Last week, as I drove to a photo shoot at the ass crack of dawn, I heard the sweet voice of Austin Eavesdropper’s Tolly Mosely come across KUT’s morning news. She was discussing Austin’s plans to revitalize the surrounding area of 12th and Chicon much like they did East 11th Street. For those of you not from Austin, 12th and Chicon is Los Angeles’ Skid Row packed in a one block radius of Austin’s Eastside.
The intersection showcases much of the city’s drug dealing and prostitution on a 24-hour basis. It is an intersection that people warn you about- I still hear stories of people nearly carjacked- but mostly there is a somewhat peaceful co-existence between the city and 12th and Chicon. This year’s SXSW was pretty telling of things to come- I saw just as many hipsters as I did drug dealers and prostitutes hanging out on the corner. However, there was a drive-by at that intersection (actually, 13th and Chicon) the last Saturday night of SXSW. Unfortunately, the man, who was shot several times in front of his mother, was killed. The murderer has since turned himself in. I think it’s fair to say that the area still has a long way to go.
I live in this neighborhood.
I drive through 12th and Chicon almost every day. For the most part, I’ve gotten used to living in the area, but there are still constant reminders that I need to watch my back. Though our street is relatively safe, occasionally we’ll have a person canvasing our house to break in (two months ago), a crack addict trying to get into the house because he thinks it’s his (one month ago) and a lady doing a sprinting marathon from 4:30AM-6:30AM in the back alley because, well, she’s probably on crack too (two days ago). When these episodes come up, my anxiety levels rise and I feel I should move out of the area. Then I forget all about it until something happens again.
I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard the news segment about 12th and Chicon’s potential revitalization. I found a subsequent article at the Statesman that explained a little further. I would love for the neighborhood to get cleaned up. I’d love for the drive-by’s to stop, the drug dealing to end and the prostitution to go away. However, my fear, like a lot of revitalization projects, is not that these issues will stop for good, but that they’ll get moved to another neighborhood. Though I want my neighborhood to get better, how can I feel good about the problems getting pushed somewhere else and the people who need help not getting it?
Gentrification has always been a tough topic for me. I typically seek out transitional neighborhoods to live in and I’m very interested in urban planning and urbanism. Gentrification is such a gray area that you can run your brain in circles thinking about. Do the people of crime-riddled areas want their neighborhoods cleaned up? Sure! At the price of pushing them out of the neighborhood due to rising property taxes/rent? No. But do homeowners get a lot more for their house than they would have before the revitalization? Probably. But do they have to move from the neighborhood they’ve lived in for a long time? Yes.
I could be completely wrong about this and please tell me if I am, but the only outreach initiative I’ve seen at 12th and Chicon is a Christian church who owns/rents a cafe and parking lot where they have events, food and socializing. I do not know if the city does anything to help the problems of 12th and Chicon (other than patrol it) and I’m afraid that that will not change. Condos will go up, mixed-use buildings will go up, parking lots will go up and people will be left behind.
The Statesman article suggest that some neighbors are itching for the city to redevelop and that “consultants said the city should encourage mixed-income housing on East 12th, possibly as a stipulation for building on city-owned lots. And they suggested that the city push for a senior housing project on East 12th to stall the trend of longtime residents leaving the neighborhood.”
I want 12th and Chicon to get better, but I want it to get better in the right way. Is that possible with revitalization projects? Are there examples of neighborhoods that found a rebirth without pushing people away?