“My Way IS The Highway”

IH-35 is a bone of contention for most people in the city of Austin. Whether people drive it or pass it, this barrier serves as a reminder: These people are good, and those people are bad. Displacement has occurred on both sides of IH-35, regardless of whether or not Black and brown live in the community. In 2016, the mayor signed a fake pledge to address racial equity in the city of Austin. Apparently, that meant very little because in 2011, the State of Texas was already looking to expand IH-35 because traffic was destined to get worse. One little problem. Many of their explorations involve construction that will bulldoze into already disadvantaged communities, then allowing developers to do what they do best: pretend like none of the people who live there actually did, and that everything would be better under the tutelage of developers. Continuing to expand on IH-35 is nothing more than blaming societal rejects for not being in power.

Throughout the descriptions in My35, all of the circumstances described were indicative of life before this year. 2020 has put a lot of brakes on the fake reality that a harassed working class was sustaining. The recession showed everyone that all of the entertainment jobs only matter if people of all classes can take advantage of them, and reality has shown that many situations in this society no longer matter. It is unclear why people are still promoting Christmas sales and mindless consumption when so many people have lost their jobs. It is infuriating that so many people find it necessary to discuss how to best do music festivals and football, because too many people literally cannot understand a world without them. Deciding that IH-35 still needs to be expanded based on the whims of employers—even though more employers are offering flexible work patterns—is pretending as if nothing has actually happened.

Moreover, continued construction in East Austin demonstrates the continued desire to colonize the Non-White areas in Austin and ensure that Austin is White enough to feel comfortable to “so many races.” No one has any good explanation for this insensitively high cost luxury real estate. The entitled obsession with “more money because I want it” is a problem that people with money need to control. It is not the job of the populace to cater to the visions of homelessness that so many luxury realtors, and developers have in their head. Meanwhile, West Austin has enjoyed incremental development, inch by inch; nobody is offering to take out Hyde Park. Before anybody says, “But Hyde Park looks nice!” Yeah, neighborhoods always look nice when residents are allowed to get living wage jobs and are put in positions of power. Funny how that works. The idea that TXDOT should bulldoze into an area that includes apartments, offices, and jobs for the people in 78723, for the sake of making IH-35 “more efficient” is avoiding the discussion of TXDOT accountability. Unless the leaders of TXDOT are willing to live next door to the monstrosities they created, they should not be allowed to continue making decisions for people who do.

Government agencies need to stop giving themselves permission to go into Non-White neighborhoods and “imagine something different.” Black and Brown neighborhoods are not canvases for the imagination of the dominant narrative, and it takes a heinous lack of empathy to see them as such. Job growth projections in this IH-35 plan have nothing to do with actual reality, except the obsessive belief that “if the highway expands, there will be jobs.” The corporate world is not hiring people; more money is being paid to people who do less and less every day. Furthermore, private employers have been fueling gig economies for their “lower work” with no benefits. TXDOT is not entitled to “new,” but is responsible for maintenance. If the conditions that existed during the project proposal are no longer relevant, the public is not required to abide by TXDOT’s brainstorm.

In 78741, people walk by homeless encampments to take buses. No one is actually confused about the state of the economy for the working class. The recession demonstrates that the wealthy use nonprofits and the government as barriers to their wealth. The myth of more jobs and a burgeoning economy because of an expanded highway is just people justifying poor behavior. Travel times are based on the premise that work habits have not changed. Everybody can see that society has changed, but greedy people benefit from excessive commuting that keeps the populace doing anything else but self-actualization. That is their only image of how people should live. The myth that IH-35 is some kind of magical beacon of economic wealth and societal improvement is merely people saying, “Well, we can knock out some Black and brown people here. Maybe a couple of trees can be planted to ward off the environmentalist screamers and everything will be fine.”

Many of the groups that approve of these plans have been included in the development process, as well as people directly responsible for consistent displacement of low income households. The Downtown Austin Alliance collaborates with a lot of businesses who are hoping to cash in on this project, so they are completely biased. The Urban Land Institute—which designed the Bucksbaum Fellowship around the privatization of public space—has been involved in the purported racial equity conversations. For instance, the repeated refusal to discuss the 1999 “New Visions for East Austin” plan is complete deflection. Many of the groups that have been involved in the negotiation have been pro-development and for profit, and none of the alternatives mention anything other than highway expansion

Progress is the name that is given to bulldozing Black and brown communities, so that developers who have no empathy whatsoever can make billions of dollars. Another word for progress designed at the expense of someone else is abuse. Highways do not expand themselves because somebody has to approve it. Developers do not approve their own plans or demolition, nor do they offer their own utilities. The mere fact that this project is continuing forward is proof that people with money do not feel required to tell themselves, “No”; they feel entitled to the “yes” that they gave themselves, and they want everybody else to validate it. Validation of abuse describes all the conversations of expansion of IH-35 during a global pandemic, a recession, and a racial crisis. Talking to some Black and brown people who smile at you and say “yes” does not grant entitlement to community destruction, and it is past time for TXDOT to learn that. There is no reason to not completely scrap the proposed project, and redo it based on the reality that actually exists.

*Photo Credit to Bobby Atkinson of Equipment World.

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