communication

Building Over Bluebonnets

At the end of the day, we demonstrate our values by what we preserve and destroy.

On the corner of North Lamar and Koenig, there was a field next to a shopping center that reliably had bluebonnets every single year and wild flowers every single summer. Regardless of the amount of rain, the amount of sun, or the amount of development that appeared around that field, the flowers remained. One could always drive to the corner—or in my case, take the bus to the corner of Koenig and North Lamar and see bluebonnets, and be reminded that there are some people who can still appreciate natural beauty without having to consume it. This February, during Winter Storm Uri, while people were being forced to acknowledge that the state was heartless unless the communities were “worth enough money,” I rode past that same field, and there was a building over it. Not only was this disheartening due to luxury, high-end development, but because there was no recognition that perhaps some spaces should be left alone. Continuing to build when the supply and demand ideology was demonstrably wrong is one concept that needs to be rejected. However, Austin is one of too many cities still wedded to the idea that if we just build enough, buy enough, consume enough, then equity and racial justice will magically fall from the sky.

The process to create the Project Connect equity tool was very much the same. In order that people understand how White supremacy within the dominant narrative destroys opportunities for racial justice, I will use the terms as defined by Tema Okun, who works with the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. For people who think that perfectionism is a trait of highly insecure introverts, I would advise you to consider the areas in which perfectionism is actually rampant within racial justice dialogues. One should notice that there are not really tangible actions for tangible injustices, but there are a lot of conversations. As a matter of fact, someone needs to create a drinking game in which they observe a racial dialogue on television, and take a shot every single time somebody says the words “conversation” or “dialogue.” We have all talked ourselves to death during the Project Connect process, and still people pretend that a lack of feedback is the reason for unjust behavior—a process also prevalent during TXDOT’s expansion concepts for I-35.

Many of the areas most affected by the rail lines have been historically Black, Indigenous, People of Color and Queer (“BIPOCQ”) communities, and there have been nothing but conversations heavy with the myth that more development is always good.Neither the City nor developers have ever been required to keep track of how many vacant housing units are available before demanding that more land be acquired to create “affordable housing.” There are no records of how many buildings that particular developer has built in the city of Austin, or whether or not those projects have been affordable or “market rate,” since “market” is really only based on people with money, not people without. There have been no standards for the quantity of median family income (“MFI”) units within multifamily development. Literally, there have been developers providing 5% MFI units who are still praised for addressing the affordable housing issue.

Next, within White supremacy, there is a false sense of urgency, which was reflected in the fact that money was immediately allocated to purchase land to make space for the development that was definitely going to happen to avoid higher property values. Among the equity tool team, nobody said that land needed to be purchased to achieve equity, and environmentally, excessive development increases the temperature due to the urban heat island effect. There are already plenty of people getting pushed out of their houses by expensive development that most of the people existing in the neighborhood cannot afford. Therefore, rushing to buy land for purported development needs was not required—unless the goal was to sell to developers who will push the BIPOCQ out of the community for the City, and create plausible deniability. Second of all, there were no vacant housing reports to correspond with MFI vacancies—what was the City rushing to address? There was no waiting until the equity tool was completed to begin reallocating funds for “equity actions.” Most egregiously, the City of Austin provides no information about how many plans offered by developers are approved daily, no one has discussed a moratorium on development agreements until the equity tool is completed, and all of that demonstrates that the issue was never to address the decimation of BIPOCQ communities but always to make more money, which is why equity tools based on economic growth will always center around expelling BIPOCQ from the city limits.

Defensiveness is the most prominent trait of all behavior related to White supremacy. Throughout this and other processes in the City of Austin, there are a number of nonprofits being consulted to design how communities should be developed. Insidiously, BIPOCQ are actually being hired by the City to enact oppressive strategies; while people might argue the advantages, the face of an oppressor does not change the fact that oppressive strategies are being enacted. Just like in Judas and the Black Messiah, such actions alienate BIPOCQ from their own communities, and intentionally create division. Instead of actually using the input to create a better way of living in the city for everybody in the City of Austin, many nonprofits are either White-led or have White boards who have willingly sacrificed BIPOCQ communities to developers, without a shred of shame. No information about the demographics of the staff or the beneficiaries of the nonprofit services are consistently provided, and many nonprofits barricade the White board and the White management behind staff of color who have no real autonomy and terrible salaries, all while proclaiming the good done “for the community.”

