Saturday, July 13, 2013

Plaza Saltillo: Place, Practice, and Growth by Emily Mixon

Since the 19th century, individuals such as Frederick Law Olmstead have imbued the American psyche with a mental attachment to environmental determinism, or the idea that the function of a place will follow the form. This philosophy, long attractive to upper and middle class citizens hopeful of “reforming”, “improving” and “controlling” races and classes perceived as blighted, has arguably fallen short time and again as public parks and carefully constructed neighborhoods across the nation have developed their own characters and cultural practices. In short, it is arguably far more common in the modern and post-modern American city to find cultural practices and performances taking place in spaces that architecturally reflect a different original intent.
            Austin, Texas, one of the nation’s fastest growing cities, is no exception to this dichotomous relationship between design and use. In the following paper I argue that the cultural practices and performances suggested by both the physical architecture and the transportation infrastructure at Saltillo Plaza in East Austin, do not match the realities of its use, and that furthermore, the real use of the space is a representative of a wider demographic and cultural shifts happening in East Austin as the city undergoes an upswing in development.   
            In the introduction to her piece ‘Whose Culture? Whose City?” Sharon Zukin writes, “Building a city depends on how people combine the traditional economic factors of land, labor, and capital. But it also depends on how they manipulate symbolic languages of exclusion and entitlement” and “the look and feel of cities reflect…uses of aesthetic power.” (Zukin, 7). Plaza Saltillo, located on East 5th street between Comal and Onion, reflects three collections of cultural intentions and practices: that of its namesake, Saltillo, those of the East Austin residents who facilitated its creation, and those of the new wave of residents following Austin’s growth and re-growth across I-35 from downtown.
            Saltillo Plaza was commissioned and opened by the City of Austin in 1998. The architecture of the plaza is based on influences from Spain and Mexico, and the ornate benches, as well as the bronze bust of Vito Alessio Robles, were given to the City by the City of Saltillo in Coahuila Mexico as part of the Sister Cities International program. The program, founded by President Eisenhower, serves to facilitate people to people interaction, as well as economic growth, between participating cities. An Austin 360 interview with former Austin Mayor Gus Garcia revealed that this project was a result of the political consciousness of East Austin that was shaped by the Economy Furniture Company Strike in 1968, and the following two decades of elected officials such as Richard Moya, as well as the work of council members like Betty Dunkerley. A radio interview with Kathy Vazquez, one of the East Austin members of Ole Mexico, a group of East Austin restaurateurs instrumental in the Plaza’s construction, spoke of the builders’ intent, saying that “if the city invested money to bring more people to the area and invest in safety, that tourists and people from west Austin would come and eat at the restaurants in the area.” With this background in mind, it seems natural to view the wrought iron work, the central bandstand, the vendors’ counters, the revolutionary bust, and the central fountain of the plaza as a symbol of East Austin cultural and political enfranchisement. However, the mind’s eye-view of a bustling central plaza is far from realized on an average weekday. Men do not play cards or dominoes in the shade as they do in Mexico. Children are not playing, and the counters are empty of goods. Fifth Street itself seems empty too except for cars parked in the side street angle parking—old warehouse structures dominate the landscape, and the bustle of the restaurants that Ole Mexico campaigned for, doesn’t seem to be visible.
            The census data for the tract containing Saltillo Plaza reveal that the population for the tract is 81% minority, with African Americans outnumbering Hispanics. The tract population’s median income for 2010 was $30,316, and 41% of its residents fall below the poverty line. Housing-wise, the median house age is 59 years, and about half of the residents rent their housing units. About a block northeast of the Plaza is Chalmers Court, one of Austin’s Housing Authority apartment blocks. The surrounding area is filled out with small houses, most with fenced in yards, including a few vacant lots with tall grass and a bit of scattered litter. Corrugated metal fences between the Plaza and Chalmers features graffiti that urban geographers like Zukin have referred to as “gritty.” On the north side of 5th street from the plaza there is a district in transition as old large structures (some industrial) are renovated into higher-end establishments like Progress Coffee shop on 5th and San Antonio. “Old Downtown” style parking here is still plentiful—garages haven’t sprung up as they have in the 2nd street district. The connection to the rest of the city seems to operate primarily through auto and bus traffic, as the MetroRail station stands mostly empty, and the train stops for short periods of time infrequently.
            These renovated structures are indicative of the true hustle and bustle of the plaza, and of the neighborhood at large—energy and cultural use comes not from the residents of Chalmers Court, or the surrounding houses, but from outsiders, flowing in each weekend for specially planned and choreographed cultural events; most notably the HOPE Farmer’s Market. HOPE is the longest operating market in East Austin and was voted “Best Farmer’s Market” by the Austin Chronicle in 2012. This, plus the demographic of mostly young, white individuals and families in the crowd on a given Sunday, and the fact that only 8 out of the nearly 50 vendors listed on their website actually sell produce, clearly illustrates that the market was non-local to the neighborhood, and gentrified in a lot of ways. That said, HOPE does appear to make a genuine effort at incorporating the community—they accept SNAP/EBT and WIC benefits, and the HOPE Farm Stand serves as a place for local gardeners to sell their small harvests.  Additionally, some vendors are cultural and racial leaders, such as Salud de Paloma Olive Oil; the only Latina owned olive oil enterprise in the state. The market and the rail station are both “succeeding” in some sense that they provide life to the otherwise empty plaza.  The intended purpose of economic and cultural growth and centrality that the Ole Mexico advocates had in mind is arguably now being fulfilled, but it is notably now out of the control of the community leaders who envisioned its construction.
            The farmer’s market, as well as seasonal events like the annual Dia de los Muertos parade, both arguably seek to re-create a neighborhood ideal that is slipping away as developers look East from the “revitalized” downtown area. However, with the events dominated in attendance and production by outsiders and non-minorities, I believe Zukin and others would agree with me that though positive in nature, the very liveliness of the Plaza exhibits a loss in and of itself. As Austin grows in symbolic cultural products from markets to music, and condos like the nearby 262 units development dubbed “Corazon” loom in the distance, the Plaza, and the city, are no longer so closely tied to neighborhood advocates, but to a larger image of economic growth. The culture that built Plaza Saltillo may not disappear from the city, but as it becomes increasingly shadowed beneath cultural representations of itself and with an influx of non-neighborhood consumers, practices will continue to occur separate from, if not in opposition to, the design and intent of the spaces where they take place.


