State of the City part 2: Ethnic Diversity & Gentrification

Here’s part 2 of our January/February 2015 cover feature, State of the City, by Shelley Seale. Here, Shelley discusses gentrification and ethnic diversity in Austin. Check back tomorrow for part three, where Shelley looks at Austin’s economic and business climate. To see part one, click here.

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With our city growing and changing around us, we take a closer look at the issues shaping Austin today.

Terri Givens, Associate Professor in the Government Department at the University of Texas at Austin, says that while Austin likes to see itself as a progressive city, there are important issues around diversity that the city has struggled with. Incredible growth in the Hispanic population and a burgeoning Asian community have drastically changed Austin’s demographics. At the same time, however, we’ve seen a decrease in the African-American demographic. A recent University of Texas study found that Austin is the only city with double-digit population growth that experienced a concurrent decline in the African-American population, although some find the data disputable.

“Things have definitely improved, but we need to make sure that this is a city where ethnic minorities feel welcome, and part of the public policy processes,” says Givens. “This should improve with the new 10-1 system for city government, but we need to do more to make sure our education system is meeting the needs of growing diversity and that there are economic opportunities for all.”

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Above: The remains of East Austin pinata store Jumpolin, which was demolished on February 12th with the cash register and goods still inside. The building’s tenants, Sergio and Monica Lejarazu, say they were not told that the store was going to be demolished. Photos courtesy Monica Maldonado Williams/GivingCity.

One of the major challenges to this, and a hot topic around Austin in general, is gentrification—particularly of the east side. Givens says that she’s surprised it took as long as it did for East Austin to start the process, and that she sometimes feels gentrification is an unstoppable process.

“There are many ongoing discussions on how to manage growth in traditionally low-income neighborhoods, but it is going to be a major challenge for the city to find ways to manage this growth,” she says. “Small businesses are struggling while new businesses come in. In many ways it’s just market forces, but I’m hopeful that programs like the African-American Heritage District can be helpful.”

Originally published January 18th, 2015 in The Austinite Magazine.

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