May 20, 2011
When Pix Howell began working for the City of Leander in 2005, he brought with him a wealth of knowledge in the planning and engineering fields. The former owner of an engineering firm that designed water and wastewater plants in Wyoming, Howell’s resumé in Texas includes being the project manager of Circle C in Austin, working on road bond projects for Williamson and Hays counties and being appointed by Ann Richards to the Lower Colorado River Authority board in 1993.
Howell came to Leander in 2005 to help with Robin Bledsoe Park, the city’s largest park. He became the city’s urban design officer the following year and has worked to design the city’s transit-oriented development.
Howell, who holds a civil-structural engineering degree from Umpqua Community College in Oregon, is an art enthusiast and attended art school at Stephen F. Austin State University.
Why do you believe new urbanism is important and better than suburban living?
It’s a more sustainable approach. What it tries to do is mimic what is successful in old neighborhoods in America. The trick is to design [a community] that has a little bit of everything (residential, commercial). It doesn’t depend on the automobile to get you a carton of milk because everything is close. I think it’s going to be an evolutionary thing, but it’s going to take the combination of increasing cost of fuel and exposure to a more urban environment for people to see what it looks like and how it works before they decide it’s important and necessary.
Of all the jobs you’ve held, which is your most memorable?
Timber cruising (identifying trees for a timber sale based on the size and quality of the tree). You were in the middle of nowhere; in the winter you were on snowshoes. Being out in the woods, you’d run up on bears and elk. One time I was walking along and I fell through a bunch of huckleberry that had been bent over by the snow and ended up in this dome of huckleberry with snow on top. There was a little rivulet running through the middle of it and the grass was green. I just sat there for a while because it was such a magical place.
How has your art background helped you with your job?
In many ways, the analysis you do with art as you’re in the midst of creating some piece is applicable to other disciplines because you’re constantly testing and visualizing where something is going to go. I found it to be useful when going to engineering school because it’s the same with problem solving. [Art] gives you a greater appreciation for things in general when you’re talking about design.
What do you like about being in a planning role versus an engineering role?
Planning probably has the potential to do more for quality of life than engineering does, and I think that, more than anything, is more satisfying. That’s not to say engineering isn’t necessary in building a community, but it’s more specific, more targeted, where as in planning you’re constantly testing and balancing what is going to be the greatest benefit long-term for the community.
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