1. Zukin, Sharon. “Whose Culture? Whose City” 1996. The Cultures of Cities. 1st ed. Blackwell Publishers.

2. Census tables (

Tract Population
Tract Minority Population
Tract Minority %
American Indian Population
Number of Families
Asian/Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Population
Number of Households
Black Population
Non-Hispanic White Population
Hispanic Population

Other/Two or More Races Population

Tract Income Level
Tract Median Family Income %
2010 MSA/MD/statewide non-MSA/MD Median Family Income
2010 Tract Median Family Income
2012 FFIEC Estimated MSA/MD/non-MSA/MD Median Family Income
2012 Estimated Tract Median Family Income
% below Poverty Line
2010 Tract Median Household Income

Total Housing Units
Owner-Occupied Units
1- to 4- Family Units
Renter Occupied Units
Median House Age (Years)
Vacant Units

Inside Principal City?
Owner Occupied 1- to 4- Family Units

3. Austin parks website

4. Corazon Housing Development Cypress Real Estate Advisors: (

5. Austin 360 History of Saltillo Plaza

6. Sister Cities International

7. Hope Farmer’s Market Website 

8. Austin Housing Authority Website

9. When in Austin Radio

2nd Street Investigation: A of Downtown Austin by Charlotte Friedley

Camouflaged in designer-labeled apparel, a neatly groomed appearance, and a properly concealed, potentially-taboo tattoo, I could be assured at least in appearance of acceptance into 2nd Street culture. Those that enter the realm of 2nd Street’s streetscape and business cannot do so lightly. Although you know that you are geographically located as assuaged by your Iphone GPS at the intersection of 2nd Street and Guadalupe, the fact remains you could easily be in any Revitalizing Downtown Corridor, USA. You may no longer be in the suburbs, but the mentality has not disappeared. As Starbucks latte-handed, lycra-clad women with designer dogs and suited men engorged in Bluetooth conversations about an upcoming merger walk by, the inexplicable suburban notion of  “Keeping Up With the Joneses” seems to be continually played out in the safety of demographically homogenous 2nd Street bubble. Endlessly repetitive, tree-lined streetscape and the mundanely repetitious city-issued bench become “visually seductive” mechanisms to create a “representation of an urban life” (Zukin 3). These kitschy elements of the New Urbanism movement herald a new era of aesthetic in a comfortable, Disnified rendition of a “Downtown” (Lemon, July 2013). Once at the helm of railroad related trade and culture, 2nd Street now has become an urban playground for those fulfilling demographic, racial, and social prerequisites.
            One summer afternoon, I took up residence on the securely fenced “sidewalk patio” of Jo’s and dared to converse with several “socially-acceptable” subjects as well as observe the espoused vivacious street life. Marketed and applauded for its wonderfully innovative streetscape measures through City of Austin’s Great Streets program and revered “emergence of a truly ”mixed-use,” “Live | Shop | Dine” development, the reality could not venture further from a the espoused urban re-envisioned urban arterial.
            Areas of social interactivity, moments for Jane Jacob “intricate sidewalk ballets” are deterred, as outdoor dining areas are fenced (Jacobs 276). These areas tend to make the proclamation “this is my private space” consequently enforcing a strict unspoken guideline of who is an “acceptable” consumer. No longer does the dialogue between the activity of the people of street and the consumers, but instead the language is that of alienation and a deeply embedded sense of socioeconomic superiority. During my brief occupation, I witnessed a homeless man perched along a planter outside the Austin City Hall. A space that is a seemingly public space soon became questionable. As public domain assumes a “liminal public space culture,” the notion of “privatized and militarized public space” became visually apparent (Zubin 39). This gentleman after 15 minutes was approached by a policeman and asked to leave. In an area considered loosely as a democratic forum, a modern “polis,” this incident exemplifies an “us-them” mentality as law enforcement reiterates who is acceptable within the confines of 2nd Street (Lemon, June 2013).
            Located in Block Group 1, Census Track 11 of Travis County, the 2nd Street district contains 5,265 people per square mile. The racial composition of 2nd Street racial is predominately white at 69.5% of the population while only 9.2% are Black or African American and 14.2% Hispanic or Latino. While the racial conglomeration relays one picture, the realistic diversity remains invisible, as the more reliable metric of relative “diversity” is one’s make and year of luxury vehicle. These “minority” statistics pale demographically in comparison to their adjacent block groups east of I-35 with 19-32% of their populations being Black or African American and 32-57% being Hispanics or Latino (see MAPS A & B). However, the racial disparity geographically stems from a historical effort of relocation of minority populations. Federal Interstate Highway Act of 1956 and notions of slum clearance forced the relocation of working class minorities out of the city center to the “other side of the tracks” per say to East Austin (Lemon, June 2013). Consequently, African American or black and Hispanic concentrations at first to historical conditions and later to increased property values are minimal and visually non-apparent in the resident population of 2nd Street.
