Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
Austin has a history of systemic segregation problems, even when there's no festival in town.
YouTube is an unusual way to log your rent payments. But Sergio Lejarazu, the owner of a store that sold piñatas and bouncy kingdoms in Austin, felt that such security measures were necessary. A video uploaded on Sunday shows Lejarazu signing two money orders totaling $1,250: proof that he paid up.
On the video, Lejarazu says that he's paying the February rent for his shop at 1401 E. Cesar Chavez, over on Austin's East Side. Both the money orders are timestamped with a January 31, 2015, date. He walks out the door, turns the corner, and drops the rent off through a green door.
"Ta-da!," Lejarazu says. "God bless you."
Lejarazu had every right to be concerned. According to a story at Latina.com and other reports, the shop he and his wife Monica ran on E. Cesar Chavez was razed to the ground on February 12. Lejarazu's new landlords, Jordan French and Darius Fisher, had acquired a demolition permit in order to build a parking lot to accommodate a party they planned to host next door for SXSW.
CultureMap Austin reports out all the ugly details about the legal fight that has since erupted between Jumpolin and the landlords. No doubt the courts will sort out what happened here, but the optics couldn't be worse. Razing a Latino-owned business in order to satisfy parking-permit requirements for a (canceled) SXSW Interactive party? That sounds awful—even if Jumpolin were actually late on the rent or violating some storage code. (French, by the way, compared the situation to exterminating roaches.)
Did SXSW really pave piñata paradise to put up a parking lot?
A rash of tongue-in-cheek stickers that appeared this week in Austin corroborate the sense of racial divide surrounding the SXSW festival. Sugar Mama's Bakeshop and a handful of businesses on the East Side were hit with stickers, which read "Exclusively for White People," KXAN reports.
Yet for all the irrational techxuberance that SXSW brings to Austin, the city's problems with segregation have nothing to do with the festival.
Austin is at once one of the top 10 destinations for venture-capital investment and one of the most economically segregated cities in the nation. The I-35 highway that runs through town is like a brick wall that divides whites and minorities. Despite the extraordinarily hip bar scene in Austin's (near) East Side, poverty, crime, and suppression are concentrated in that part of town.
Consider SWAT deployments. That sounds like an unusual metric for measuring segregation, right? Not in Austin. A report released last year by the American Civil Liberties Union shows that SWAT deployments, especially nighttime raids, are clustered in areas with large populations of minorities that are nearest to areas with large populations of whites.
Austin isn't alone in its problems, of course. But when the city shoots down a transit plan that would mostly serve residents on the East Side, it opens itself to scrutiny—especially with some transit advocates pushing for a transit line along a whiter and richer (and admittedly denser) corridor. The festivals and the ridiculous national attention they attract only exacerbates the sense that the city serves one constituency better than others.
A sardonic "Whites Only" sticker is an inelegant way of framing segregation in Austin as a SXSW phenomenon. Razing a Latino-owned business for a tech party, however, is a SXSW-specific example of the due-process violations that take place regularly in minority neighborhoods. Again, SXSW is not the problem.
"Los cimientos de una familia no son de roca . . . son mas fuertes," Lejarazu posted on Facebook—good for him. Austin is a beautiful city; but its foundation has fissures that the city badly needs to address. SXSW isn't one of them.