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Austin's New District 2 Council Member Faces an Old Problem: Infrastructure

Photos courtesy of (counter-clockwise) John Shapley/KUT, Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon (top left and middle left), Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT, Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT, Bryan Winter/KUT

As Austin voters head to the polls this Election Day they'll choose a city council candidate to represent their own geographic district.

So far, many of the candidates have promised to be the "voice" of their district and to fight for district-specific needs at City Hall. All this week and next, we’re looking at each of the city's ten districts to look at each district's unique needs.

Circuit of the Americas is one of the landmarks of District 2 – Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is in there too.

The district is long, stretching from Southeast Austin off of Highway 71 and
east of I-35. Last summer Ron Potts, who had recently retired from the city's Code Compliance Department, took KUT on a tour of the district.

“This over here is a city property that was not legally used by the city,” said Potts as he surveys a huge field surrounded by a chain-linked fence.

It sits right in the middle of two major roads. For years, piles of gravel, rocks and other construction materials laid there.  

“The city[and] public works tries to use a lot of your properties to stage their fill. I understand that,” Potts said . “But, at the same time it's still not legal use. When we are asking other people to obey the law, then the city needs to obey its own laws as well.”

Potts referred the property to the city manager's office and Public Works stopped using it as a dumping ground. That is a huge change. Because for years, most residents here have felt like their neck of the woods was neglected.

One area in which neglect is evident, is infrastructure.

In fact, it was partly the faulty infrastructure that made last year's Halloween floods so devastating, says Margaret Robinson, a principal at Asukara Robinson Company, an urban planning and design firm.

“There is some tree cover existing that really needs to be protected because it also helps provide drainage and infiltration of storm water,” she says.

Robinson says there are large patches of District 2 covered by cement with little or no vegetation, which is hazardous in flood-prone areas

Robinson has also looked at many aerial images and she's noticed other kinds of infrastructure are also in need of attention like drainage, paving roads and electricity and gas utilities.
Internet connectivity is another big one.

When the city of Austin took a look at which parts of town have Internet access and which ones don't, District 2 came up as a digital desert.

There are huge challenges facing District 2 – it's one of the poorest in the city, but there's also a lot of potential. It’ll be up to one of the four candidates running here to try to capitalize on that potential and address some of the long-neglected needs.

Early voting is already underway, and Election Day is Nov. 4.

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.