Yuppy in Beamer is Butt of East Austin Joke

I stopped in Sam’s BBQ on East 12th street today for a late lunch. Sam’s is a gritty Austin BBQ joint in the heart of East Austin. I still had an hour to kill before picking my daughter up from Kid’s Acting on E. MLK and I was hungry, so I stopped in. I ate some great BBQ, drank some iced tea, read the newspaper, and watched some of the Longhorn’s basketball game while there.

As I departed, just before 3PM, a large group of about 8 or 10 Hispanic men were eating on the outside patio. As I started across 12th Street to my truck, a late model BMW with a mountain bike mounted on top, and being driven by a young Anglo man, turned into Sam’s BBQ driveway.

At that moment, one of the men barked, in a voice that could have been Cheech Marin’s, “there goes the neighborhood”. This was followed by boisterous laughter, me included. I gave the guy a lookback and a big grin with one of those “dude nods” of acknowledgment, that silently says “good one, man”.

The timing of the remark and the accompanying upscale imagery was impeccable. But contained in that 4 word wisecrack was a succinct commentary on the gentrification of East Austin.

What did the wisecrack say, really? My interpretation is “East Austin isn’t only for low income, blue-collar poor people anymore”. And also, “East Austin ain’t what it use to be, with all these changes”. Truly, for better or worse, there goes the neighborhood is right.

Condos, coffee shops, home flippers, new homes, new development, the coming light commuter rail stops, bike riders and better cars are all recent additions to the East Austin landscape. That’s not to say the hookers, drug dealers, housing projects and dilapidated homes have disappeared, but a bargain has been made in the minds of the gentrifiers that the superb location and promise of continued urban renewal trump the asthetic deficiencies.

Compared to the year 2000 through 2007 hyper-appreciation that East Austin housing experienced, some of the shine has come off in 2008, and flippers and investors approach real estate opportunities with a more somber prudence than before. Still, as a long term, 10+ year bet, I think East Austin is still a good buy for young owner-occupants who don’t care about or need good schools. If I were 23 and single, as I was when I first arrived in Austin in 1985, I’d be very attracted to the East Austin and its vibe. As a mid-40s husband and dad with teenage daughters, it’s not for me at this stage of life. As future empty nesters?…maybe.

Anyway, I love a great wisecrack and a good laugh, and I got both today as unexpected dessert with my lunch at Sam’s BBQ.

17 thoughts on “Yuppy in Beamer is Butt of East Austin Joke”

  1. You should really do some research before making a general statement about the quality of the schools in East Austin. There are in fact many excellent schools in East Austin – I happen to live next to a blue ribbon school. Certainly there are some struggling schools on the eastside, but spreading the misconception that they are all bad does not do the hard working teachers, administrators, students and parents any justice. It seems many ignorant people equate schools with a majority of students of color to a “bad” school, without ever actually looking in to the actual quality of the school. Please don’t be one of those people.

  2. Hi JM,

    Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately most people for whom schools are important look only at the ratings. I agree that there is more to it than the ratings, but that’s the reality of it.

    “Exemplary” rated elementary schools create an “aspirational” attraction that drives the real estate market around those schools. “Recognized” ratings do the same, but to a lesser degree. Under performing or “Acceptable ” rated schools, are judged as undesirable by the majority of families with kids.

    Whether that’s an accurate or correct way to assess whether or not a school is a good fit for a particular kid can be debated, but I’m simply talking about how most families with kids actually behave when picking neighborhoods.

    Which school in East Austin is top rated? Here is a link to an interesting visual map of Austin schools nad how they are rated.


  3. That wisecrack made me chuckle. Goes to show you that not everyone shares the same idea of what a neighborhood should be like. I can sympathize, but not to the point of preservationism.

    Following the ugly tradition of SoCo and SoLa, I propose we call it EaAu. When you say it out loud, it should sound like a burro.

  4. > Following the ugly tradition of SoCo and SoLa, I propose we call it EaAu.

    Hi Andy,
    I actually like plain old “East Austin”. Also, the catchy 4-letter, 2-syllable, acronyms work best with a hard consonant in the middle.

    I thought I had heard one for the further SoCo area, S. Congress south of Ben White, but I can’t recall what it would have been. I generally call that area “the 45 zipcode”.

    Perhaps as East Austin redefines itself, specific districts or sections will emerge as the hippist and coolest, and to those subsets of East Austin will no doubt be attached a catchy shorthand. Sam’s BBQ is actually in what is known as the Blackshear Neighborhood.

  5. I heard SoBe for south of Ben White, but I can’t remember if that was an old boss making a wiseacre, or a true nickname someone was floating around.

    I live East of 35, South of the river, and I’ve heard people calling it the ’41. Maybe “hip areas” get the silly nicknames (SoCo, SoLa, SoFi-south first), and the up-and-coming areas can be identified by the last 2 digits of their zip code;)

    I’ve also seen the bumper stickers for ’45 (where I used to live) that said, “78745, when you’re priced out of 78704”.

    I’ve only lived in Austin since 95, but I constantly marvel at all the changes that have, and continue to, take place!