            The 2nd Street population marital pattern reveals an overwhelming number single, childless folks. The districts boasts 55.9% population as single while 21.5% are divorced and another 17.7% are married. Additionally, only 4.7% of the districts residents have children less than 18 years of age. With the median male age at 36 years old and females at 32 years old, the demographics begin the depict the region as the young professional, “yuppie” population looking for an “authenticity” in an urban Austin experience. However, the experience that these mix-used mongering, “Live | Work | Play” loving professional are propelling a manufactured downtown that lacks the original “grit and grime” and historically urban diversity of the original 2nd Street. 
            Transportation and 2nd Street has been a long-standing relationship. Beginning in 1920s with the injection of the railroad into the Austin grid, the railroad changed the once sleepy dwelling-dominated and small service industry into the center of railroad activity (Sandborn 1920). Whether for warehouse and storage capabilities for the arriving and/or departing products or rooms and service for railroad workers and laborers, 2nd Street was an industrial era “polis” with industry at the heart of urban development. The advent and subsequent explosion of automobile consumption changed the nature of 2nd Street. By 1935, 2nd Street responded to the consumer’s salacious appetite for the automobile as car centric service businesses and gas stations began to take over the areas once dominated by industrial culture.
            In modern day Austin, this contention with means of transportation persists. With 46.3% of the area’s population commuting less than 29 minutes, only 9.5% population uses public transportation and 11.0% walking to get to work. However, the highly regarded freedom and individuality associated with the American automobile culture it is not alarming that 60. 3% of the residents use cars to get to their place of business. During my occupation of 2nd Street, I inquired whether these urban natives if they knew where the nearest bus stop was located. Sadly a large number of the populous whether they didn’t want to speak with me or not had no clue the location of the nearest stop. The closet stop was only three blocks west. Consequently, the ideologies and behaviors of suburban culture linger as those residents of the district struggle facing suburban culture into an urban context hail from (see Image A).
            With 13.3% of owner occupied housing units valued at over $1,000,000, the housing market, the 2nd Street housing market can be summed up in one word as these complexes plaster throughout their advertising: LUXURY.  The three big residential complexes, AMELI on 2nd, AMELI Downtown, and the W Residences, promote not just housing but the “2SD” lifestyle. Deemed as “Vibrant. Welcoming” and all the more relevant “Exclusive,” the housing mirrors the character of this “downtown” enclave. espouses itself as “Where Texas Warmth Meets Austin Cool” through its mixed-used, Disnified version of a downtown with high-end retail and restaurants.  The notion of an acceptable appearance transcends that of the street people to the 2nd street lifestyle itself with the slogan “We 2nd That. ” This branding mechanism is stamped on posters for events, retail, restaurants, and loft as a means of promoting a decorous and frankly pretentious 2nd Street lifestyle (see Image B).  The 2nd Street Pinterest page alone informs residents and codify the space through categorizations of  “2nd Street Style,” “District Design,” and “District Dos” (see Image C).
            Originally, 2nd Street was known as Live Oak Street. Like all east/west streets in downtown Austin, the street was named according to trees found natively in Texas. Rooted in as the name implies and the original image of the city in the natural, 2nd Street has undergone growing pains from prairie capital into a metropolis of “cooldom” and thriving hipster appeal. As society moves toward returning the image of the “downtown,” 2nd Street has responded with an unfortunately inauthentic response. 2nd Street no longer relays the lively chaos and “messiness” of an interactive urbanscape but emerges as Austin’s newest environmentally deterministic, manufactured spectacle known as “Downtown.”


