Policies‎ > ‎

Bar Density Policy

  • letter to council
  • Imagine Austin makes child-friendliness a priority (below)
  • Academic research on risks to children of bar density, alcohol (below)
  • Data showing arbitrary implementation of bar density around Austin (below, and spreadsheet)
Please consider writing Council in support. Council member emails are:

Imagine Austin makes child-friendliness a priority

Imagine Austin is clear that Austin's future should be child-friendly, and that City policies should reflect that:
Page 84 – Imagine Austin distinguishes a more vibrant lifestyle for downtown, versus a more nuturing style of development for other parts of the city, in particular development occurring close to neighborhoods:

Austin is Livable

One of Austin’s foundations is its safe, well-maintained, stable, and attractive neighborhoods and places whose character and history are preserved.

Economically mixed and diverse neighborhoods across all parts of the city have a range of affordable housing options. All residents have a variety of urban, suburban, and semi-rural lifestyle choices with access to quality schools, libraries, parks and recreation, health and human services, and other outstanding public facilities and services.

• Development occurs in connected and pedestrian-friendly patterns supporting transit and urban lifestyles and reducing sprawl, while protecting and enhancing neighborhoods.

Downtown offers a safe, vibrant, day- and night-time urban lifestyle for residents, workers, and visitors.

Development occurs across the city in a manner friendly to families with children, seniors, and individuals with disabilities.

• Austin’s unique character and local businesses are recognized as a vital part of our community.

• Clear guidelines support both quality development and preservation that sustain and improve Austin’s character and provide certainty for residents and the business community.

• Austin’s diverse population is active and healthy, with access to locally grown, nourishing foods and affordable healthcare.”


Imagine Austin page 88 – here again, the plan emphasizes the need to shape places that work for children.  This is essential to counter the trend of households with children leaving for the suburbs.

“These communities will be for Austinites of all ages. They will provide environments that support children at every stage of their development, young adults beginning their professional lives and families, and seniors aging gracefully in the neighborhoods where they raised their families. These places will be safe and affordable; promote physical activity, community engagement, and inclusion; make amenities and services easily accessible to everybody; and contribute to Austin’s unique community spirit.”   P 88

Imagine Austin's Land Use & Transportation (LUT) P4 is particularly relevant to Burnet Rd, which supports a child-friendly community.  The Burnet community has spent several years communicating child-friendliness as a top priority for the area:

“LUT P4. Protect neighborhood character by directing growth to areas of change that include designated redevelopment areas, corridors, and infill sites. Recognize that different neighborhoods have different characteristics, and infill and new development should be sensitive to the predominant character of these communities. (See also HN P11, HN P15)”   P 118


City Council can make progress on S P20 by reassessing bar density policies in light of other changes triggered by Imagine Austin:

 “S P20. Enact land use and other planning policies that enhance the quality of life for families with children and promote family-friendly neighborhoods and services.”   P 173


Concentrations of bars and liquor stores put child friendliness at risk


Alcohol can add value to a community. For centuries, bars and pubs have offered places for people in a neighborhood to gather, relax, connect, transact business, or grab a bite to eat. Many restaurants offer alcohol, and emphasize it in varying degrees. Major commercial streets are logical places to put bars.


As with so many things, alcohol can also cause problems for a community. Numerous studies, quotes from which are available below, show that alcohol can lead to drunken behavior, accidents, crime, parental abuse or neglect. Liquor purchases represent a potential drain on family finances. The presence of bars (defined as places that derive more than half their revenues from alcohol) can even change the way people think and feel about their community.


From a policy standpoint, the real problem is bar concentration. A concentration of bars and the associated behaviors can typecast a neighborhood, as has happened to South Congress. Parents making complex choices about where to raise their children may be less inclined to invest in a residence located next to what people think of as a bar-crawl corridor. Businesses catering to families, like daycares or affordable grocery stores, may choose other locations that have more long-term potential. Developers may include fewer family-sized units in their site plans.


Academic quotes:


1. "We found that overall alcohol establishment density was positively associated with violent crime, indicating that neighborhoods with more alcohol establishments tend to have more assault, rape, robbery, and overall violent crime than neighborhoods with fewer alcohol establishments. The association between establishment density and violent crime was stronger and more consistent for on-premise establishments than off-premise establishments."


