The Future of East Austin’s 12th and Chicon


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 drug addict trying to get into the house because he thinks it’s his (one month ago) and a lady doing a drug-induced sprinting marathon from 4:30AM-6:30AM in the back alley behind our house (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?

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  • Reply Mai March 21, 2012 at 4:39 pm

    So interesting. When I first looked to buy in I was looking at the 12th&Chicon area. In the end I opted for a neighborhood I would feel safer in as I tend to walk a lot or when I worked at The Parish, took the bus and walked a lot. I don’t want longtime residents leaving any place, I wish the city would just do more to help them revamp their current homes because even that would help increase home value in the area. A lot of the older residents have to choose between paying for food/medicines and home repair..obviously they have to choose food/meds. I wish the city could do more to help them make their homes safer and beautify their homes.

    I used to live on San Marcos&11th St and the gentrification is good but I do feel sad that all the old businesses that were there left, and even the people who lived there for a long time have left. The only thing I can think about for revitalization without pushing old residents away is New Orleans, but that example is different than just a typical revitalization project.

    • Reply hipstercrite March 21, 2012 at 6:04 pm

      Mai, that’s a good idea. So many homes on the eastside are in poor condition. Like, it blew my mind when I first saw some of the houses people live in. Even my old house was essentially a catalog house from the 1930’s. You could see sunlight coming into the house between the walls and floorboards.

  • Reply kim March 21, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    I too live in the area. I bought my house almost six years ago. I’ve enjoyed getting to know many of the long-time residents and their stories. For a long time I walked my dog at night and often through the 13th and Chicon intersection. I have never had a problem there or anywhere in my neighborhood. I have always found everyone very friendly. Once when a stray dog became aggressive toward me and my dog one of the guys standing on the corner or 13th and Chicon grabbed a bat and walked with us until the dog left us alone. I will admit until NYE I didn’t think twice about walking around at night. and it wasn’t until last Saturday that I walked my dog at night again. However, as we got closer to 13th and Chicon and saw the police I realized something was up and we turned around. It was the fact that it was a drive-by shooting that concerned me most. The bullet could have easily hit someone other than intended target. Once again I will not walk around at night. I don’t know what the answer is on how to improve the neighborhood while still preserving the culture and the ability for the ones that have lived there a long time stay. However, I think that Mai made an excellent point. The City should do more to improve the homes that are there and encourage HEB or another grocery store to open up a decent grocery store with quality fresh and organic foods. I’m glad HEB is building a new store on 51st, but that still is not close for those without transportation that live West of Airport.

    • Reply hipstercrite March 21, 2012 at 5:56 pm

      Kim, I’m so happy to hear that you’ve had good experiences. I forgot to mention that in the Statesman article, they do mention that consultants to the city suggest a grocery store too. That would help so much! The HEB at e. 7th makes me sad. They don’t encourage people to eat healthy there. It was only recently that they started featuring Morning Star etc. in the freezer section. The produce is often rotten too.

  • Reply Scott T March 21, 2012 at 6:42 pm

    I really like your post. One thing I would add to the topic of gentrification and mixed use development.

    A lot of people view it mostly in terms of property values and its affect on the residents who live there. If it were just an issue of pushing out people out of the neighborhood it would be unfortunate, but could easily be written off as necessary sacrifice for progress.

    But the reason cities across the nation are so focused on making sure mixed use development is put in place is it affects all of us – whether you live in the neighborhood or not. Simply put rich and middle class people don’t use mass transit, poor people do. If we hope to avoid the traffic nightmare that so many envision then pushing the lower class farther and farther out to the edges of the city is simply not an option. Afterall, if you can afford it you’re more likely to drive an SUV to Central Market across town because you slightly prefer it to Whole Foods. Those who can’t will shop locally and take the bus or walk. Guess which one is contributing traffic.

  • Reply Tim March 21, 2012 at 8:42 pm

    Mixed-use is not the problem. We need lots of mixed use, and it’s the most accesible for the poor. I wish we had more in my neighborhood since we have so many pedestrians. I’m sure the Mexican Market would love to be downstairs from some of its customers, and I’m sure their customers would prefer not to have to cross a street and walk across a parking lot to shop there.

    But it’s a question of supply and demand. When the city builds “affordable housing” it’s usually not “affordable” in the sense you and I think of. If you look at the “afforable housing” at Mueller it’s more affordable for a teacher with a college degree than it is for someone on welfare (and in my opinion it’s unwise to buy since the ratio of housing cost to income is too high). To get that housing is like winning the lottery. Everyone else gets pushed out anyway.

