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March 2018

The Deliberate Segregation of Austin Texas


Sam Hunter

Austin is a segregated city. This was not merely a coincidence, it was based in policy --

public, and private, and the shockwave of effects persist today, especially in the changing urban

landscapes of the city center and among surrounding cities. I will review three historical factors

which contributed to the demographic landscape of Austin today and three racial patterns which

were a result of these factors. First is the Koch and Fowler Plan of 1928, public policy which

navigated through a loophole and was ingrained into the city's comprehensive plan. Secondly,

redlining which effectively excluded minorities from the economic driver of wealth through

housing. Lastly, the introduction of the tech industry as a driver of gentrification today. All of

these culminating factors have worked to produce the Austin we see today.

I was born and raised in Austin, Texas. My parents bought their first house 19 years ago

in suburban South Austin. It was new, and about $140,000--a one story, 4 bedroom, 2 bath. Now

in 2018, comparable homes are selling on our street up to $360,000. That is approximately a

150% increase from when I was born, to now in college. The rising prices in Austin are

exorbitant, and pricing out entire communities that were here historically. Even more, the legacy

which put these communities together is a long and deliberate history of racial segregation, put

into place well before my parents were born. Despite Austin’s reputation of being a liberal city,

unequal treatment is especially pronounced as the young and wealthy replace historically black

and hispanic communities, and business interests are continually supported first and foremost.

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Central Austin, Texas Racial Dot Map (Chart 1) - http://demographics.virginia.edu/DotMap/

N. Austin & Round Rock, Texas Racial Dot Map (Chart 2) - http://demographics.virginia.edu/DotMap/

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There are three racial patterns apparent in Austin’s present day landscape. First, is the

city center’s I-35 divide. To the East of I-35 lies a massive hispanic population, with black

populations dispersed throughout. To the West, is the wealthier white populations. An exception

is the concentration of Asian, white, and Hispanic populations surrounding and within The

University of Texas. This racial divide is primarily due to the Koch & Fowler plan Austin

implemented in 1928. This policy concentrated black populations to the East of I-35 in order to

obtain services and to get rid of integration within neighborhoods. Today, these black

populations have shifted away and a growing hispanic population, which previously only resided

South East of I-35 began to take over (Chart 1).

Secondly, is the spreading white population which has broken past I-35 and is slowly

working its way into the Central East side. However, there is still an overall hispanic

concentration on the East Side. This growing whiteness on the East Side is not necessarily due to

increasing integration and open-mindedness, it is more of a pricing out of populations that lived

there previously and redevelopment of the neighborhoods to fit populations of higher and higher

income brackets (Chart 1).

Lastly, focusing on North Austin, into Round Rock and Pflugerville, there is a steadily

growing migration and concentration of minority populations along I-35, further North. This

shift is a result of the pricing out of blacks and hispanics from the East Side, and the seeking out

of cheaper housing outside of the city (Chart 2).

All of these patterns are greatly interconnected, all a cascading effect of the Koch and

Fowler plan, which concentrated minorities on the East Side initially, and gentrification, which is

pricing those same groups out today. Downtown Austin is being “sterilized” and stunted by

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gentrification, and these are the resulting patterns reflected in the dot map. While the capital

accumulation effects are initially “good”, rising prices will eventually choke out the middle class

from the city-center, as well as the mobile poor. Unfortunately, some populations will be too

poor to move out, or forcefully evicted, and we can expect in the future a spatially-intersectional

map of extreme racial and socioeconomic disparities across Austin (Moskowitz, 2017).

Hyde Park Advertisement 1915 - Austin American Statesman

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Austin’s history and development is deeply related to Colonel Monroe Shipe, the founder

of Hyde Park in the 1890’s--Austin’s first “whites only” elite suburb was 2 miles from the city

center and connected by private street car (Tretter, 2012). Shripe set the stage for the domination

of southern progressive business interests in Austin’s local politics, creating many reforms in

1909 in order to keep progressive ideals at the forefront. This included the shifting from a ward

system to a commission system, and an effort in reducing minority voter participation (Tretter,

2012). These reforms worked, nearly 95% of non-white women, 85% of Black males, and 77%

Hispanic males were not eligible to vote (Martin 1933). Shripe had invested in multiple suburban

developments and it was in his interest for the city to grow so that he could generate more wealth

for himself. With these priorities in mind, the city of Austin grew against the backdrop of

business and real estate interests and the norm of exclusive “whites only” suburbs (Tretter,

2012).

