Legacies of Segregation





Creative Commons Licence



Contributed date

February 2, 2020 - 9:46pm

Critical Commentary

This image was produced by Tane Ward of Equilibro Norte to provoke thought and conversation about the racism that is embedded in Austin's contemporary mode of placemaking.

The segmented nature of Austin’s social space corresponds, to a large degree, with the history of its racial geography. Environmental risks are disproportionately distributed to East Austin, the area of town which, in the 1928 Master Plan, became designated as the segregated “negro district.” Since this designation, East Austin has been consistently subjected to environmental hazards.

Originally, the East Austin community was upset that the city used tax incentives to attract businesses that would bring little to no benefit to the East Austin community in which they were located (Tretter 2016). However, this focus took a notable turn after the discovery of chemical leaks and the illegal disposal industrial waste form Austin’s Motorola Plant in 1982 and 1984. These events made local community leaders aware of the potential risks presented by having these facilities so close to home. Small sections of Central East Austin have also recently been targeted for development, raising the property values in the area and, once again, forcing members of the black and brown community from their homes and residences. Even many liberal, progressives considered gentrification to be in accordance to the natural or logical development of a city. In their view, East Austin’s Desirable Development Zones were both dilapidated and cheap, and therefore the locations most suitable and in need of redevelopment. The response of local environmental justice groups was to point out that environmental racism was the cause of the dilapidation and poverty in the first place.

Asymmetrical power relations determine which environmental problems become visible as problems and therein capable of being addressed. As Tretter points out, though the ideology of smart growth rests three equal legs (economy, environment, and society), in Austin these legs have split into two factions: an economic-environmental interpretation of urban sustainability, and an environmental-social interpretation of environmental justice (2016).


Ward, Tane. 2019. "What Does this Map Say about Equity and Planning," in Equity in Our Community, Climate Plan Revision. Austin, Texas: Equilibrio Norte.

Group Audience

Cite as

Tane Ward, "Legacies of Segregation ", contributed by James Adams, Center for Ethnography, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 1 March 2020, accessed 18 May 2022. https://centerforethnography.org/content/legacies-segregation