Saturday, July 13, 2013

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.