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thinkEAST & the Living Charrette

Inspired by work from all over the country coming out of the field of Creative Placemaking as well as innovative developments in Brazil, Fusebox has spent the past two years leading a planning and visioning process for thinkEAST that placed the needs of the immediate neighborhood, artists, and creative industries at the center. The site is a 24-acre former brownfield deep in the heart of East Austin and the Govalle-Johnston Terrace neighborhoods. This process, a grassroots approach to equitable development in East Austin, was supported by a partnership with the property owners Richard deVarga & Robert Summers, the City of Austin Economic Development Department, entrepreneur Fred Schmidt, TBG Partners, numerous departments from the University of Texas, dozens of community members & organizations, as well as a prestigious grant from ArtPlace America.

Fusebox guided 18 months of deep community and stakeholder engagement that was informed by a diverse Stakeholder Advisory group made up of about 30 individuals including life-long residents, artists, business owners, educators, city officials, architects, designers, bankers, non-profit leaders, and others. Over 2,700 people participated in the planning process through meetings, conversations, presentations, and a Living Charrette hosted on the thinkEAST site as part of the 2015 Fusebox Festival. The goal of the “pop-up” village was to demonstrate to stakeholders and the neighborhood what ideas were rising to the surface, and invite additional feedback from the community, festival-goers, and the entire city.

The Living Charrette included 66 events (most of which were artist-led) and activities ranging from talks, workshops, performances, installations, and more traditional design engagement methods like visual preference boards, community asset maps, and interviews with planners. The Living Charrette covered about 2 acres and featured prototypes of creative industries (galleries, fashion manufacturing cooperative), a micro living unit, a design center, a community workshop space, local food/drink vendors, walking trails, a zero-waste initiative and solar power station. The Living Charrette engaged the full spectrum of stakeholders in the project by having activities for all ages, materials in English and Spanish, and programming targeted for neighbors and visitors alike.

Gigabytes of data and feedback from the community and stakeholders over this period have been incorporated into a master plan and finance plan for thinkEAST. Based on the priorities and ideas from stakeholders we arrived at 5 project pillars for development at thinkEAST: affordability & financial inclusion, health, environmental sustainability + open space, education, and arts + culture. Of these pillars, community health has become a powerful lens for seeing and understanding the entire impact of a project like this because of the site’s remarkable history as the East Austin Tank Farm – at the same time one of Austin’s darkest environmental chapters and brightest examples of community organizing.

DOWNLOAD THE COMMUNITY VISION AND MASTERPLAN DOCUMENT (PDF 26MB)

Here’s a recent essay about our work at thinkEAST from SHELTERFORCE magazine.