    The best way to get affordable housing is to push for as much development as possible and hope for a housing glut. That’s what lowers prices (see Austin 1988-1994). Houston is affordable because of zoning. Austin is not affordable and we have elaborate ordinances like McMansion that are full of ratios and complex concepts. Austin is expensive and exclusionary by design. The only solution to that is making it cheaper and easier to build new housing. It’s counterintuitive, but true.

    On a bit of a digression. I went home to my hometown of Duncanville outside of Texas and it’s very interesting to see how gentrification in Oak Cliff has pushed a lot of people into the cheaper homes in Duncanville. Made cheaper thanks to white flight. So there’s now a primarily black suburb and most of the people in it have moved up from old run-down housing stock. And the old run-down housing stock is being fixed up by hipsters. It’s a bizarre cycle. One I’m not sure is in any way bad.

  • Reply Jodi March 22, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    I’ve been going to get regular massages every month at the house on the corner of 13th and Poquito, right next door to where that man got shot. Such a shame, and that street is a mess. But my massages are great — so I’m still going to go there.

  • Reply Ari March 24, 2012 at 8:35 pm

    I’m trying to find ways to volunteer, contribute, and make an impact in the Austin community. Do you know if there are any existing programs in the area that are focusing on this?
    There are so many niche-focus philanthropy organizations I’ve found (protecting famous tress is Texas is one) it would be great to know about something that has a focus on 12th and Chicon.

    Any suggestions?

    • Reply Jaynna June 4, 2013 at 9:46 pm

      Mission Possible is participating in an effort to deal with the impact of the drug market at 12th and Chicon. They are spearheading some restorative justice circles that involve drug addicts and dealers, service providers, and community members. Really it is about healing community and anyone is welcome to come, especially if you care about your community. I’ve been attending them and find them beautiful and we need more community involvement so come out and check it out! Wednesdays at 6pm at Mission Possible (side door in the alley).

  • Reply Debi June 8, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    Ari, Check out Mission Possible website. They are doing a lot of good things in that area. It may be of interest to you, maybe not. But thought I would share.

  • Reply Seth December 3, 2012 at 6:08 pm

    I found your blog as part of research into the neighborhood. I am thinking of buying one of the new houses on 13th. I also want to help in the right way, so am not sure helping gentrify things does that, except long time residents will get more for their properties.

    • Reply hipstercrite December 4, 2012 at 10:58 am

      May I ask what cross street?

  • Reply Millie N. February 22, 2013 at 10:23 am

    Mission Possible on 12th and Chicon do a lot for that area and other low income areas of Austin. Go in there sometime and ask what they are doing. They have a pregnancy assistance center, refugee clinic, Christian men and women job corp., and other programs to improve the livelyhood of people. I am also interested in moving to the area, hence how I ended up on this blog. If good people move in we can have a good influence in the people there.

  • Reply 78702 October 10, 2013 at 7:47 pm

    Enslave us. Murder and rape our women and children. Let us go with nothing. Lynch us. Forget us. We earn. We rebuild. We own. We have value. Bomb and kill us at your leisure. Remember us. Increase our taxes. Increase our rent. Force away our generational wealth. Make us move to reservations. Beautify our lost wages, our lost sweat and tears. Call us all crackheads. Fear what you do not know. Disrespect our culture. Call us crackheads from our own window. Throw a rock. Hide your hands. But someone is watching.

  • Reply Christina Muscato March 6, 2015 at 8:21 pm

    Hi there! I’m considering moving to the neighborhood, and am wondering if anyone had any updates since this post was written. 🙂

    It looks like several years have passed since this was written, and I’m sure the area has only improved, but wondering if anyone can offer their two cents for this neighborhood in 2015, since I’m still rather new to Austin.

    I’m mainly wondering if it’s safe for a single girl in her 30’s to live there, and if I’ll be able to take a walk at night by myself etc and be safe.

    Thanks so much,


    • Reply hipstercrite March 10, 2015 at 10:59 am

      Hi, Christina!
      Yes, the neighborhood has gotten better, but I would argue that as single gal, you have to choose wisely where to live. Are you thinking of living very close to the 12th and Chicon? Some streets have more activity than others. Regardless, I would live in a place that has an alarm system. That will give you peace of mind. Please feel free to email me at laurenmodery at gmail!

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