Civic Engagement in Austin: Views on the "10-1" System

In November of 2014, Austin elected its city council under a new system of geographic representation. Ten City Council members were elected, each representing a newly drawn geographic district, along with a new Mayor. Many community leaders and groups supported this transition to a “10-1” system in hopes that it would open opportunities for diverse city council candidates, improve voter turnout, and increase the sense of connection between city council members and their constituents.
From January to April 2015, 172 Austinites from all ten districts were interviewed by the 60 members of the Leadership Austin Essential Class of 2014-15. The interviewees included citizens and community leaders, former candidates for city council, and all sitting members of the current city council. These interviews explored the ways Austin’s citizens are interacting with their communities, their thoughts about levels of engagement with city government among people in their districts, and their hopes and concerns for Austin’s new system of geographic representation. 

While a range of views were expressed, some themes emerged strongly from these interviews:

  • A sense of cautious optimism about the promise of Austin’s new 10-1 system to improve the representativeness and responsiveness of city government, tempered by concern about low or uneven levels of political participation across the city.
  • A concern about socioeconomic, racial, and political divides across and within districts – the sense that the city may be far from “one Austin” – along with the hope that geographic representation can help close those divides.
  • A sense that the 10-1 system should not be judged too quickly and that time will be needed to assess and perfect it, but also a sense that additional changes need to be put in place immediately to realize 10-1’s promise of creating a new relationship between the public and city government.

This report briefly explains how geographic representation came to Austin, paying particular attention to the city’s history of uneven and declining political participation and imbalanced ethnic and racial representation in city government.  It then describes how Austinites from across the city view the transition to 10-1 — their hopes, concerns, and suggestions for improvement.

Read the full report and learn more about civic engagement in Austin.