The End of Austin

an exploration of urban identity in the middle of Texas

Editorial Comment

I am incredibly excited to be the guest editor for this edition of the End of Austin and I would like to thank all those who contributed.

My proposal to guest edit the End of Austin came out of a desire to publish the papers that were presented at a series of Austin themed sessions that Joshua Long, a professor of geography at Southwestern University, and I organized at the Race and Ethnicity and Place Conference in Austin in October 2018. In addition to my sole authored paper, two papers that were presented during these sessions appear in this collection, one by Shetay Ashford-Hanserd, Eric Sarmiento, Colleen Myles, Steven Rayburn, Mary-Patricia Hayton, Edward Ybarra, Theresa Clifford, Christopher Pierce, and Chad D. Williams, and another by Darwin Hamilton. In addition, Edmund Gordon gave a keynote at the conference (although a different sole-authored paper is published here). Other contributions not presented at the conference come from Thalia Bachmann-Padilla, Jayme Walenta, and Dominica Whitesell; Rich Heyman; and Anthony Orum. There are also three entries that I co-authored: an interview with Hamilton, a paper with Lauren Martin, and another with Andrew Busch and Edmund Gordon. 

I believe this is a fitting collection for the current moment in Austin, where there is continual struggling with the legacies and realities of anti-Black racism in regard to criminal justice, education, employment, healthcare, and housing. Among the papers collected here there is a common undercurrent concerning the connections between anti-Black racism and memory. In my contribution, for instance, I discuss the figure of the Slacker, a figure I believe to be steeped in the tropes of settler colonialism, and I suggest that the selective memorialization of the Slacker only serves to exclude non-Whites from Austin and justify gentrification. This theme is also present in the paper by Shetay Ashford-Hanserd et. al., which explores the gentrification of the Dunbar neighborhood in San Marcos and highlights a community effort to recover and preserve Dunbar’s quickly vanishing African American legacies. Making a similar point, Gordon tracks the physical and memorial erasure of African Americans from Wheatville, a neighborhood that is adjacent to the University of Texas at Austin. In an excerpt from his memoir, Hamilton describes his experience dealing with Austin’s urban renewal program and the seizure of his East Austin ancestral home. Additionally, in my interview with Hamilton, he and I explore in more detail his concerns about changes in East Austin and the significant contributions of his book to Austin urban studies. Heyman explores the implicit racial legacy of Robert Mueller, while Busch, Gordon, and I take up the issue of race and memory in regard to Barton Springs, Andrew Zilker, and folklorist J. Mason Brewer. 

Another current that runs through many of the contributions is the impact of the city-region’s urbanization. Most of the papers mentioned above at least touch on how anti-Black racism interacts with significant urban changes occurring in Austin and the greater region, especially how gentrification and urban redevelopment are removing non-White peoples, and even the memories of their presence. Turning toward the main campus of the University of Texas at Austin, Bachmann-Padilla et. al. focus on food insecurity and explore how securing food intersects with issues of class, gender, and race at UT. Their piece highlights how the University continues to play a dominant role in structuring the daily lives of many Austinites, namely the tens of thousands of students who attend the main campus. Similarly, Orum sees continuity between the Austin he wrote about in the 1980s and the city he lives in today. For Orum, Austin is a characteristic open-city, meaning it expresses a frontier sentiment about itself as a place where dreams can be realized. Still, he cautions that the dynamism that comes with this focus on the future may come at the expense of the city’s collective memory. Taking the issue of dream worlds further, Martin and I reflect upon our involvement in Austin’s more utopian spaces of activism in the late 2000s. Our essay alludes to how changes in Austin have transformed the spaces of this activism, as many of the institutions referred to have moved locations or been dissolved.

I am grateful to Randy Lewis for giving me the opportunity to take on this editorial role, which feels like the culmination of my many years of research on Austin. To be honest, I never imagined that I would spend almost a decade writing about Austin, a city I knew almost nothing about when I first arrived in Texas in the early 2000s. I did not come to study Austin out of some deep-seated love for the city or Texas. Instead, I was largely motivated by professional interests and driven by the need to create a viable research program. However, I can now see the significance of a dinner I had in Austin in the spring of 2008 with my doctoral advisor, the Geographer David Harvey. During that dinner, I told Harvey about some of the research I had been doing on the University of Texas’ land development and he told me it was pretty interesting and encouraged me to write up some of the research. I finally did and it appeared in my 2016 book, Shadows of a Sunbelt City. That conversation now stands out as the true beginning of my Austin research program. In particular, our discussion demonstrated to me the need for new kinds of inquiries about Austin, inquiries earnestly informed by an alternative tradition in geography and urban studies, a tradition that runs through Harvey. This tradition, which began as far back as the 19th century, includes notable works by Frederick Engels, W.E.B. Dubois, and Anna Wheeler, and it is not only critical but also utopian. It is designed to both describe injustices and inequalities and point toward the creation of different kinds of urbanization. It is in that radical spirit that I have edited this issue, and I do not know if I would be doing so without David Harvey’s advice from so many years ago. Therefore, I would like to dedicate this issue to him.  

Eliot Tretter

Calgary, Alberta, 2020

Acknowledgements: I would like thank Allison Gunther from the University of Calgary for making the Residential Racial Geography found in Barton’s Slaves; Bahar Tahamtani, a Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at UT-Austin, for her help in formatting and uploading the final papers; and famed boxer, movie critic, and author Josh Rosenblatt for copyediting all the essays.

Land Acknowledgment 

(I) I would like to acknowledge that this website is hosted by an institution that is on Indigenous land. Moreover, (I) I would like to acknowledge and pay our respects to the Carrizo & Comecrudo, Coahuiltecan, Caddo, Tonkawa, Comanche, Lipan Apache, Alabama-Coushatta, Kickapoo, Tigua Pueblo, and all the American Indian and Indigenous Peoples and communities who have been or have become a part of these lands and territories in Texas, here on Turtle Island.

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This entry was posted on November 21, 2020 by in Uncategorized.

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