My first factor I discuss is The Koch and Fowler Plan of 1928. The basis for which was

in response to the 1917 ​Buchanan v. Warley​ Supreme Court ruling that shot down explicit

residential segregation through zoning by the justification of private property owners rights

(Spence, 2012). This ruling came just as the Austin Comprehensive Plan was nearing its

completion, containing the very zoning sanctioned as unconstitutional--city officials simply

sanitized the language according to precedent, and identified loopholes to segregate Austin

(Spence, 2012).

The document begins talking about the “race segregation issue” by recommending “this

[East Side] district as a negro district; and that all the facilities and conveniences be provided to

the negroes in this district, as an incentive to draw the negro population to this area” (Koch &

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Fowler, 1928). This recommendation was made to fix the burden of having two schools,

playing-fields, parks, and other separate establishments for blacks and whites (Koch & Fowler,

1928). This plan affected black residents more than Mexican-American residents. While there

remained Hispanic and Latino populations dispersed through the city (Chart 4), blacks were

heavily and overwhelmingly located on the East Side (Chart 3) (Spence, 2012).

Spence, 2012 (Chart 3)

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Spence, 2012 (Chart 4)

The effect of this plan restricted services for any minority West of East Avenue (later

I-35) with no black facilities these populations simply had to move. A lack of city services also

actively tried to turn any black parts of the city into ghettos (Ross & Leigh, 2000). This allowed

cities to use eminent domain to bulldoze communities if they were deemed “blighted”, despite

the fact this blight was usually the result of the city itself and its disinvestment in minority

communities (Ross & Leigh, 2000). Redevelopment throughout the city further bottlenecked

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black communities to the East side, creating the intense segregation we still see reflected today.

While black communities are largely no longer on the East side, replaced by a growing hispanic

population (Chart 1), the neighborhoods on the East side remain of lower tax brackets, and

therefore receive less services, lower quality schools, and lower quality facilities (Zehr, 2016).

This disinvestment has also been a precursor to gentrification happening on the East side.

Wealthy white populations are spilling in, rising the cost of living for existing residents. Not

unlike before, we continue to displace our poorer residents through the system of property tax

and rising rents. It is a complex issue which requires a high amount of expertise, consideration,

and dedication to representing all sides of the matter (Moskowitz, 2017).

Continuing in my examination of Austin’s racial landscape is my second historical factor:

redlining (Chart 5). This was a nationwide practice by the Home Owners Loan Corporation in

which particular areas of a city were deemed too risky for government-backed mortgages. Where

these boundaries were drawn generally relied on the racial composition of neighborhood rather

than careful and factual examination (Zehr, 2015). A large swath deemed “hazardous” was the

“negro district” outlined in Koch and Fowler’s 1928 plan (Tretter, 2012). This resulted in huge

economic implications for minority residents of Austin as “the HOLC map may have driven out

financial opportunities for non-white peoples in these areas, encouraged spatial segregation, and

even undermined the capacity of East Austin to maintain the quality of its housing stock”

(HOLC & Olsen, 1935). The effects of redlining maps targeted blacks, Mexican-Americans, and

poor whites. Inversely, whites-only areas, neighborhoods with racial covenants, and various

other private practices restricting racial integration were rated as “best” on HOLC redlining maps

(Tretter, 2012).

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Austin Redlining Map - Zehr, D. 2015 - http://projects.statesman.com/news/economic-mobility/ (Chart 5)

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Redlining was the implicit denial of minorities from accessing the same drivers of wealth

as whites. As little as 2% of $120 billion dollars financed by the federal government went to

minority populations between 1934 to 1962 (Lipsitz, 2018). Blacks alone composed 10% of the

population at the time, receiving disproportionately less aid than whites, despite many of them

having vetern status (Lipsitz, 2018).

