I like to pick out videos from city proceedings which people explain the philosophies behind their actions. District 4 Council Member Greg Casar took the occasion of an appeal of a Conditional Use Permit denial for the use of Springdale Farms as an event space to discuss what he sees as the broader causes and cures for gentrification in Austin. The video is from ATXN, clipped by friend-of-the-blog Tyler Markham. The transcript is from the City of Austin. I have added formatting and light editing for readability.
Mayor, briefly, I think that you lay out very well the conditional use permit issue. Let me take a step back. In my mind there’s two very glaring facts about this situation in this case. The first is what you described very well: there is the issue at hand about one specific property, one specific conditional use permit and parking requirements needed, the noise mitigation, what is a compatible use on this piece of commercial property in this one narrowly tailored case. If it was just about that, then I think it would very simply be just another one of the many cases we see in a rapidly urbanizing city where uses start knocking against one another as we grow both residentially and as our businesses grow.
But what’s also glaring to me is that there’s a second obvious fact that clearly many people in the community, whether they’re nearby neighbors or people concerned about what’s happening in our city. This case is about something much more than that to many in this room for many different reasons, but especially some of the folks that came and spoke today in opposition. It means something about the racial and class divides in our city, about displacement occurring in our city, the change that is bringing some benefits to our city, but causing other detrimental effects as well. And that is a serious part of this conversation and the feeling that some folks think this would not be approved were it in another part of town.
My vote will be based on the first obvious fact, will be based on the merits of the conditional use permit, which is why I will vote for this. But I feel like it’s incumbent on us to acknowledge the second piece of this and to understand. I believe a lot of the folks that came and spoke before us have very legitimate concerns about whether or not this is a space that they feel is truly for that community. I’ve spoken with lots of people on both sides of the issue that live in the nearby neighborhood but I think it’s important for supporters of the farm and the owners to acknowledge and take seriously the concern that folks have brought up about whether they really feel like this space is for them and a community asset. I recognize that there have been attempts to do so but it seems clear to me that there’s still work on that front to be done.
People have brought this up as a cause of gentrification. I don’t see it as much of a cause compared to the ruthless global real estate market and our failed urban planning principles and racist institutions that we still deal with every single day, but I think the folks that have brought this up as a symbol or as a symptom of that kind of gentrification do need to be listened to and should be listened to. I ask every single one of you whether you’re on one side of this issue or another to participate in the broader policy debate about investing in affordable housing, even if it’s going to cost all of us a little bit of money. About rewriting and redoing the way we do our planning so that it’s not just up to some neighborhoods to absorb change, that there should be no such thing as a gated community that does not change. To talk about smaller living spaces because whether you like it or not and whether you agree with me on this or not, I see a city with rising land prices and I say the only way we can get people to be able to stick around in the central city is to find ways for us to live smaller and to use more transit and to invest in different kinds of housing
Stick around for the budget session right after this because we have temporary employees here at the city that don’t have healthcare and aren’t protected by our living wage standards and it’s that kind of a conversation that we need to engage in and it is the kind of conversation that when we’re talking about mixes of uses and different kinds of spaces in other parts of town that you hold us accountable to being able to support those when the noise is contained and when the parking is required and all of the sorts of things that I think was hammered out in the hard-fought compromise that makes probably no one happy. So I call on my colleagues to take that issue seriously and I appreciate the conversation this has begun but it’s got to be about way more than one small zoning case.