Souly Austin

September 2018   Austin, TX

Client

  • City of Austin Economic Development Department

Team

  • Go Collaborative
  • Robert Charles Lesser & Company, LLC
  • Cortez Consulting

Recognition

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

Offering services to an organized business group to enhance and support the small, local businesses that have defined the soul of Austin.

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Key Points

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

Tailored outreach for business owners

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

Capacity building

The goals of the Soul-y 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

Asakura Robinson 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 ultimately 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, with each other, and with the strategies that will affect them. Souly Austin considers local businesses – from retail to restaurants to services – to be the “soul” of Austin and the keys to a socially and economically healthy City.

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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.

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Lamar University Setzer Student Center May 2018   Beaumont, TX