When people argue against the nonprofits being chosen, the City harasses the public with relentless meetings and demands to hear from them, while simultaneously vote shaming the people who are being heavily affected by the abuse of economic practices. There are decades of recorded mocking and dismissiveness of community organizers in the city minutes. If anybody wants to be disgusted, listen to how Kirk Watson—a “friendly Democrat”—responded to most of the community advocates who were fighting to maintain East Austin. Saying that people “just need to come to the meetings” is a great way to fill up the schedules of BIPOCQ while all of the buildings are being permitted and all of the agreements are being signed and sealed like they always are, just like during the process of creating this equity tool. Most decisions are made before a ballot is even presented, so the lie that voting actually affects how cities are crafted is exactly that—a lie, because among the City Manager, the planners, and the Director of Planning, none of the positions are elected. The lie that Democrats actually care about marginalized communities has been disproven in Austin, over and over again. After all, it was Democrats and nonprofits that bulldozed BIPOCQ out of communities, not simply Republicans, and binary thinking is another issue which I will later discuss.

Another tactic of the White supremacy is the marketing of quantity over quality. To get to “affordable housing,” too many people place excessive emphasis on new development and new businesses to encourage economic growth. For this, one needs to understand the impact of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. This Act, supposedly designed to address discrimination within BIPOCQ communities did one crucial thing that makes it probable that displacement will continue indefinitely: no real estate management company or realtor has to disclose the race of the residents. Therefore, developers can continue building luxury buildings and accommodations; White people, who are still the largest demographic in the United States can continue filling up those new developments; and they can continue to raise the price of property because demand can be illustrated. There is no way for BIPOCQ to compete with the obsession with moving into trendy places and showing off money.

To add insult to injury, the new residents then control the narrative of said location, because the City lacks responsibility to disclose community stability relating to people already living within the community, not transplants. The onus is forced onto constituents to prove the harm being done, instead of developers having to prove that they will not do harm to already harmed communities. There is no easily accessible information about vacant commercial property or the rents being charged for said commercial property. Due to the pandemic and the recession, the workforce is transitioning to temporary contracting, and disposable income has been severely limited due to high housing costs. Because Austin is the capitol of Texas, most employees within the city limits are city, county, and state employees—including university—who cannot afford the rising housing costs. However, because people keep screaming about supply and demand, and keep building luxury development and filling it up with White people, nobody seems to understand that building more is not solving any actual problems.

Just like fundamentalism, the worship of the written word is key to white supremacy. In 1997, there was an ordinance that was created within the City of Austin due to the efforts of the Save Our Springs Alliance, designating East Austin as the “desired development zone” while West Austin was zoned as the “drinking water protection zone.” On its face, that information looks valid as the Edwards Aquifer is a real geological feature of the state of Texas. However, White influence and money was able to destroy so much of East Austin, as well as persuade the Texas Legislature to create the Edwards Aquifer Authority. This kind of power says, “Well it’s in writing, so it’s perfect.” Such behavior sets a precedent that BIPOCQ should be extremely discerning of nonprofits or predominantly White institutions to have any of their best interests at heart, regardless of political affiliation.

While that sounds like paranoia, the proof is in the words that have happened for racism, just like the people who created this mess. For racial justice, the City has commissioned a series of murals, an embassy is supposedly being created, but the damage is done. Texas laws affect equity measures, and there is too little information or analysis available. While the equity tool team has listened to and searched around to find different measures, the City of Austin was willing to have us all spin our wheels before rejecting any proposals that we suggested because of legal limitations within Texas. If you look at the language used for resolutions surrounding the equity, the equity language is suggestive, even though zoning is concrete, and all the agreements are concrete under Austin Transit Partnership. In fact, Austin Transit Partnership is composed of twelve people in leadership, eight of which are White, one being an eminent domain attorney who enjoys taking land and property from BIPOCQ and giving it to the government. These are all things that are in writing, not a paranoid delusion by frustrated people. Focusing on writing means that one is not open to change at all, because they want to focus on what has already been said. The joke is on them, because for all their targeting and misuse of city resources, West Austin taxes and rents are becoming completely unaffordable as well, so they simply delayed the inevitable.

