2014 Feature, Small Newsroom finalist

On My Block: Voices From District One


About the Project

On My Block: Voices From District One revolves around a simple question: What’s the one thing that would make life on your block better?

For decades, members of the Austin City Council have been elected to govern the city as a whole. Each candidate ran citywide. But this November, for the first time, geographic representation will create a city council made up of people representing specific parts of town.

When a citizen commission began drawing Austin’s 10 council districts in 2012, it started in east and northeast Austin – in what’s now called District One. That’s because Austin’s African-American population is shrinking, and it would be a challenge to draw a district that gave black Austinites the opportunity to elect the candidate of their choice.

While District One was designed as an African-American opportunity district, it is only 28 percent black. Still, that’s the highest share of the African-American population among the city’s 10 districts.

Due to District One’s mission to enfranchise Austin’s declining black population, it cuts across a broad swath of Austin. It stretches from the Governor’s Mansion and the Texas State Capitol downtown, close to Austin’s northern suburbs, and east beyond the new State Highway 130. It includes some of Austin’s most rapidly gentrifying areas. It also includes places – so far – untouched by Austin’s booming growth.

The idea behind geographic representation is that council members would be more connected to their district, because they actually live there. So KUT set out to learn what’s important to the residents of District One. The result is On My Block (OMB).

For months, KUT has been interacting with the residents of District One. In-person interviews – often gained by going door-to-door – make up the majority of OMB content.

In seeking to take a complicated issue (Austin’s change to geographic representation) and make it immediate and accessible, we limited ourselves to one interview question: What’s the one thing that would make life on your block better?

The answers we received offer a fascinating look at people’s priorities and desires from neighborhood to neighborhood. They run the gamut, ranging from basic public safety issues (like street lighting, speed limits and crime) to decidedly more aesthetic and experiential concerns. To try and describe the range of replies really does a disservice: OMB is best experienced in the words of the residents themselves.

While OMB’s primary platform is the Tumblr site aggregating all our District One content, we strove to be as inclusive as possible in reaching beyond KUT and public radio’s traditional audience.

In addition to one-on-one community outreach, we have received many user-submitted responses via voicemail, through an account we set up for this project. OMB also maintains an active presence on Twitter and Instagram, where it utilizes a unique hashtag: #atxd1 (short for Austin, Texas District One). Videos, photos and graphics created expressly for the site also compliment the OMB experience.

While OMB maintains a focus on District One, as not to limit user response, we have always sought submissions from across all of Austin. While the main Tumblr site remains centered on District One, we use Twitter to share the responses we get from the rest of Austin.

At this point, KUT is continuing the On My Block project through this November’s elections – Austin’s first under geographic representation.