Thursday, February 12, 2015

The definition of exclusion

Earlier this month I attended an event as part of a series here in Austin under the title "The Growing Divide." This one discussed the city's housing crisis. Three panelists examined the fact that affordable housing is becoming more and more scarce, people are increasingly being pushed out into the suburbs in order to be able to afford the kind of lifestyle they want (which contributes to our out of control traffic issues) and that there's a ton of gentrification going on.

In case you aren't aware of the troubles Austin is facing in this realm, might I suggest a Google search, because it's kinda scary. But I'm not actually here to talk about this topic broadly. I wanna talk about this panel specifically.

First the nicey nices: it was fairly informative. For example, I appreciated that the speakers focused in on a few very practical solutions, like extending zoning for back houses (so called "granny flats") which is an easy fix to encourage density without requiring extensive infrastructure changes. I also appreciated that they kept things really non partisan and it felt productive.

Except for one glaring issue: all three panelists were white and wealthy. 

It was such a ridiculous oversight that it truly distracted from my experience. I mean, how in the world can we really talk about affordable housing and not include low income voices? How can we really talk about gentrification and not include people of color?

One of the panelists was one of Austin's newly elected 10-1 city representatives...from the wealthiest district. Place a call to one of the working class POC recently elected, it's not that hard! This is just like basic 101 level stuff here. In fact, the point where I bristled to the discussion the most was when this same panelist made a comment along these lines to try to make us all care more: "We have to remember when we're talking about 'affordable housing' we're not just talking about things like poverty and crime, we're also talking about people like those in my district, which is one of the wealthiest, who can't afford to live in the neighborhood they were raised in........."

[Image text: "Really?" face]
Oh brother.

So yeah, like I said, the discussion was fairly informative but it was perpetuating the systems that was, in its own way, contributing to "The Growing Divide" and blatant exclusion. Think about how much richer, realistic, and important this could have been if marginalized voices were centered.

Jesus, just be better, people.

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