Either/or thinking—or binary thinking—means that there is “one right way” to create equity or justice within a city, and only new development and new employers can revitalize BIPOCQ communities. After the mess of Apple, Dell, Google, Tesla, Facebook, Oracle, and all those other obnoxious companies who pretend like nothing existed before they showed up, major employers require persuasion in the form of tax incentives, so they are generally more expensive than existing employers. How is that the right answer to anything? Also, developers have no incentive to do anything other than make money, and are not elected by constituents—how is their input valuable to community stability in any way, shape, or form? Economic growth in the United States—according to history and recorded facts—has been based upon the exploitation of BIPOCQ to the benefit of White wealth. Therefore, focusing on economic expansion within an equity tool, or focusing anything purportedly related to racial justice on the economy, is basically saying that it is acceptable to exploit BIPOCQ so that they can make the city money. In essence, because people feel entitled to the sweat and labor of BIPOCQ, we better work really hard; otherwise, the City is going to give our land to the next slick business to present a slide show.

Paternalism within the City of Austin makes community engagement so dissatisfying. Many people believe that BIPOCQ have no idea how to revitalize their communities, so professionals and experts are sent to “guide them” along the wishes of the City. Few people understand how “urban planning” became a “profession.” When slavery was “ended” on paper with the Emancipation Proclamation, Black and Brown people created several fully functioning, independent communities. Former slave owners and obvious racists had a nasty little habit of going to those communities and committing raging acts of violence, burning them to the ground and murdering as many people as humanly possible—which is why I call the Reconstruction Era the Reign of White Terror. In 1921 that is, of course, when Tulsa–the Black stock market–was burned to the ground by angry people who decided that Black people having a stock market was an insult to the dominant narrative. After all of these acts of atrocity, the United States then created two acts—the Standard City Planning Enabling Act and the Standard zoning Enabling Act—allowing municipal governments to decide where Black and Brown people would live. Often, cities made sure that BIPOCQ lived in places that were neither interesting nor desirable to White people.

These are the origins of urban planning and redlining, only one of which is still openly named. Additionally, it is offensive and insulting that people believe BIPOCQ need to be “experts” and “professionals” when most people refuse to hire us. Because of records of city council openly mocking constituents who spoke against city action, there is no evidence that the City has any knowledge of what BIPOCQ know. At one recorded time, a community actually did present city council with a plan: the Rainey Street Barrio Plan. This plan was created by the neighborhood association, which meant that working class people on so many different schedules had to come together, provide input, and embrace this tedious process; the City rejected it. When going through city records, the only information that is able to consistently be viewed is that of White people sending the message that there is nothing in the City of Austin other than White people who understand “planning.” As somebody who has tediously combed through those records, I have seen that plenty of people had plenty to say.

Essentially, the City has a pattern of believing that there is no choice other than to keep approving plans and allowing new development while supposedly attending to racial justice in the possible future. There is no information about the amount the amount of new development approved daily, so the parameters are constantly changing. This means that if all of these projects are approved while the equity tool is being developed, the equity team is being used as a scapegoat for all the abuse of the destruction of the neighborhoods, while the City will sit in the corner smirking at their evil efforts to make sure that this city is as White as possible. Without any actual information, no planning could address racial justice within the City of Austin; the City higher level management knows that, and feels completely content with it.

Staff without power or resources is being subject to emotional accountability from the organizers who are part of the process to create the equity tool, but higher level staff has been excused from participation. Prominent within White supremacy is power hoarding, so those in control are not required to answer any questions. This effort has been nothing but a ruse; we are completely disgusted and understand why nobody trusts the city. We are often given more opportunities to go to meetings for free, but since our input was not accepted or taken into account, what faith can we have in a system that ignores us? For the staff, if no one can do anything, the City has already set the expectation of not caring about undoing wrongs it has perpetuated, despite its inauthentic apology in March. There is a culture of appeasing monsters with money rather than actually undoing racism, and BIPOCQ staff have been weaponized to validate racist actions.