“2nd Street: Home Page.” 2nd Street, n.d. Web. 2 July 2013

“2nd Street District.” Facebook, n.d. Web. 2 July 2013

“Austin Census Data.” Social Explorer, n.d. Web. 2 July 2013

“Austin Historical Maps of Downtown.” Sandborn Maps, n.d. Web. 2 July 2013

“How Brooklyn Became Cool” from Zukin, Sharon. 2011. Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places. Reprint. Oxford University Press, USA.

Lemon, Robert. “Introductions & Course Overview: The Evolution of the City” Modern American City.” CLA 1.104, Austin. 6 June 2013. Lecture.

Lemon, Robert. “Whose City? III: Disneyfication & Gentrification” Modern American City.” CLA 1.104, Austin. 1 July 2013. Lecture.

Lemon, Robert. June 18: Political Landscape II: Land-values, Land-use, Density and Urban Growth.” CLA 1.104, Austin. 18 June 2013. Lecture.

The Triangle – Public vs. Private space by Christina Kaeini

From its initial stages of development, the Triangle has been marked by the controversy of an ongoing war between developers and citizens. This once grassy knoll, affectionately known by neighboring residents as “Triangle Park,” began its initial transformations in late 2003. This area would no longer be home to an open, public space and instead would be replaced by a development of upscale retail and residences. Above the notion of progress over preservation, of greater concern is the idea of accessibility of space and the ever-decreasing amount of it that is available within the city. Over time, this location has changed to represent different notions of progress over loss under the presiding argument that it is promoting economic growth. However, an obvious negative externality of this development is the accessibility of place and how through the essential elements of its design, the Triangle has successfully promoted an environment accessible to a specific demographic and for everyone else, a private space to which they are not privy to.
The texture of the built environment at the Triangle is one of a complex intricacy of lower level retail shops and bars with an upper level of residential and office spaces. Interwoven between these features are clear, built indicators of the visitor’s access to each respective space. The Triangle uses both explicit and subtle strategies to indicate which spaces are permissible to occupy and which are not. It is not surprising that a mixed-use development would have a motive to compartmentalize different areas. However, what makes the experience unsettling is how orchestrated and unauthentic the space feels. It is a deliberate move to “recreate urban life as a civilized ideal” only this time, it will be highly controlled and under the watchful eyes of the development (Zukin 142). Although many spaces within the Triangle feel public, they have been privatized and marketed to serve a specific demographic.
The controlled experience at the Triangle is intrinsically connected to the features of the built environment that direct the visitor around the space. The commercial and retail districts send a welcoming message and invite traffic from off the sidewalk or street and into the shade and confines of the establishment. For example, where the Flying Saucer bar area begins, and the pedestrian sidewalk ends, there is a permeable wrought iron fence (Image 1). It is small in scale and entirely permeable. In contrast, once venturing beyond these areas and into the more enclosed, residential parts, it is increasingly apparent that the fences within this environment are specifically designed to deter non-residents. Instead of permeable, mesh-like fencing delineating porches from pedestrian walkways, the designers have opted for solid brick walls (Image 2). This is a clear example of how the aesthetics of the built environment interact with the visitors who use the space. These design elements are meant to determine the behavior of visitors— but what is the demographic of these visitors and how does the Triangle target a specific audience?
The Triangle is centered on a consumer culture that offers upscale retail stores and restaurants that cater to an audience who is able to afford their services. At this point, this analysis has centered primarily on the lower level of the Triangle, however, the other half of the development is devoted to residential units. Once browsing the Triangle website, it is clear the direction they wish the development to go and are careful to create an image that will effectively lead it there. Combining chic lifestyles for a young demographic all whilst maintaining Austin’s “eclectic vibe,” the Triangle boasts that this development is not another typical Austin development, the Triangle is “life as its meant to be” (The Triangle Austin). Boasting of its interior park, which is frequented by visitors attracted by either farmers markets or live music, the Triangle insists it maintains one of Austin’s most prized ambitions, to appeal to the “whimsical and energetic in us all” (The Triangle Austin). However, maintaining the initial criticism of this development as one that values private space over public space, it begs the questions, who exactly are these “urban dwellers” and do they really have “something for everyone?” (The Triangle Austin). What about affordable pricing? Due to the very notion that this development is home to higher scale retail outlets and upscale eateries, it is necessary to recognize that it is catering to a very specific demographic, and in this case, it is not an inclusive one.
