The more I explore East Austin and meet the people who live there, the more I realize how complex and multifaceted it is. Because the area is in such transition, you find all kinds of people and experiences coexisting right beside each other.
Dr. Romero has given me some articles to read to help further my understanding of the evolution neighborhoods go through. It has been extremely interesting to read about similar changes in other cities. New York, San Fransisco, Los Angeles and many other cities have experienced similar changes.
In “Gentrification: Culture and Capital in the Urban Core,” Sharon Zukin talks about how historical architecture is used as a tool to gentrify neighborhoods. Initiatives are taken to preserve and restore historic architecture. Some residents of the neighborhood initially see this in a positive way. They see it as an investment in their community. What these residents may not understand is how much it much it will affect the neighborhood over time. The ultimate goal of many people pushing for these initiatives is not to perserve architectural history, but to increase the land value. Many see it as a money making opportunity.
Land values can increase because of the attention being drawn to the historical buildings being preserved and renovated. With rising land value can comes increased property taxes. Once the process begins to accelerate, residents of the neighborhoods can no longer afford to continue paying their ever rising property taxes. Those same residents who supported the improvements to the neighborhood, are forced from their homes. Communities and support networks that have existed for years are broken apart.
I was curious to know if there was a similar mechanism at work in East Austin. Dr. Romero had an interesting perspective on this issue because of her previous research with street art and artists in Austin. She has found that well known street art murals on buildings function in a similar way. Buildings with beautiful street art on them are bought to be preserved.
Once the art work has been seen as worthy of being protected, people start showing up to see it. All the extra foot traffic increases the desirability of the surrounding land for business use which can raise property values. With increases in property value comes increased property taxes.
I recently was able to interview the owners of SpraTX, a street artist collective in East Austin. They shared with me a completely different aspect of street art in the area. With increased interest being shown in the type of art they create, artists are able to be commissioned and receive payment for their work.
The trope of the ‘starving artist’ exists for a reason. It can be a difficult way to make a living. Without community support, artists are forced to support themselves in alternative ways. Any new creation must come from the artist’s own pockets and free time.
I am quickly realizing there is no one way of looking or thinking about East Austin. Where there is destruction and isolation, there is also creation and community.