All of this leads into the next trait of White supremacy: fear of open conflict. Newton’s third law of physics states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Most of the higher level staff within the City of Austin enjoys making decisions and rejecting several people, but they flee from accepting accountability for any of those decisions. The public was openly lied to about transparency and the burden is placed on community organizers, instead of the City taking responsibility for its role in destruction. Meanwhile, too many people are still spreading the lie that “liberal” and “Democrat” equal “good, safe people.” (By the way, no, this is not a ringing endorsement of conservatism or Republicanism, which has become attitude and blocking access to resources. An abusive electoral process means zero easy answers, so move on, and stop grasping at straws.) BIPOCQ can count on exactly nobody within the City of Austin for real support and going to bat for actual racial justice, instead of pretend ideology.

When people say, “Not all [fill in the blank]”—not all White people, not all men, not all CEOs—that is a great example of the mentality of individualism, yet another trait of White supremacy. Within the equity process, the City has addressed tokenized BIPOCQ while seeing the masses as incompetent, instead of accepting the fact that West Austin, as a mass, has played a huge part in destroying BIPOCQ communities. The range of individuals within the community being ignored on public record means that it is pointless to act as an individual within this city, which sees all BIPOCQ as the same person. Only West Austinites—and not BIPOCQ West Austinites, mind you—enjoy the benefit of the doubt when being treated as an individual.

Another White supremacy issue is that progress is always bigger and more: more development, more big businesses, more and more and more and more and more. Within city records, the word “progress” is found 10,961 times as of April 2021, while the term “racial equity” is found 358. People may choose to pretend like this is a new term, but the City of Austin goes back to the 1800s; consider how much racial equity action has been organized between the 1800s and now. The fact that the City of Austin has only recently addressed racial equity is proof that the City has no interest in catering to anything but White interest. Predominantly White organizers were able to continue at-large voting until 2014, even though the first mention of district voting occurred on August 3, 1972. Anyone from their White neighborhood association was allowed to come to city council, talk about neighborhood character and thwart development. People voted for an equity tool based on historic racial discrimination, but the allocated funds of $300 million have already been planned out, there is already a schedule, so people had no interest in hearing what we said. Instead, this will be yet another report that the City ignores, a frequent frustration of inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA) advocates. The City made its own plans and said, “Well, we’ll put some BIPOCQ in there, too, to make them the target for our behavior.”

My favorite trait of White supremacy is the lie of objectivity, most commonly pronounced by technochauvinists who largely exploit BIPOCQ, and puff out their chests as the “beacons of the future.” This trait is the belief that data, economics, and law all validate the destruction of BIPOCQ neighborhoods. Interestingly, the “objective” data gathered to promote all of this destruction never seems to support the preservation of BIPOCQ communities, but saves and uplifts predominantly White communities. BIPOCQ have been historically designated for exploitation; so if “economics” means exploitation of BIPOCQ, and the laws were written to validate that mindset, how can economics and law be objective at all? The City has given itself permission to destroy BIPOCQ communities if not enough money is made, which is not the responsibility of people who are trying to exist and live their lives. The City has yet to fund research into all the racist ordinances that currently exist, and remove them, and has no plans to do so. That would be a tangible, financial investment to actually promote equity, but the City has no interest in doing that yet, and is pretending that focusing on data, economics, and law will bring about racial justice. No consistent metric exists for measuring racial justice throughout the United States because almost zero White people cared enough to invest and create any; this is not the fault of community organizers and racial advocates who have been discussing this issue for centuries.

Finally, the harshest trait of white supremacy is the right to comfort. The neighborhood character of White communities is seen as sacrosanct. White people are allowed so much privilege in not having to change, and multiple communities have been able to manipulate the government on multiple levels to absolve themselves of the responsibility of contributing to the City of Austin. During this legislative session, Lost Creek is so racist that it wants nothing to do with the rest of the City of Austin, regardless of whatever its message has been. Many people make choices for and report on BIPOCQ communities while not living there or experiencing the consequences of their “reporting.” The fact that BIPOCQ are the majority of the unhoused population with a majority White population is proof that White comfort is the only thing the City of Austin represents.

