurisdiction.
Data Source + Collection Cycle
Water Quality Protection Land program totals from 2006 and 2012 bond programs

Priority Program #4
Mike Personett of the Watershed Protection Department is the Green Infrastructure Priority Program Champion. 
Contributing departments include:Watershed Protection; Planning and Zoning, Development Services; Public Works; Parks and Recreation; Austin Energy; Austin Water; Office of Sustainability; Austin Fire; Office of Real Estate Services; Austin Resource Recovery; Neighborhood Housing and Community Development; Austin Transportation Department; Building Services; Aviation