Redlining has contributed massively to the wealth inequality within the United States.

Austin-Round Rock is ranked highest in the Nation for economic segregation--the rich and the

poor effective operate within the same city, but in two different worlds. The study done by

Richard Florida and Charlotta Mellander (2015) examined cities with an index that included

income, educational, and occupational segregation. The historical segregation of cities

compounded by redlining has greatly contributed to inequities within the city across multiple

boundaries, Austin being a primary example of disparity across socioeconomic and spatial

boundaries.

My final factor is Austin’s rise as a Technopolis; this economic specification set the stage

for attracting a high-skill and high-income workforce. A huge economic driver of the city, Austin

now has an extensive agglomeration economy driven towards Technology and Research &

Development (R&D) (Tretter, 2016). This was an effort made among multiple actors within the

city in an effort to replace temporary oil jobs. Actors involved included The University of Texas

at Austin, local government, and private real estate interests (Hartenberger et. al., 2012). The

shift began with the University of Texas and the creation of a source for high skilled labor,

research facilities, employment, knowledge, and role as a land developer. One particular

expansion of The University of Texas research facilities into the East Side in the 60’s a 70’s,

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displaced 1000 residents on the East Side with eminent domain and provided insufficient

relocation funds (Tretter, 2016). After acquiring IBM, Texas Instruments, and Motorola, the city

honed in on the capitalization of research and development, including the role of attracting

tech-based businesses. Austin increased funding to UT’s research and provided businesses with

abundant tax breaks, subsidies, and incentives in the 80’s & 90’s. Many startups located in

Austin, and the city eventually spawned the tech-giant Dell Computers (Hartenberger et. al.,

2012).

The landmark company which Austin was able to secure was the Microelectronics

and Computer Technology Corporation (MCC), the creation of which was to compete with

Japan’s advanced and dominating knowledge economy. Austin’s primary weapon to attract

MMC was a strong public and private partnership model. University, business, and government

interests all came together to offer MMC a $62 million incentives package, including the

offering of a $23 million research center at UT for a very low leasing price (Hartenberger et. al.,

2012).

Universities have been huge proponents in the development of research-based economies.

Government funds on all levels have also contributed significantly with the ushering of the new

knowledge based economy with globalization in the 1980’s. University-private partnerships have

been extremely lucrative, particularly the University of Texas in the context of Austin. This is

majorly due to the fact the University does not pay land taxes, or federal taxes, is able to “take

land at a fair market price with authorization by the State Legislature”, and eminent domain is

able to be exercised by the board of regents (Tretter, 2016). This has lended greatly to UT’s role

as not only a public institution, but as a land developer within the city, and its ability to change

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the city economically as well as spatially. The examination of the high-tech sector is an

extremely important factor to consider in the composition of Austin’s racial composition because

it was used as one of the many justifications for urban renewal (Tretter, 2016). On top of this is

the attraction of a wealthier workforce, which has raised land and home values within the city,

propelling gentrification.

With all these three factors intertwined, it is easy to see how Austin’s racial landscape

exists today. An accumulation of intersectional forces and actors came together to reinforce the

segregated racial space of Austin. Using Massey’s idea of a global sense of place, Austin exists

as an intersection to many international, national, regional, and local links (Massey, 1991).

Whether it be the white settlers who established the city on racism and real estate interests, the

black communities trying to establish their own livelihoods after the legacy of slavery, the

Hispanic communities which fled the Mexican Revolution between 1910 - 1920 (Spence, 2012),

transnational businesses, college students attending The University of Texas, a tech-employee

moving into their newly renovated house on the East Side, or a kid today raised in Austin

unaware of the constantly moving legacies and actors that assemble Austin’s long and racist past,

Austin is an accumulation of various interests, actors, and bystanders rather than a passive

backdrop by which events unfold (Massey, 1991).