Furthermore, based on initial observations of the space, there is an obvious demographic using the space, and contrary to what the Triangle boasts, it is not an inclusive one. From the initial documentations of the site, the demographic characteristics were recorded by observing the type of cars parked in the development. The lots are filled with German engineered vehicles, and on a rare occasion, sprinkled with a Honda or Toyota.  The evidence of a higher ratio of expensive vehicles to more affordable ones shows that this development is predominantly meant to serve an upper class. Not only are the cars an indication of who is using the space, but also the type of retail shops available can easily identify the income level of shoppers. The restaurants, bars, and shops have few affordable options. Even a simple grilled cheese has gone gourmet at “Chedds.” The affordability of the area lends itself to describe the democratic nature of the space. The Triangle does not cater to a diverse demographic, it is clearly targeted to wealthier visitors.
The concept of a democratic space is one inherently more public than private. It is interesting to notice the Triangle’s relationship and connectivity to other areas of the city. In doing so, its exclusivity becomes increasingly clear. One way of determining accessibility is by examining the design in terms of pedestrian and car oriented access. However, these are not mutually exclusive, and as is evident in the Triangle, there can be a blurred boundary between the two. The presence of dedicated bike-lanes is a key indicator for bike-ability and can be assessed in terms of access to the development. The Triangle has multiple transportation options; it has a dedicated park-and-ride facility within the development (The Triangle Austin). In addition, it has bike racks and sidewalks at 100% of its stops. However, it lacks bike lanes that connect transit stops and it also has no stops within the development. For each element of pedestrian and bike friendly design aspects it lacks, it makes up for in its abundance of parking garages and surface lots. It is far easier to access the development from the comfort of your air-conditioned car. In this sense, it is a car-oriented development. If the development meant to attract a variety of people, and in fact “have something for everyone” then wouldn’t it ensure equal access for all modes of transportation? Its connectivity to other areas around it affects its inclusion and in effect creates an exclusive environment. The exclusivity and private aspects of the Triangle is in stark contrast to what once existed on the site.
Echoing earlier parts of this research, after conducting informal interviews with visitors and residents, the history of the Triangle has changed over the past 10 years, and according to popular opinion, not in a positive way. In fact, some residents will argue that the developers were successful in eliminating an inclusive space in Austin in favor of a center to stimulate the economy through consumerism. This has become an increasingly important issue in the discussion privatization of public space. It is understood that the Triangle will produce revenue for the city, but what is not readily apparent, is how it is selective in bringing a specific demographic to the area. It is not a public space in which one can visit without being a customer; it is a private space to which only patrons feel welcome. This is aided by accessibility and the textures of the built environment.
 In summary, through interviews and observational research, a more holistic understanding of this site began to describe an exclusive area. Not only is this development constructed on the site of a once public park, but also the design of the Triangle lends itself to describe an exclusive environment filled with private areas to which only an upper class demographic has access. It is selective in terms of which demographic it serves, offering only upscale restaurants and residential units. Not only is this selective environment evident in the demographic is serves, but also through the built environment. The texture and materiality of fencing proves to dictate which spaces are accessible and aids to strictly orchestrate the movement of visitors.  