  6. I have a lot of trouble with school ratings since they’re obviously meant to destroy public schools (I base that on the policy goals of the people who created them). You have a bad year, and suddenly parents flee looking for private schools or a further out suburb. Which makes the low scores a self-fulfilling prophecy. Providing the racial breakdowns of the students makes it trivial to redline neighborhoods.

    That said, I think Austin really needs a foundation ala Eanes to channel money back into the schools, hire extra teachers, and provide extra programs. Rather than just fretting about the inevitability of a move to an ugly house in a drab suburb, we should be encouraging all of those yuppies to invest in their local schools financially so they are superb when they’re ready to have kids.

  7. > I heard SoBe for south of Ben White

    I remember now, it was LoCo for “Lower Congress”.

    > I have a lot of trouble with school ratings since they’re obviously meant to destroy public schools (I base that on the policy goals of the people who created them).

    I see it more as an accountability system, though perhaps a flawed one, and a way for prospective clients (parents) to decide if they want to give their business to that institution. Rating schools as we do may not be perfect, but it is the only non-subjective measure against which two different schools can be compared, and people use it to decide where they want to live.


  8. Interesting perspective on the schools in East Austin Steve. I think you’re right, most families will look at the school ratings and only some will go further.

    Living with a fresh daughter on the East Side of Austin, I watch the schools with interest. I used to live down the street from Pearce Middle School for example, and most neighborhood residents are convinced that it’s going to be shut down.

    I’m curious to see what impact the increased tax base for the area is going to have on the school system, and how the anti-gentrification measures being discussed with the County Commissioner this week are going to play out.

  9. From a recent AISD release. Several of these schools are in Central East Austin. I live near Campbell, which is an excellent school.

    Austin School Trustees have recognized 34 Austin campuses that earned Exemplary and Recognized ratings in 2008 under the State Accountability System, based upon student performance on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge & Skills tests, and other factors. Congratulated for their student achievement were:

    * Exemplary (15) — Baranoff, Bryker Woods, Campbell, Casis, Clayton, Doss, Gullett, Highland Park, Hill, Kiker, Lee, Mills, and Pillow elementary schools; Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders; Liberal Arts and Science Academy.
    * Recognized (19) — Barton Hills, Blackshear, Blanton, Boone, Brooke, Cowan, Davis, Dawson, Joslin, Mathews, Menchaca, Metz, Ortega, Pease, Pecan Springs, Reilly, Summitt, and Zilker elementary schools; Bowie High School.

  10. JM,

    Thanks for the info. It does appear that several of the formerly average/low performing schools in East Austin are experiencing improvement. This is good for everyone, except perhaps those who will see it as a catalyst for accelerated gentrification.

    Garreth, what are the anti-gentrification measures you’re talking about? Is that the grant program that would have the government buy the lots under which the houses sit and therefore relieve the home owner of the tax burden attributed to the land value of the home?


  11. Two things this week. First one are the Public Utility Districts. Basically a carrot approach. The city helps developers finance new infrastructure and in return they get to dictate things like how many affordable housing units should be built:


    Then there’s the Homestead Preservation stuff:


    Most interesting to me is that foreclosed properties will go into a land bank for building new low income housing.

  12. Oh also, you might want to change your article. We’re getting commuter rail. It’s not light rail. I wish we had light rail coming soon. The commuter rail, is probably going to be a bust. It has a very limited schedule so as to avoid freight trains, and doesn’t really go anywhere of interest. It can’t even take late night revelers to and from Sixth Street.

    If we get light rail on Riverside, I would expect to see even faster gentrification than what’s happening now. I’m actually a bit disappointed that the city is only looking at central East Austin. There are a lot of other areas that don’t have quite the historical problems and are much more likely to gentrify quickly displacing lots of low-income residents.

  13. > Steve: What other areas would you like to see avoid gentrification?

    Oh, I’m not against gentrification. If I gave that impression I didn’t mean to. I think it’s a natuaral part of the neighborhood life cycle, and the type of Urban Renewal East Austin is experiencing. And I’m not a fan of government involvement, such as the proposed Homestead District. I think that will result in unintended consequences, such as blighted pockets remaining long after normal gentrification would have washed through an entire area, such as has happened in the SoCo neighborhoods west of S. Congress.

    I’d rather see a (California) Prop 13 style tax reform (homestead tax freeze) that provides permenant tax relief to all home owners, not just those who are deemed to be “victims” of gentrification.


  14. After living in California for a few years, I’d advise against Prop 13 style tax reform. It is the equivalent of a newcomer tax, which would slow growth. It would also make a state income tax a necessity.

  15. Just to let you know, people in East Austin do have the interest and read blogs such as this. For the minority communities who had no choice but to live east of town until the end of Jim Crow and later still bank redlining. These neighborhoods are not just ‘cycles’, but refuge from suspicion and locking car doors by the sight of darker shades. At least 5 generations of families have lived in these areas, so the lands aren’t just inhabited by families, but families and their ancestors, ghosts still seeing relatives and walking the streets at night – without fear. There are not just poor people living in East Austin, also hallowed souls.

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