But if you really want to see ugly, I invite you to drive a few miles west of the Trump Tower to the West Side of this great city and take a spin through sections of the Austin neighborhood, where you’ll find swaths of boarded-up houses and storefronts. There you will see the real scars. And the vacant, littered lots? Well, they are more like gaping wounds.”
This paragraph is part of an open letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel from Dawn Turner Trice, columnist for the Chicago Tribune, on June 20, 2014. Black people of Austin can’t count on the mayor coming to the Austin Community as Dawn Turner Trice suggested. And if he does, he is not going to do one thing — well, maybe he will put in another playground.
If we want a decent community, we have to work at it ourselves — no matter how difficult it gets; there is no stopping. This is how homeowners on north Laramie in Austin prevented their block from becoming “a gaping wound.”
I have lived on north Laramie for 38 years. During this time, I have not been ashamed of living on north Laramie. One thing about my block is that most homeowners want to live in pleasant surroundings.
This doesn’t mean that those with seedy lawns don’t care. But because of illness or old age, they can’t take care of their lawns or properties.
But this doesn’t stop others from putting in their best efforts. The task of keeping a presentable block involves several stages.
Probably, the simplest stage in keeping a block presentable is to pick up the litter. This started back in the late 1970s when a homeowner asked that a metal garbage basket be placed at the corner bus stop. After that, removing litter from the lawn took a little perseverance. Daily, homeowners constantly picked-up trash from their lawns left by passers-by and visitors on the block.
Next, homeowners kept vigilant about picking up beer cans, wrapping papers, plastic bags, and paper coffee cups that motorists driving through the block threw out their car windows.
After years of keeping the block presentable by picking up litter, in 1987, the homeowners were faced with removing blight. Immediately, neighbors on opposite sides of the boarded-up house took turns cutting the grass, shoveling snow, and keeping a watch on the back of the boarded-up house. Then a neighbor and I worked at getting rid of the boards.
After sending a letter and a petition to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD agreed to remove the boards and replace them with chicken wire. Finally, homeowners continued to maintain and watch the foreclosed house until an investor bought it.
The investor made repairs and sold the house to a lovely family who still resides there to this day.
I can see from observing my neighbors that they will not let blight bring down the block.
A second house went into foreclosure on the block in 1991. But this house didn’t get boards; it was torn down. Afterwards, it appeared to me then that the homeowners next to the demolished house made arrangements with the city or another owner.
Soon after that was done, they grew grass in the vacant lot. They installed a black wrought iron fence on the Laramie side and placed huge containers of flowers outside the fence. At last, they turned a pile of dirt into a miniature park, which blended right in with the block.
In keeping the block presentable, a collective process is necessary with homeowners maintaining the outside of their properties.
One homeowner painted his entry door in February. Another repaired his concrete steps a month later. Meanwhile, two neighbors worked together replacing an old beat-up fence shared between their properties.
And a separate homeowner had tuck pointing done on his house.
Fulfilling the requirements of having a presentable block is an ongoing progress. Homeowners on north Laramie — without being told what to do — keep the block clean, get rid of blight, and maintain the outside of their properties.
These actions make buyers attractive to the block, and the block has gotten new homeowners.