This piece in the Texas Monthly has been making the social media circles. It argues that – surprise! – Austin might be the state’s most segregated city. It’s so Slate-y in its counter-intuitive hypothesis, that I could just not resist reading it.
The article features a devastating collection of data-driven comparisons of Austin census tracts with other major Texas cities to persuasively evidence the hypothesis. Well, actually, the piece does no such thing. Instead, it is a collection of anecdotal observations by the author. Me pointing out that the supermarket I frequent on the west side has a non-zero Latino and Asian presence or that there were plenty of white people living on East Riverside with me back-in-the-day carries as much empirical heft as this piece. Which is to say none at all.
There is no evidence presented whatsoever to support the conjecture that Austin is the state’s most segregated city. Perhaps it is! It would be valuable if somebody given column inches in Texas Monthly would look at the data to figure it out.
The weirdest part is the tangential detour into geographic districts. I was a proponent of a switch to SMDs, but I have no idea how we get from SMDs to desegregation. The author eventually admits as much:
But whether single-member districts are fully the answer remains to be seen. African Americans face a special challenge: they have been moving out of Austin entirely, making it harder to carve out an electoral district that will guarantee their representation. A different problem affects Asian Americans, who now make up 6 percent of residents. Not suffering the same segregationist legacies as blacks and Latinos, they are more spread out across the city, making it difficult to guarantee direct representation. As for Latinos, when the plan goes into effect in 2014, they will probably net one or two more seats.
So Latino representation might go up 4% or 14%, but clearly not be a voting majority. African-American representation might cease. And Asian-American representation will be unlikely. So given this data, geographic diversity leading to desegregation happens how exactly?
It is uncertain what kind of segregation the author is actually focused on reducing. I assume a combination of residential housing and workplace segregation. There are all kinds of progressive policies – funding geographically-dispersed affordable housing, supporting living wages, investing in K-12 and community colleges, funding anti-discrimination law enforcement and so on – that can actually do something about segregation. Cheering on young women wearing quinceañera gowns into the Oasis (which I am all for!) is not a meaningful or scalable solution to housing or workplace segregation.
Even if Austin is not the most segregated city in Texas, plenty of Austinites of all shapes and colors are quite concerned about residential segregation and the educational attainment of the emerging Austin Latino majority. We talk and even blog about it and our need to do more! It would be valuable if folks given space in Texas Monthly would advance actual policies to deal with these issues.