So, why wouldn’t Austin have developed it’s high ground before building on its creeks? It’s difficult to psychoanalyze a whole city, but two things we can speculate about, and one thing we know for sure.
One, the idea of property rights on a creek looks great on paper, especially in a state where ownership of water is such a massively powerful concept. But that really only applies to the early settlement of Texas and current rural areas. As urban areas developed, this began to change, which brings us to…
Two, the land itself in a flood zone is cheap because the landowners and developers know the land is a loser for development, so they seduce people into renting or purchasing the land through low prices relative to land on safe ground.
Three, and this is the one we know for sure, a whole lot of that available land on Austin’s Eastside is where minorities live and have lived for many, many years. In other words, developers built on land in central Austin that should have been left as green space, rather than develop in areas where minorities lived. The comprehensive plan of 1928 made this clear by designating East Austin as the “negro district” and then to provide a more explicit demarkation of segregation, Interstate 35 was built in the ’50s and ’60s right along that segregation line and done so in such a way that it is an aesthetic abomination, an ominous threat to all who approach.
Things like bigotry are no small thing to overcome. Especially when the landscape and infrastructure mandate it. You know that expression, “The wrong side of the tracks”? Well, it wasn’t made up out of the ether. It’s a thing. People perceive those who are different from them as a threat and a danger and then they create a very real line to communicate where they think they belong. This is no way to create a community. It’s the antithesis of that. It’s how you create disparity, inequity, and animosity. It’s how you foster ignorance and hatred.
Think about how we can live not apart from one another, but with one another. And then do something about it. It’s hugely important. When we start thinking and behaving that way—toward inclusion and tolerance—amazing things can happen.