Wednesday, April 23, 2014

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Looking past the connotations of East Austin's 'gentrification'

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TWC News: Looking past the connotations of East Austin's 'gentrification'
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For longtime East Austin resident Ms. Ora Houston, it never gets too hot to enjoy the patio at Mi Madre’s. It’s her favorite Manor Road lunch spot.

Until you gain her trust, you must call her Ms. Houston. The neighborhood's older generation appreciates good manners.

"When you live in this city as long as I've lived in this city, you don't trust a lot of people," she said. "Some of my new neighbors that will walk down the street and they won't even speak and I'll be like, ‘Why are you here?’"

Sometimes, Houston says new neighbors come in, but have no plans to stay.

"They're here, they flip their homes, then they're gone," she said.

State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez also recognizes neighbors won't always agree as the area continues to grow and change.

"I think people should be able to build what they want to build if they want to do that,” he said. "People in a neighborhood or on a street would like to see a house that's not too different from what's already on that street."

Some neighbors point out Austin City Council Member Mike Martinez's new house on East 11th Street.

The more than 3,500 square foot home takes up two lots, where a church had burned down. He says criticizing him for building a home in East Austin sends the wrong message.

"[It’s like] once you get successful, don't live here anymore," Martinez said.

Martinez has spent more than 20 years in East Austin. He doesn't think his property, which won't increase surrounding property values until it’s up for sale, is part of gentrification.

"For me, it signifies change. People move in, some folks move out,” Martinez said. “Again, it's one of those terms where I think it's used inappropriately."

Architect Nicole Blair agrees the loaded word encourages stereotypes.

"Sometimes people assume just because you're white you're gentrifying a neighborhood," she said.

Blair has lived in East Austin her whole life. She's an active member of the Blackshear Prospect Hill Neighborhood Association.

"I think you need to live here and be part of the neighborhood to really know what's going on,” she said. “I don't think you can drive down the street in any neighborhood in Austin and guess at what's happening."

To Ms. Houston, a gentrifier is someone who's not rooted in the neighborhood's history and isn't investing in its future.

"Gentrifiers are those people who move into a neighborhood, don't really get to know their neighbors, don't get to know the cultural impact,’” she said.

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