90 years after '1928 Master Plan', is Austin making same mistakes?

District 1 City Council Member Ora Houston and her family moved to East Austin from Georgia in the 1940's. "That was the only place people could move," Houston said.

Not long before her family made that move, the City of Austin adopted the "1928 Master Plan." 90 years ago this month. "I grew up in a segregated Austin which was a bi-product of that negro district set up by the 1928 Master Plan and lived there and still live in that district," Houston said.

Council Member Houston says before 1928 there were colonies of freed slaves all over the city.

"The City of Austin in its wisdom...had decided that they would like to be able of course expand downtown and the University was growing and they also wanted to move people who were brown and browner in another part of the community," Houston said.

The document can be read at the Austin History Center. Page 57 refers to the quote 'segregation problem' -- "This problem cannot be solved legally under any zoning law known to us at present. Practically all attempts of such have been proven unconstitutional."

So the city found another way.

"What the plan basically said is that in order to get city services you would have to move east of East Avenue which is now our I-35," Houston said.

"History is a looking glass. But somebody needs to tell Austin, Texas that so we can make the right kinds of plans going forward," said Nelson Linder with the Austin NAACP.

Both Council Member Houston and Linder feel there are lessons to be learned.

For example, the city's attempt at a re-write of the land development code, called Code Next.

Houston says while Code Next is not intentionally sinister like the 1928 plan, it might result in some of the same negative outcomes.

Draft 3 was just delivered to council last week.

"It appears as though the majority of the residential density will be put in District 1," Houston said.

Houston says because of the 1928 Master Plan, East Austin has very little infrastructure.

"Our wastewater pipes are smaller and so I don't know how we are going to accommodate 30 something thousand people even though we have some land," Houston said.

"I call it 'Code Never.' It's never going to happen," Linder said.

Linder says in many ways Code Next makes the gentrification problem a bigger one.

"I would think by now in zoning you want to address what you destroyed, you want to address the folks you displaced. Code Next doesn't address that. You need to protect the integrity of neighborhoods like single family neighborhoods," Linder said.

"This is an opportunity for this city to have a conversation about how what we do really informs what happens in the future and if we don't put that in context between 1928 and 90 years later and what's happening now and we don't understand the contextual format of that, we'll make those same mistakes again," Houston said.

Houston says she's working on ways to help people who live east of 183 stay in their homes.

She says she often hears from the elderly in her district about not being able to pass their homes off to their kids because they would never be able to afford the property taxes.

She hopes the Legislature can fix that because there doesn't seem to be an appetite for it on Council.

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