A plan to revitalize 11th and 12th Streets has been in the works for decades, but concerns over the introduction of too many bars have nearly prevented the plan from modernizing
We recently received a letter from an old friend of ours in Hyde Park, chastising us for our framing of contemporary Austin land use wars as “planner” versus “preservationist”, since in real life one can be one, both or neither. of these things. Believe me, Karen (real name), we don’t like it too much either; we continue to struggle to describe this signal boundary of local politics, and I wish I could still say so-and-so supported or opposed CodeNEXT. Since the Chronicle writes about a lot of things that aren’t covered in other outlets, in Austin or elsewhere, we have to choose our own house style and a language that people will understand.
It would be easier to call both parties here “developers” and “neighborhoods” by default, but we don’t. This framing is intended by its craftsmen to blast avid cyclists and hold neighbour-lovers above reproach, and I need not tell you that this is not really how cultural and sociological signifiers align. economics of these battles. real life in this ever-changing city. But we have other old friends who write us letters controlling our language whenever we use the term “neighborhood” as a substitute for “aging downtown homeowners”, regardless of what we say about them, since everyone, of all ages and classes, lives in some neighborhood, even urban planners. Why can’t they be forces for good?
Defend the Perimeter
Organizing at the street and block level could be a springboard to do more good work than most Austin neighborhood associations are unable or willing to do as civic actors. The fact that NAs in Texas, and especially in cities like Austin, have a de facto and nearly absolute veto over the property rights of others makes it difficult for anything else to rise to the top of the league. mission statement, even though NA officers would like to plant community gardens or teach poor children to swim instead. Because being a NIMBY – defending your business and your territory, with unlimited emotional investment to avoid a catastrophic outcome even if it won’t make any real difference in your life – is human nature, and in Texas the law is also to your side.
For example, look at all my own Eastside neighbors who showed up to Council last week crying and whistling about the bars on East 12th Street. (They had a valid petition and all.) You might be thinking, “But there are bars on 12th Street already.” Yes, for decades, without major incident for the past 20 or so years (it was admittedly more difficult back then). Some other properties on East 12th could also become bars down the line, perhaps 20 years from now, if their owners negotiate the not at all painless process of a conditional use permit, in which case those same people can come back and complain about it.
But literally for months the NA has been whipping people with visions of East 12th becoming another Rainey Street within weeks and destroying all the newly gentrified splendor of the Central East. This stupidity nearly scuttled efforts to clean up and modernize the plans controlling 11th and 12th streets that had been underway for eight years (started when I was chairman of the city’s urban renewal board, years before I returned to the Chronicle).
The generations to come
These plans themselves are much older, over 20 years old, so it’s been a few generations since the neighbors got together because they sought things in the neighborhood to change. The project’s fundamental aim of developing public property (acquired from its original, mostly black occupants during urban renewal) along the corridors is only partially achieved, and mid-1990s visions of restoring the The area’s brilliance as the historic commercial heart of Black Austin feels remote. This is despite the powerful waves of gentrification that swept through every other part of East Austin during this time. It’s quite depressing.
But if we can’t address the issues that impede community vitality and the creation of spaces at this scale of “small area planning” – a buzzword favored by the people we call curators – we probably won’t be able to not do it for an entire city which, unlike East 12th, doesn’t just hang around and wait and not change while we argue. We can and should throw some weight and money behind the creation of not just small area plans, but their implementation structures and the “community development” required to make these neighborhoods more than just real estate, and Austin’s future more than how it uses the land. Or, more properly said, to make the realization of the equitable potential of all Austinians the goal of city land use regulations, which can be informed by social work and capacity building, peer support and political organization and many other things besides the language of law and reality. domain. If that was our goal and if we could achieve it, we wouldn’t need words to describe the sides of the land use wars, because there would only be one side.