Tim Brown

Tim Brown talks about the need to change the way we think about community development during a symposium on universal design.

BELTON — The Central Texas Navigation Coalition had a goal of increasing the living options in Central Texas.

Funded for three years, this is the last year for Heart of Central Texas Independent Living to manage the grant and a final symposium was held Tuesday, “Universal Designs: Sustainable Now and Future.

For the past three years those involved in the effort looked at affordability, accessibility and integration.

Peggy Cosner, executive director of Heart of Central Texas Independent Living, said the accessibility has had some roadblocks.

“We’re not talking about ADA (Americans with Disability Act),” Cosner said. “We’re talking about a growing population and the concern is that we won’t be able to meet the needs because the lack of supply in the seven counties that make up Central Texas Council of Governments.”

In 2017 and 2018 the discussion became about universal design that provides accessibility.

The demand is being driven by aging baby boomers, who need changes in their homes to make it more livable.

With the addition of millennials, the aging population is expected to triple over the next 50 years.

“We have a shifting paradigm and we need to build and design homes that meet this need,” she said.

Universal design is terrific for people with disabilities, but it’s equally important for those who are aging and require housing that meets their needs — open floor plans, wider door openings, accessible kitchen and bathroom space.

The baby boomers are less interested in moving into senior living facilities, wanting to stay in their homes.

The need for accessible housing far exceeds what we have available,” Cosner said.

A number of individuals, representing builders, developers and accessibility experts spoke at the symposium.

Tim Brown, Bell County commissioner, independent designer, builder and development consultant, talked about how communities are designed.

“Communities are people and grow organically,” Brown said.

Developing a community is partnership between government and the public sector.

“We have to change how we think about things,” Brown said. “There is shift in the marketplace and a shift in public expectations, but we haven’t changed how we build and regulate communities.

This part of Central Texas is growing, with no decrease expected.

Brown showed a slide of a huge development taken from above. It could have been taken in any big metropolitan area. Hundreds of identical rooftops lined up like soldiers on winding roads.

Everything looks the same.

“Think about all the miles of asphalt, sewer lines, water lines and miles of electricity that is necessary to sustain a community like this,” Brown said.

These types of developments became the norm because land was cheap.

“Oil prices were cheap and we didn’t think about living in places like this and having to drive 30 or 40 miles a day,” he said. “What do you do when you need a bottle of milk?”

“It’s very impersonal, there is no human connection,” Brown said.

Zoning has a tendency to separate communities by class and it’s not desirable.

Older communities that are successful have sustained value and sustained a higher quality of living for people who live there and in many cases everything is in close proximity.

“There’s no reason why that can’t be replicated and developed,” he said.

The population is high density on valuable property, but there is less use of water, because not everybody has a St. Augustine lawn.

There is typically a business core centered in the area. There are people out and about, which is lost in urban development.

“It’s not segregated demographically,” Brown said.

There is value in redeveloping old urban communities and downtown areas.

Brown’s final slide was of a Renoir painting that depicted people in a park.

“This what a community is all about,” he said. “This is the kind of thing we need to continue to think about as we try to find ways to do a better job of building communities for an aging population that is growing.”