Neighbors walk for change in crime-ridden neighborhood

AUSTIN -- Austin is often touted as one of the safest cities for its size, but there's one pocket of the city, encompassing just six miles, with a bad reputation for high crime.

Police have been working the Restore Rundberg project since 2012, teaming up with residents and businesses to make it safer. Throughout the initiative, many neighbors have also taken it upon themselves to create positive change.

As a part of that effort, neighbors in Georgian Acres go for a walk together every Wednesday. The walks give neighbors an opportunity to get to know each other and their neighborhood.

"I love the people, that's probably the best thing," said neighbor Rigel Thurston. "I love -- this is going to sound corny -- I love the trees! I kind of feel like it's a diamond in the rough."

Thurston is co-president of the recently created neighborhood association, Georgian Acres. He started the walking group last November in an effort to take back the streets that were once known for prostitution and drugs.

"I just like, posted the first one on Nextdoor.com, and a few people showed up," Thurston said.

He said he moved to the neighborhood three years ago because he could afford it, and he quickly found friends.

"That's what this neighborhood needs is some younger people coming in and let's turn this around," said neighbor Karen Bissett.

Bissett moved to Georgian Acres in 1980 for the size of the lots and the affordability. She said the neighborhood feels safer now and she is happy to join in on the weekly walks.

"I just figured it was time I got out and stopped being a hermit. Because it is our neighborhood," Bisset said.

The group does not don't walk alone. Several police officers from the Restore Rundberg team join in every week.

"There's all sorts of things you can miss out on in a community if you're not active in it and talking to everybody to find out what's going on," said Senior Police Officer Taber White. "It's good on both sides because, you know, there's several of these neighbors out here that I consider myself to be friends with."

At the end of a walk last Wednesday, the group stopped in an open lot on the edge of the block.

"It was used for, like, a dumping ground and maybe other shady business," Thurston said.

They're working to clean it up and hope to see a park there some day. It would be the only one in Georgian Acres.

"Just being out here and being a positive presence shows that we care," Thurston said.

University of Texas researchers have been monitoring the Restore Rundberg initiative and show crime has decreased, despite population growth in the neighborhood. The area historically accounted for 12.5 percent of Austin's crime but is now down to 11.9 percent. Researchers tell KVUE while, overall, violent crime is down there has been a spike in some areas because of enforcement initiatives. They will release a detailed report at the end of the year.


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