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Looking Back to Look Forward: The 1928 Master Plan

United Way for Greater Austin recognizes that our fight against poverty is also a fight against racial inequity. Systemic racism and poverty are intrinsically connected, and one cannot be eradicated without the other. This is why United with our community, we are working to reimagine systems that are rooted in equity and racial justice. 

As we work toward building a brighter and more equitable future for our great city, it’s important for us to know the past in order to understand the present and chart a path towards the future. 


The Present 

Just as the skyline has grown, so have the disparities in the lived experiences of those living west of IH-35, and those to the east. For all of its wonderful qualities, Austin is one of the most economically segregated cities in the country

It truly is a tale of two cities. One in which if you happen to live on the east side of the city you have less access to hospitals and healthcare facilities, fewer public transportation options, and a lack of grocery stores with fresh produce. A study has even shown that there is a nearly 20-year difference in life expectancy between parts of east and west Austin. And the unfortunate reality is that these areas of concentrated poverty overlap with Austin’s Black and Brown communities. The current system isn’t working for so many of our neighbors. 

To make Greater Austin a community that truly works for everyone, we first have to understand how these inequitable systems came to be. 

The Past 

Source: Austin American-Statesman

In 1928, through the adoption of a comprehensive city plan, the City Council effectively institutionalized racial segregation. Known as the 1928 Master Plan, East Avenue, now known as IH-35, was established as a dividing line between Black and white communities. Prior to this, Austin’s Black population lived throughout the city — many in freedman communities that were established during the Reconstruction era by recently emancipated slaves. While it was unconstitutional to use zoning laws to promote racial segregation, the city used tactics such as eliminating utility services to Black families, and prohibiting them from accessing public services in areas west of East Avenue to enact their plan. The legacy of this Master Plan and the inequitable systems that it created is still felt in our community today

The Future 

Our beloved Austin has a bright future, and we are working hard to ensure that everyone who lives here does too. United together, we can ensure in our Greater Austin community:

  • Every child enters Kindergarten ready to learn
  • All children are reading on grade level by 4th grade
  • Every person connects with community resources promoting health
  • All families are financially stable

Each and every one of us plays a role in creating a more just and equitable future for Greater Austin. Here are some ways you can start: 

  • Learn more about the intersectionality of poverty and racism in Austin 
  • Advocate for equitable systems that work for everyone
  • Invest in United Way’s system-change work 

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