UT screens “The Unforeseen,” discusses sustainable development in the new Liberal Arts Building


A documentary screened on campus Thursday night focused conversation on the history of the preservation of the Barton Creek area as a panel discussed the future of sustainable development in Austin. 

The screening featured a movie called “The Unforeseen” and a live panel that included several prominent leaders representing viewpoints of the film, such as Terry Mitchell, a former developer; Brigid Shea, an environmental adviser; and David Sullivan, a city planning commissioner.

“The Unforeseen” follows the political battle between Austin residents and developers over plans which called for the development of 4,000 acres of land around the Barton Creek area. The film explores the theme of big business against local residents, interviewing and portraying in depth figures such as Gary Bradley, the failed leader of the Barton Creek development plan, and former Texas Gov. Ann Richards.

The Center for Sustainable Development, a research center within UT’s School of Architecture, hosted the event.

“Our aim was to appeal to a wide variety of audience members,” said Rachel Tepper, the event coordinator for the Center. “[Students] might not know the political tension that protects Barton Springs but causes a lot of frustration.” 

Tepper also said it was important that people learn about the local policy in Austin and how it relates to the urban environment. She said even though Thursday night’s environmental screening and panel are not part of an established series of events, she looks forward to hosting several panels at UT in the future.

As the film portrayed, after an intensive City Council meeting, the development plans were halted, although as the panel discussed pollution Barton Springs still faces from more recent developments in suburbs outside of Austin.

Shea, a member of the panel, helped create the Save Our Springs Alliance, which helped protect Barton Springs against development. Shea was also instrumental in passing a ballot which established rigid water quality controls on developments around the Austin area. She said it was important for people to “see beyond the short term … to take the actions necessary to preserve and protect.”

Jessica Lee, an environmental science freshman who attended the panel, voiced her concern over the topic of conserving the environment. 

“There’s so much to learn about the environment and issues we are facing,” Lee said. “Raising awareness is one of my top priorities.”

After the screening there was a lively discussion between students and members of the panel.