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What does the future hold for the historic shopping district next to the UT campus?

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Photo: The Drag Photo: Plans for the drag

Many community leaders and community activists feel that the project to revamp one of the most crowded, urban strips in Texas -- the row of shops and restaurants next to the University of Texas at Austin -- is on a road to nowhere.

Also know as "the drag" this historic shopping district is one of the busiest pedestrian zones in the state with thousands of students, faculty and staff crowding its sidewalks. Despite it's vitality "the drag" also suffers from a bad reputation.

Many Austinites avoid the area because of congestion. But the problem runs deeper with rundown sidewalks and infrastructure not to mention the presence of panhandlers who some feel make the area undesirable.

Photo: Boston streetscape"The drag matters because it's a real important place for people in this city," said Architect Lawrence Speck. "It's an important civic place. It's a real repository of our identity as a town, as a city and certainly as a university community. That's an important place. And when it's vibrant and at its best and wonderful it makes us feel good about our place, about our city, about our community. And when it's not looking so good it makes us feel sad and lose confidence in our city, our identity, our community."

The master plan for the area was developed with community support. It would widen the sidewalks, plant trees, add benches, improve the lighting and slow the traffic down by narrowing the lanes.

Photo: Denver Streetscape"I travel a lot...and every city I go to is way ahead of Austin in understanding how important it is to develop the streetscape for people," Architect Sinclair Black, who designed the drag plan."It's really the best investment the city can make in it's infrastructure. It creates a walkable neighborhood, it creates safety and convenience. It creates concentrations of pedestrians. It's good for business. It slows down the traffic increasing safety for everybody including cars."

Black said he tried to make the Guadalupe plan a prototype for transit corridors in the city of Austin. However, community leaders are getting frustrated that after years of planning the plan hasn't been implemented yet.

Photo: Jeanette Nassour"I think it's the most special place in town," said Jeanette Nassour, owner of the Cadeau. "We opened in 1952 when sorority girls were wearing bobby socks and loafers. But it was wonderful. Church people on Sundays stopped and looked in our windows. Towns people came to the drag and shopped. And when business got somewhat slower we decided that it had to be perception. That people weren't mad at us and not coming."

She thinks Austinites are not coming to the drag as much because they are worried about the people who hang out there, about parking and they feel it's not clean and friendly.

"Now even the kids aren't coming to the drag the way they were," Nassour said. "So with no kids and no adults we're abdicating it to what? It won't be the historical beautiful street that it should be."

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