Souly Austin

September 2018   Austin, TX


  • City of Austin Economic Development Department


  • Go Collaborative
  • RCLCo
  • Cortez Consulting



  • 2020 American Planning Association National Planning Achievement Gold Award for Economic Development Planning
  • 2019 American Planning Association, Texas Chapter; Planning Achievement Award for Economic Development Planning - Gold

Key Personnel

Key Points

Supporting local businesses through outreach, capacity building, and placemaking strategies.

Tailored Outreach

Business owners received tailored outreach specific to them. They were introduced to other business owners and remained engaged during the entire process of developing a district strategy. AR gave them the tools to create ownership of this strategy.

Capacity Building

The goals of the Souly Austin process and the resulting framework are to empower business owners by encouraging them to share their vision; assess their district; organize to identify goals; develop a district strategy; then serve as a foundation for district leadership to advocate for the future they envision.

Placemaking and Branding

AR worked with business owners to help with branding and promoting a district identity utilizing various branding elements and placemaking strategies. This helped inform users of the business mix, daily amenities, and special events, which in turn attracted foot traffic to the district.

Historically, small-scale business owners have tended to be left out of the planning process.

In neighborhood planning, business corridors might traditionally be treated as edges rather than centers.

Acknowledging the importance of local business owners, the City of Austin developed Souly Austin, an ongoing initiative designed to promote, support, and empower businesses of all sizes and types within the City’s commercial areas and corridors. Asakura Robinson worked with the City and its businesses to develop a strategy aimed at strengthening local business districts while simultaneously connecting businesses with the City, each other, and the strategies that will affect them. Souly Austin considers local businesses to be the “soul” of Austin and the keys to a socially and economically healthy city.

The Souly process began in 2016 with the South Congress Business District being the first business district to undergo a strategic transportation. The objectives ranged from attracting local residents back to the tourist-filled corridor to creating a permitting guide for small businesses and reducing associated fees. The outcome of the first district design yielded great results and responses from the City of Austin, businesses, locals, and tourists alike has been positive. The project continues to expand, with Asakura Robinson working on two to three different business corridors or districts a year. The program has grown so successful that districts have to now apply to be considered for Souly Austin whereas previously they were chosen by the City as part of a strategy.

Throughout the process, Asakura Robinson has utilized four categories to help develop a respective district strategy: economic development, connectivity and transportation, arts, culture, and music, and land use and regulation. The process also includes community engagement where local residents were surveyed on the success neighborhoods’ retail and service needs and businesses and businesses engage in periodic meetings to help empower, organize, and anchor them in the development of the business district strategy.

Lamar University Setzer Student Center May 2018   Beaumont, TX