Works Cited
"Austin Townhomes and Apartments." The Triangle Austin. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 June 2013. <>.
Zukin, Sharon. Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places. USA: Oxford University Press, 2011. Print.


The Iron Bear: A Refulgent Magnet for the Central Texas Gay Bear Subculture by Alekcander “Sasha” Zhdanov

A landscape is described by Paul Groth, a University of California-Berkeley professor of geography and architecture, as “the interaction of people and place:  a social group and its spaces, particularly the spaces to which the group belongs and from which its members derive some part of their shared identity and meaning.”[1]  This definition clearly illustrates the dynamic cultural structure of “The Iron Bear, a bar for Bears by Bears,” located at the corner of 8th and Colorado streets in downtown Austin, Texas.
“[The] goal for starting this bar was to provide a place where all Bears can come together in friendship and brotherhood.  If you have drama, please, leave it at the door.”[2]  This sagacious mindset of the owners of the bar has helped to solidify the Bear community as a salient subculture within the greater LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) communities of Austin and Central Texas.  While the definition of the word, “Bear,” in the gay nomenclature has many characteristics and is self-determined, a sizable majority would affirm that it describes hyper-masculine qualities, girth, and hirsuteness, with facial and body hair being quite prevalent.  In the first part of this assignment, I photographed countless numbers of men in the bar with facial hair, without a single refusal!  So obviously, axiomatic descriptors of “friendly and cuddly” should also be included for Bears!   I’ve been told, and fully attest, that facial hair is as natural to the Bear as breathing.  To remove the fur from the animal, it shivers and dies!  I’ve also heard rumors that Bears really like their bellies rubbed!  But use your own judgment and proceed accordingly!  Of paramount importance, though, from the interviews with the locals, I found that with the enmity of intra-community discrimination and societal judgment, the present-day ubiquitous attitude has emerged towards an unwavering acceptance of all who choose to ally with the Bear community, away from a strict, physical definition.    
One of the more genuine stories I have about the Iron Bear was during one of my visits, when I noticed that it didn’t carry my favorite brand of vodka, Русский Стандарт, or “Russian Standard.”  While not a “gay” brand, it affirms my Russian heritage by being potent, strong, and virile without the after bite of so many of the usual brands of vodka.  I “hinted” that it would be more than a good idea for the bar to carry it.  Surprisingly, upon my next visit to the Iron Bear, my Русский Стандарт was waiting for me!  It made my Russian heart soar, and I almost started to belt out the first few lines of my Russian national anthem, “Россия – священная наша держава (Russia – our sacred homeland)!”  I think there just might be some “Russian” Bear in the Iron Bear!
The demographics of the Iron Bear’s patrons are chiefly consubstantial, to the degree that most ascribe to a sexual minority.  But again, not to belabor the point, all non-judgmental, respectful clientele are welcome.   Accordingly, only 25-34% of the LGBT population classify themselves as a “bear” or “muscle bear,” yet classifications of cub, otter, polar bear, panda bear, chaser, cub, wolf, and even ursula (from the Latin, ursa, meaning lady or she-bear), can all find a congenial home atmosphere at the Iron Bear.[3]  Unequivocally, the establishment succeeds in achieving its desired goal of a “drama-free” zone.  However, it still falls prey to the masculinization of the space, as denoted by Angel Kwolek-Follen, in Engendering Business, by the mere placement of the female restrooms in the most remote location of the bar, exemplifying a differentiation in gender status.[4]  But frankly, I’ve seen plenty of women in the bar, and from the ones with which I’ve spoken, lesbian or straight, they have never felt ostracized or objectified by their ursine brethren. 
