Spirit of East Austin

SPEECH: “The future of Austin rises in the East”

“It’s time to take stock of what is good and to build from that foundation of good a better, stronger and more equitable East Austin. To press forward faster, to taking our best assets and leverage them to bring unprecedented focus, energy, investment and opportunity to East Austin.

“As we Face East, we do not excuse or dismiss the parts of our past that are, at best, ugly and unjust. Rather, we can use this history as fuel for the kind of determination to shape a more equitable and prosperous future in our City’s East Austin. The community has gathered before to participate in studies and help create plans. Just by way of example, The African American, Hispanic and Asian Quality of Life reports; Colony Park master plan; the 1984 master plan; neighborhood Master Plans. We thank you for this important work. From those gatherings, some progress has been made. Yet, we all know that what has happened in the past is not nearly enough and not nearly as great as our potential. And, I hope in knowing that, it makes us all the more determined. I am determined.

“This is our shared dilemma: Many of our highest achievements in job creation, higher education, health and technology, happen in other zip codes. This imbalance has threatened the idea of Austin as a just and equitable community for decades. This imbalance does not come as a surprise. This imbalance comes as the outcome of design – the direct result of where this city has focused. It is time to turn that same level of focus to Face East.”

We know the obvious inequities throughout our city that result in food and financial deserts, pockets of poverty, childhood hunger, and resentment toward our police. Lack of opportunity and a complacency seem to have settled in over these issues like a gray gauze that dims the vision and seems to prevent us from having clarity about how to move forward to becoming a more unified and prosperous community.

Take the debate over the golf course recently proposed for the city-owned land surrounding Decker Lake. In the midst of the discussion about that project, I asked one resident of the Colony Park neighborhood near there: “Is this the kind of development you believe will truly help your neighborhood?” This gentleman looked at me, with a weariness I could feel, and he said “Well, it’s better than nothing.”

I cannot shake those words—and I can’t stop thinking about all we know that lies under those words. “It’s better than nothing.”

His response is one that runs so deep for so many — one that comes from a quiet, persistent belief, even a sad resignation that not all of us are meant to share in the prosperity that hoists Austin to the top of so many national rankings. “Better than nothing” is simply not the standard by which this city should live.

In times past when hopeful ideas have come along, a common response was “maybe later…it’s just not time yet.” And we all know, the word “later” turned out to mean the same thing as “never.” We are just plain unwilling to accept “nothing and later” as the answer and just continue to kick the can down the road.

It’s been said that not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced. Today, we Face East. To Face East is to know that until we own certain truths and do all we can to change our future, Austin will remain a divided city:

  1. In 1928, the Austin city council passed the most bigoted, prejudice-based policies in the history of this city. The council’s zoning plan institutionalized residential segregation, forcing black families, who at that time were living throughout the city, to move to East Austin. The city severed utility services in areas occupied by black residents demanding a city-wide migration to East Austin. Private developers then purchased the then deserted properties and built new roads, homes, and commercial buildings. When these same neighborhoods re-opened, higher rents and restrictive covenants prevented black families from returning. Subsequently, residents of Latino heritage received similar treatment.

The policies of 1928 drew what some call a “colored curtain” down the middle of our city– now represented by IH-35. The pain and inequities caused by that 20th century policy still linger today — the worst of man’s nature brought forth in shameful public policy.

2. There is obvious change in some of the most interesting and colorful parts of our city. Today, the regulars at Joe’s Bakery and on East 11th Street are new faces. Youngipsters, Indians and Asians, artists, musicians and young entrepreneurs. At the same time the diversity this brings is welcome and understandably celebrated, we have to admit that the fabric of this part of our community is being re-woven into a tapestry that citizens who have grown up here, worked here, worshiped here and raised families here, can no longer recognize and some can no longer afford.

We must not wait one day more to set course for the future.

Spirit of East Austin launches an intense and sustained city-wide focus on East Austin:

  • To create a more equitable economy without bias to zip code;
  • To realize a range of affordable housing stock to buy and rent that is within reach of lower and middle income levels;
  • To bring job opportunity to a wider range of skills — jobs and job training to raise incomes and the hope of advancement;
  • To see healthier foods and groceries within closer proximity;
  • To draw healthcare and wellness practitioners and service;
  • To do what we can do to support a culture of belonging– whether old or new, rich or poor, working class or white collar.

Our focus is on the Eastern Crescent, from Rundberg up north, heading east and south all the way to Dove Springs.   This is an area that makes up about half of Austin. As Mayor, what I see are many good things on which to build this vision:

In East Austin, there is already major infrastructure:

  • The largest single public infrastructure in Austin’s history at AIBA,
  • Two of the most major intersections in the city – Hwy 290 and SH 130 and SH 45 and HWY 71

We see excellent higher education :

  • 11,500 students attend Austin Community College at the Eastview and Riverside campuses alone, and still more served are served by ACC centers east in Manor and Elgin and northeast in Pflugerville;
  • And, the region’s oldest institution of higher education, Huston Tillotson, right in the heart of central East Austin.

We see world-class children’s health care east of I-35:

  • The region’s only Level One trauma care for children at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas,
  • And, the Dell Pediatric Institute in East Austin, part of an emerging UT medical school

We see thriving businesses in East Austin:

  • Small and medium service firms are growing and adding employees—manufacturers, call centers, suppliers, contractors and all kinds of makers—from film to furniture to solar panels;
  • Large global employers like Samsung, Applied Materials, and Spansion who provide thousands of jobs and who give back generously;

And, throughout all of East Austin, I see home — home to families living here for generations and home to those who just arrived.

Our goal is to identify and then begin to make real, three to five substantial, material, and achievable goals or projects that will move the needle and forever change the direction of our city’s Eastern Crescent by the end of 2015. In doing that, we will take the first steps toward being a place known for equity and inclusion, for innovation and courage, for authentic unity.

Transcript of speech by Mayor Adler at Spirit of East Austin Community Forum.