Gentrification & Redevelopment - Intro

In East Austin’s African American community the legacy of the Black Codes, Jim Crow, and the 1928 Austin City Plan presents a bundle of ironic and counter-intuitive issues with which to deal. Legally prescribed and sanctioned segregation of African Americans was obviously fueled by the belief that Blacks Folks were inherently inferior to the ruling class of Anglo Americans. After Emancipation, Reconstruction, and Federal repeal of the Civil Rights Act of 1876 (repealed 1888), the City of Austin instituted local ordinances that created a “Negro District” in Central East Austin. This District essentially forced Black families to move to East Austin in order to avail themselves to housing, access to public schools and parks, utilities and other City services. This arrangement at the time was “legal,” but it in no way promoted the health and well-being of the African American community. City services for the African American community were separate-but-unequal to the level of access granted in all other parts of Austin. Funding for schools and parks in the District were a fraction of that provided in the rest of the City. City investment in municipal infrastructure was miniscule. The results for East Austin were unpaved streets, poor sewer, water, and electric capacity, marginal police protection, and unchecked poverty and governmental neglect. The ironic twist here is that, even given the harsh social and political realities of the day, Central East Austin internally nurtured all of the essential elements found in healthy communities. In the face of racial discrimination, forced segregation and unaddressed poverty and neglect, the East Austin African American community established schools and churches, cultural institutions, commercial business corridors, and a professional and civic leadership class that went about the business of sustaining the Black Community. Speaking generally, this trend is borne out from the establishment of the Negro District until the activities of Civil Rights Movement in the early 1960s. There appears to be a watershed historical moment that dates to the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Acts of the mid 1960s.  It is at this point where irony becomes paradox: as public desegregation becomes the law of the land many Black families and businesses slowly begin to abandon Central East Austin. Perhaps propelled by the promise of Civil Rights legislation and social mobility, Central East Austin begins a transformation that is fully evident by the mid 1970s. Residential areas that were predominantly African American and owner-occupied are more and more populated with rental housing stock. The storied music venues and cafes of East Austin’s heyday are more often sold, closed and shuttered. And the once healthy ring of East Downtown neighborhoods and commercial corridors begin to more closely approximate visions of big city, high crime and poverty ghetto areas. By the 1970s Downtown Austin began to experience overheated commercial development and subsequent periods of economic of boom-and-bust. Consistent throughout was a massive population influx  into Austin and near-downtown residential neighborhoods and commercial real estate generally, experienced increasing pressure to expand the boundaries of the Central Business District. As the first waves of federally financed Urban Renewal arrived in Austin, Central East Austin was an easy target for “slum and blight” designation (necessary for federal HUD funding for redevelopment). Those initial revitalization funds really never reached African American East Austin, but were funneled into more “desirable” projects closer to the city’s core, such as Waller Creek development and the Symphony Square Complex (home of the Austin Symphony). The most recent round of redevelopment activities in Central East Austin is tied also to federally funded initiatives and articulated in the Comprehensive Redevelopment Plan for Central East Austin. This plan is based on a Tri-Party Agreement between the Austin Revitalization Authority, the Austin Urban Renewal Agency and the City of Austin. The goal of this Plan is to revitalize the residential and commercial core of the District, encourage and facilitate new development, preserve the African American cultural legacy of East Austin, and usher in a new era of vibrant and inclusive community life, arts and culture activity, contemporary economic development that serves the local community and cultural tourism alike. This section of the website will track the history, and present day challenges, of Central East Austin and its quest to engage in meaningful cultural and historic preservation and development, in the face of a rapidly changing and increasingly gentrified modern urban community.