"There are numerous studies that show an area with more alcohol establishments is likely to have a higher rate of violent crime," Toomey said. According to Toomey, results of this study, combined with earlier findings, provide more evidence that community leaders should be cautious about increasing density of alcohol establishments within their neighborhoods." 'The Association Between Density of Alcohol Establishments and Violent Crime Within Urban Neighborhoods," to be published August 2012 in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research (Toomey) Watch a video summary  Read article: https://docs.google.com/a/snaustin.org/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=c25hdXN0aW4ub3JnfHNuYXVzdGluLWV4dGVybmFsLXNpdGV8Z3g6NzIzZjE1MWJlZjkxZTBjOQ


2. There's a vicious cycle going on here," said Wechsler. "Disadvantaged neighbors are less likely to prevent outlets from obtaining liquor licenses. This leads to a higher presence of bars and liquor stores, which then leads to a higher likelihood of neighborhood disruption and a lower quality of life and real estate values." Henry Wechsler, Ph.D. Harvard Study Social Science & Medicine. 2002 55(3): 425-435.


3. “Research support for the link between alcohol and violence comes from subsequent work by Scribner et al., who found that, independent of measured confounders such as unemployment, racial/ethnic makeup, income, and age, alcohol outlet density was correlated with violent assault. Similarly, Speer et al. found, in analyzing various census tracts …, that alcohol outlet density was a significant predictor of rates of violent crime. Alaniz et al., looking at violence among young people in 3 cities, again found a statistically significant relationship with outlet density.”

"For practitioners, the research suggests the importance of zoning decisions regarding individual outlets within a particular neighborhood setting." - Land Use Planning and the Control of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Fast Food Restaurants.  Marice Ashe, JD, MPH, David Jernigan, PhD, Randolph Kline, JD, and Rhonda Galaz, JD Am J Public Health. 2003 September; 93(9): 1404–1408.   http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1447982/


4. “Most of the studies included in this review found that greater outlet density is associated with increased alcohol consumption and related harms, including medical harms, injury, crime, and violence. Primary evidence was supported by secondary evidence from correlational studies. The regulation of alcohol outlet density may be a useful public health tool for the reduction of excessive alcohol consumption and related harms.”  Campbell et al. The Effectiveness of Limiting Alcohol Outlet Density As a Means of Reducing Excessive Alcohol Consumption and Alcohol-Related Harms.  Am J Prev Med 2009: 37 (6)



5. More academic research on relationship between alcohol, bar density, and negative impacts on children - http://www.prev.org/keywordresults.asp?recid=18


Data for Austin Show How Bar Density Policy is Arbitrary

Data on CS-1 zonings for a dozen corridors around Austin paint an interesting picture.  Corridors west of Mopac invariably have low bar densities, even when near downtown.  Areas like North Lamar above 183 have seen rising bar densities and falling real estate values go hand in hand.  US Census economic data show how in just ten years a corridor like South Congress can go from a medium level of bar density to nearly the highest in the city.  Meanwhile, in 78704, the rise in bar density is accompanied by a sharp decline in children. 

This can not be explained only by the rising cost of housing.  A sample of 75 houses shows that home prices in 78704 near S Congress are only 14% higher per sq ft than in 78756/78757 near Burnet, where the ratio of children in the population from 2000 to 2010 increased.  Tarrytown (78703), also near downtown, has considerably higher housing costs per sq ft, yet saw a sharp increase in children.
With Imagine Austin supporting more housing density that will predominantly draw an affluent singles demographic, market pressure for bars and nightlife on mixed use corridors can be expected to increase.  Without new, consistent policies, bar density on corridors like Burnet will inevitably rise.  At some point, the resulting shift in retail mix, and in particular of bars, adds risk to the goal of maintaining balanced age demographics.
Steven Zettner,
Jan 7, 2013, 6:02 PM
Steven Zettner,
Jan 7, 2013, 6:03 PM
Steven Zettner,
Jan 6, 2013, 11:05 AM
Steven Zettner,
Jan 6, 2013, 11:05 AM