Transforming Mobility as a Provisioning System: Transformative Climate Actions in the Case of Road Space Reallocation in Austin, Texas

by Kamrie Holms

Provenance of the research:

  • Title of thesis/research question: Transforming Mobility as a Provisioning System: Transformative Climate Actions in the Case of Road Space Reallocation in Austin, Texas
  • Type of thesis: Master’s Degree
  • University affiliation: Vienna University of Economics and Business
  • Research timeframe: February – September 2023

1. Abstract/Summary:

The Foundational Economy Collective advocates for a social-ecological transformation that encompasses the reconfiguration of provisioning systems, including the realm of mobility. To accomplish a transformative change in a provisioning system such as mobility, it necessitates the adoption of transformative climate actions (TCAs) (Bentham et al., 2013; Bärnthaler et al., 2021). TCAs are characterized by their alternative view on innovations, which exhibit three key dynamics: desirability, feasibility, and effectiveness. This research aims to investigate the extent to which the road space reallocation project on Guadalupe Street in Austin exemplifies a TCA and has the potential to transform the mobility provisioning system in the city. Specifically, it examines the political economy of car dependency in Austin, Texas, and explores whether the road space reallocation project can be considered a Transformative Climate Action that contributes to the incremental transformation of the mobility provisioning system. The findings of this study indicate that the project has transformative potential to a significant extent. However, to achieve a comprehensive mobility transformation, the Austin Transit Partnership must forge strategic alliances, implement effective communication strategies, introduce sufficiency measures in the area, and establish a clear objective to shift the city center away from car-centered mobility. These measures are essential for fostering a TCA and bringing about the desired mobility transformation in Austin (Holms, 2023; Bärnthaler et al., 2021).

2. What were the most important or surprising findings of your work?

The most significant findings of my thesis revolve around the importance of preserving Austin’s unique culture and fostering genuine community engagement in the development of transportation infrastructure, particularly the new metros proposed under Project Connect. My research highlights how the success of such projects hinges not only on their technical viability but also on their alignment with the city’s cultural identity and the active involvement of its residents.

One key insight is the necessity to integrate Austin’s distinctive character into the transformation process. This involves developing strategies that emphasize the city’s ability to evolve while staying true to its cultural essence. By highlighting the potential for enhancing livability while preserving cultural identity, I advocate for communication campaigns that resonate with the community and garner its support for the proposed changes.

Furthermore, my thesis underscores the importance of meaningful community engagement throughout the project lifecycle. Rather than tokenistic gestures, genuine citizen participation is essential for addressing community concerns effectively. Therefore, there is an emphasis on redefining participation and starting engagement processes at earlier stages to get a deeper understanding of the dynamics required for successful, community-led transformations in the context of climate mitigation projects. 

Overall, my findings emphasize the imperative of tailoring climate change mitigation initiatives to local contexts and fostering inclusive decision-making processes to achieve sustainable urban development.

3. What did you struggle with during the research and/or writing process, and how did you overcome these issues?

During my research process, one of the biggest challenges I encountered was narrowing down the scope of my study. With a focus on just one street, it was initially challenging to draw clear connections between the city’s broader mobility strategy and the impact of this single location. However, as I delved deeper into the case, I began to view it as a microcosm of larger mobility initiatives.

Ultimately, I realized that even small-scale interventions, such as reallocating space from cars to alternative modes of transportation, can have significant implications within the broader context of urban mobility and climate change mitigation. In a city like Austin, where car dependency is prevalent, such actions carry political weight and serve as effective measures in promoting sustainable transportation practices.

This realization led me to embrace an “incremental ideology” in my research approach. Rather than viewing mobility strategies as monolithic, I recognized the importance of incremental steps and small victories in achieving larger sustainability goals. By acknowledging the significance of incremental changes and their cumulative impact, I was able to conclude that even modest interventions can contribute to meaningful progress towards a more sustainable and equitable urban transportation system.

4. What are you doing now and what are your plans for the coming year?

Currently, I am in the process of transitioning back to the United States after residing in Europe for the past seven years. My immediate focus is on securing employment. Concurrently, I am actively involved in local activism within my hometown of Austin. Engaging in grassroots initiatives allows me to continuously advance my critical thinking and contribute to community causes. It also helps me to feel reconnected in the United States after living away for so long. 

Looking ahead to the coming year, my primary goal is to establish myself professionally in a role that aligns with my expertise and interests. Additionally, I plan to continue my involvement in local activism, advocating for causes that are important to me and making a positive impact within my community. Overall, my aim is to blend my professional aspirations with my passion for community engagement, contributing to both personal growth and the betterment of society.

5. Following the above, did your research impact those plans in any way?

No, my research didn’t impact my plans directly. However, it was a fulfilling experience to incorporate a shout-out to my hometown, Austin, in my thesis. Moving back to the United States after living in Europe for several years, my focus has been primarily on finding employment and reestablishing myself in my home country. While my research centered on transportation infrastructure and community engagement, it didn’t directly influence my career goals or activism pursuits. I do think going forward I will try to stick as much to my social-ecological career path. Nonetheless, it felt rewarding to acknowledge and celebrate Austin’s unique cultural identity within my academic work. This acknowledgment reflects my ongoing appreciation for my hometown and its importance in shaping my perspective on urban development and community engagement.

6. Do you have any advice for people who are undertaking this type of resarch?

My advice for individuals undertaking research similar to mine would be to emphasize the importance of networking and reaching out to the right people. Throughout my research journey, I found that connecting with key stakeholders and project organizers was incredibly beneficial. These individuals not only provided valuable insights and information but also facilitated access to local communities, which enriched my research process.

Author Bio: Kamrie (she/her) is a Social-Ecological Economist, where she explores the connections between political, economic, ecological, and social systems. She has done work within the Degrowth movement in Europe and the United States. Most recently, she wrote her master’s thesis on the interconnections between Ecological Economics and Transportation – giving her the passion to reshape cities for the social-ecological transformation.

Reference List:

  • Bärnthaler, R., Novy, A., & Plank, L. (2021). The Foundational Economy as a Cornerstone for a Social–Ecological Transformation. Sustainability, 13(18), 10460.
  • Bentham, J., Bowman, A., Ertürk, I., Folkman, P., Froud, J., Johal, S., Law, J., Leaver, A., Moran, M., & Williams, K. (2013). MANIFESTO FOR THE FOUNDATIONAL ECONOMY.
  • Holms, K. (2023). Transforming Mobility as a Provisioning System: Transformative Climate Actions in the Case of Road Space Reallocation in Austin, Texas. [Master’s Thesis, Vienna University of Economics and Business]. 
Categories Student Work

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