While the City of Austin has experienced a 6.6% population increase since 2010 to approximately 842,000,[5] the city has also seen a recent substantial 69% rise in the number of same-sex couple households to 1.25% of the population, which is more than twice the statewide average in percentage.[6]  The bar serves as a magnet of “realness” for the entire Central Texas area, and pulls from every socio-economic and racial demographic.  Regardless of the physical location of the Bear’s domestic den in the metro area, the patrons insist on loyal assemblage with the like-minded ursine community, although are simultaneously quite confident to venture out to other hetero-normative spaces when needed or required.  The behemoth barrier of I-35 doesn’t occlude the gathering of the sleuth!  Status concerning income level, employment, education, race, and any other superfluous classification is left at the entrance, along with the drama.  The Bear community prides itself on breaking down the physical and emotional barriers of class, allowing access to all in a community of brotherly spirit, regardless of academic critique to the contrary.
The area immediately surrounding the Iron Bear’s location, to a radius of one mile, is predominantly white (78%), male (60%), and harbors the largest age demographic between 20 and 34.[7]  The neighborhood, with a 4.05% population growth, also adequately reflects the overall growth of the city, with only an 8.86% vacancy rate in rental properties.  In 2012, the neighborhood revealed a per capita income level of $60,358, which is almost double that of the entire city of Austin at $31,200, but even more distant from the State of Texas at $25,600 and the US at $27,900.  This obviously reflects higher education rates of 44.5% with a bachelor’s degree or higher in the immediate neighborhood area, compared to Texas at 26.1% and the US at 28.2%.
Thankfully, the overall LGBT-friendly atmosphere in the city of Austin negates the necessity for establishing the traditional gay enclaves, such as Greenwich Village and Harlem in the early 1900s,[8] and later, the Castro in San Francisco.  Rather than being a haven of escape from the enviable white, heterosexual, rich world,[9] the Iron Bear stands firmly as an independent symbol of strength and total self-acceptance for the Bear subculture and the entire LGBT communities.  Just as so many disaffected youth flocked to the urban gay ghettos of the past to escape conservative pressures to conform,[10] the Iron Bear axiomatically represents a community where all who enter are welcomed and protected, yet simultaneously challenged to conquer the demon of self-doubt and destructive internalized homophobia placed upon them by society. 
Prior to the opening of the Iron Bear, the Amsterdam Café was located on the premises.[11]  While a charming eatery and bar which is so reflective of the flavor of Austin, it is easy to understand the many facets for which a business must choose to permanently close its doors.  While I am not privy to the actual reason(s) for the transfer of ownership, it would be reasonable to assume that the ever increasing property values and taxes assessed accordingly would have a significant impact on any such decisions.  Just in the last three months, the price per square foot for the area has risen 2.1%, to $212, which significantly exceeds the rates of Travis County at $199/ft2, the entire metro area at $175/ft2, and the State of Texas at $120/ft2.[12]
While the City of Austin has successfully, yet hypocritically, marketed itself on the “weird” factor, the LGBT community can find non-judgmental acceptance and gratitude for their patronage throughout a vast plethora of establishments in the city, removing the need for such demographically specific oases.  However, regardless of this phantasmal perception of reality, this centrally located hub of brotherhood, with easily accessible arterial parkways from every part of the city, will continue to be a nexus between fun, family, friendship, and frolic for all who choose to enter its atmosphere of security and salubrious environs.  
So, who is welcome at the Iron Bear?  Answer:  ALL are welcome, physical features, be damned!  But heed my warning:  if you are a Faux News follower and like to spew its venom, this is not the place for you! Thus, it might be wise to consider alternative spaces to assemble!  It would be a tragedy, indeed, if you were mauled by a “mighty” IRON BEAR!

[1] Jessica Sewell, “Gender, Imagination, and Experience in Early-Twentieth Century American Downtown,” in Everyday America:  Cultural Landscape Studies after J. B. Jackson, ed. Paul Groth et al. (University of California Press, 2003), pp. 237-254.
[4] Sewell, pp. 242-243.
[8] George Chauncey, “Building Gay Neighborhood Enclaves:  The Village and Harlem,” in The Blackwell City Reader, ed. Gary Bridge et al. (Malden, MA:  Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2010),  pp. 243-249.
[9] Paris is Burning, directed by Jennie Livingston (1990: NYC: Miramax Films: 1991.), Film.
[10] Chauncey, p. 247.