The Koch & Fowler Plan was not the foundation of racially divisive policies not unlike

this one, but simply the solidification of private forces already at work to segregate the city. Even

before the Koch and Fowler plan, private zoning through deed restrictions and land covenants

were simply meant to separate uses and perceived to preserve land values, but in time became a

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tool of racial segregation. These private-based roots often set the stage for future public and

implicit de jure segregation (Tretter, 2012). Eventually, public policy ended up providing the

blueprints with which The Home Owners’ Loan Corporation drafted redlining maps based off of

where minorities concentrated (Tretter, 2012). Furthermore, where the federal Interstate-35 was

built in 1962 is located where the dividing line of Central and East Austin exists, what used to be

East Avenue (Zehr, 2015).

Gentrification has also been propelled by the legacy of businesses interests which began

with Monroe Shripe in the 1890’s and reforms passed in 1909--the legacy of these interests have

heavily supported tech sector development with globalization in the 1980’s (Tretter, 2012).

While the transformation of Austin into a knowledge economy was overall beneficial to the city,

these benefits were uneven and negative effects were primarily borne by minority populations

(Tretter, 2016). Income disparities observed have been highest in cities with high-tech, high skill

sectors; this is due to the polarizing nature of the service economy and its effect of shrinking the

middle class (Giudice, 2017).

The University of Texas is also a huge actor in the development of a high-tech sector

which propels gentrification. The University has created and pruned many research facilities to

create the Austin we know today. While local and federal funds were used as incentives for tech

businesses to locate in Austin, the base facilities of the University provided places to have

research & development, as well as producing a steady stream of well-educated high-skill

workers (Tretter, 2016). Not only this, but the University's role as a land developer massively

aided private companies as the University was often exempt from many of the taxes and land

pricing private companies were not. The University often developed R&D facilities, among other

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facilities, in areas like the East Side with low political resources and low land values (Tretter,

2016). The economic environment and inequity created by the Koch & Fowler Plan (1928) and

redlining are direct factors of the East Side’s susceptibility to land development and

gentrification.

GIS map of shifting black populations (2000-2017) - data from simplyanalytics.com (Chart 6)

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GIS map of shifting black populations (2000-2017) - data from simplyanalytics.com (Chart 7)

Gentrification has been driving the pattern of whites spilling over I-35 onto the East Side

as well as the shifting of minority populations to exurb cities like Round Rock and Pflugerville

(Chart 7). This pattern is extremely detrimental as these populations are often low income and do

not own cars. Access to public transit in these areas is scarce, and jobs are typically in the city

centers along with walkable landscapes to run basic errands like groceries, daycare, or shopping

without a private vehicle. This shift is simply the “suburbanization of poverty” (Solomon, 2015).

Other fast growing cities have experienced growth within black populations--but not Austin. A

report by Eric Tang shows that between 2000 and 2010, Austin’s population has grown overall

20%, but the black population has actually ​declined​ by 5.4% (Tang, 2014) (Chart 6). The top 10

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fastest growing United States cities had an “average rate of African-American population

growth” of “16.7%” (Tang, 2014). Compared to other cities with black population declines,

Austin by far had the largest growth rate while others were accompanied with a declining overall

population rate, or only a modest growth rate (Tang, 2014). Tang postulates that this decline is

likely due to extreme inequities within the city--as shown by the Florida & Mellander study

(2015) which ranked Austin number one for economic segregation disparities.

Austin has a long and storied past of racial segregation which is still playing out today.

This legacy was marked by three spatial patterns and three historical factors. These three

historical factors: the Koch and Fowler Plan (1928), redlining, and the development of the

Tech-sector within Austin. All three of these processes culminate to create the urban landscape

we see in Austin today, and the turning of a new chapter--not towards reparation, but towards

gentrification, eviction, and upheaval.

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References

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Replaced by Robots​. Retrieved April 10, 2018, from
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Hartenberger, Lisa., Tufekci, Z., Davis S. (2012). ​A History of High Tech and the Technopolis
in Austin​. In Inequity in the Technopolis (pp. 63 - 84). The University of Texas at
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Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, and R.L. Olson. (1935). ​Confidential Report of a Survey in
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Lipsitz, G. (2018). ​Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How white people profit from identity
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Massey, D. (1991). ​A Global Sense Of Place. ​Marxism Today, (38), pp.24-29.

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