With all of these problems, one would think that there are no solutions that are immediately apparent, or that signify something other than “more.” The most important first step is to remove the “DDZ” and “DWPZ” zoning classifications, and to never meet with anyone responsible for the installation again. Just because people feel entitled to keep their neighborhoods the same while destroying others does not grant the City authority to do so. There was a time to grow a spine, and that time has come again.  Additionally, there is a limit to the amount of “luxury living” that any city can sustain, and developers need direction or rejection. Before a multifamily proposal is presented to the Planning Commission, the City needs to hire an independent appraiser—not with Travis County, whose behavior has been demonstrated to be helpful to private entities—to determine the market rate. If the quantity of MFI is less than 50%, it is time to start rejecting those proposals.

To heal some of the wrong, the City owes the Project Connect equity assessment tool team $5,000 apiece for pain and suffering. People did not apply so that we could be part of yet another report that the City ignores and fails to provide a proper response. Few things are more abusive than continuing to believe that one is part of process of change, and realizing that abusers are maladaptive. Smaller, local incremental developers who produce no high-end products should be chosen, Austin Area Urban League should be the entity who determines whether a dwelling is beyond repair, and there should be $50 million in rental subsidies. If anyone is interested in addressing the errors of large-scale development, the answers begin with talking to small-scale developers who are invested in the community and will be in town to bear accountability for wrongdoing.

There are people who believe that these solutions are “ludicrous” and are guffawing at my “mania” as this is being read. Many of those people were not chosen by ballot, and will never be held accountable for the wreckage they leave. It is vital that people remember that derision during this era, especially when feeling entitled to scream at BIPOCQ for not engaging with the government, or trusting it to follow through with any of the talking points. We were frustrated beyond understanding, and no one seemed to understand that people needed to honor and acknowledge that a mess had been made, largely at the expense of BIPOCQ with a lot of smirking and smiling bystanders. While folks are at it, I recommend taking pictures of the bluebonnets, because people who refuse to stop building, lower prices, or cease corruption are working very hard to make sure that nobody has grandchildren who see a flower in real life.

2 comments

  1. Thanks for continuing to tell the truth exactly how it is without any sugar coating. I’m white, but also queer, autistic, with a couple disabilities too. I bought a home near Springdale in 2012. I never thought I’d be a homeowner, but found a little bungalow I could actually afford. All of my neighbors were black, and I was worried what they would think about me moving to the neighborhood. But somehow they knew I was happy to live in the existing community and were they were incredibly gracious and welcoming.

    I’d lived and worked in majority Black communities before, and those years taught me I didn’t have share a cultural background with my neighbors to feel accepted and comfortable. Maybe it’s the autism and not understanding why lots of people do the things they do, but a majority of white people (even those who are “liberal” or white folks who actually vote for proposals that support communities of color,) are still overly invested in keeping their white neighbors “in line.” You can’t be different, do your own thing, be too loud, or have an outdoor space (apartment porches included) that doesn’t conform with whatever random standards a community has “adopted.” (By community I mean a handful of people who like using their spare time telling other people what to do.) I just knew two things. One, the amount of house I could afford was on the bottom end of things, and two, I didn’t want to buy a home just to have other people tell me what to do. I was happy there for a really long time.

    But it felt like I got there just in time to start seeing everything I wanted to be near bulldozed over. I’d only lived there for 2 years when pine street station was reclaimed by eminent domain. Not preserving it as an important historical landmark, even when Austin historians (both white and black) pushed for this status, is all anyone needs to know about “diversity” here. Looking back, I think that was the tipping point that put East Austin on its current track.

    I got sick and ended up out of work just before the pandemic. I couldn’t get the house repaired to sell at market value quickly enough, and had to sell near 100k under market. Maybe I could have held on if my property taxes hadn’t risen to cost as much as my mortgage. I’m often left feeling confused lately. I’ll feel this sudden wave of longing, and then slowly remember the things I miss most aren’t even there anymore. I don’t know what to do with that.

    Anyhow, thank you again for writing. A place can’t fully disappear if there’s enough documentation to prove it existed.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story and yes, only communities where everyone lives are safe for everyone. It is increasingly apparent that people feel entitled to control others’ households to feel “safe,” and that alone is responsible for the uptick in violence. More people are becoming frustrated because there are no quick answers to this problem, and the real culprit is the mindset of entitlement, which was here long before Cult45 made an appearance in the oval office.

Leave a Reply to Courtney Brock Cancel reply

%d bloggers like this: