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How Transportation & Investment Could Bring New Opportunities to Austin's District 1

All photos are courtesy of Filipa Rodrigues for KUT except the bottom center which is courtesy of Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

Today, KUT starts taking a look at each of Austin's ten districts -- and their unique needs.

This is the first time Austinites will elect their council members from the city's newly drawn geographic districts.

District One stretches from Central Austin, north to Howard Lane and into the vast open fields east of State Highway 130.

It's also called the "African American Opportunity District," because it's the district with the largest share of African American voters in the city.

Eric Tang with UT Austin's Institute for Urban Policy, Research and Analysis released a report earlier this year detailing why Austin is the only major US city that over the last decade has seen a decline in its African American population. Tang says African Americans "face persistent inequalities" in three major areas: public education, policing and the job market.

Tang also says Austin's "history of segregation and discrimination" are factors in the shrinking of this community.  

One of this district's major challenges is a lack of reliable sources of public transportation.

Peck Young with ACC's Center for Public Policy and Political Studies says there's a direct link between District One's lack of public transportation and policies that date back to the Jim Crow era.

To illustrate this, Young says Austin has, what he calls, "a fixation" with transportation that goes north to south.

Specifically, Young points to the Red Line that goes from Leander to Austin's Convention Center and to the proposed Urban Rail Line that would go from ACC Riverside to ACC Highland. And to what he calls "the growth corridor of the 1970's." All following a north to south pattern.

Young says the only time people in East Austin had decent transportation was when he was a kid.

"40, maybe 50 years ago, there was a bus line that ran from black East Austin to jobs in West Austin. At that time it was mostly service jobs, for maids, nannies and chauffers," Young says, adding that "when that got to be unacceptable because it was racist," the bus line disappeared. But, it created a problem.

"We haven't had decent east-west mass transit since," he says. "We went back to driving everything north-south."

What ended up happening is that the connection between where the jobs are and where people live got severed. And that is a major challenge facing the future council member that will represent District One starting next year.

There is one bright spot the district could use to its advantage: there are large swaths of undeveloped land.
Studies by the city of Austin from 2010 found that about one-third of Austin's land is still undeveloped and District One has most of it. That undeveloped land could provide some leverage to bring new jobs to the area. But development could also mean the area will see tremendous change in the coming years. And who knows whether that change will encourage or discourage the growth of the African American population in the so-called "African American Opportunity District."

Below you can watch a video from KUT's "On My Block" project, which specifically examined the issues facing District 1.

Nine candidates are running for District 1:

  • Andrew Bucknall
  • Michael Cargill
  • George Hindman
  • Ora Houston
  • Christopher Hutchins
  • Norman A. Jacobson
  • DeWayne Lofton
  • Valerie Menard
  • Sam Osemene

Election Day is November 4 and early voting started today, continuing through Oct. 31.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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