If you’ve spent time near the UT campus, chances are you’ve seen the eccentric artists and eclectic wares of the 23rd Street Renaissance Market. And anyone visiting the market in search of the perfect tie-dye T-shirt has probably been subjected to panhandling.
Fortunately for students and Austinites looking to score the perfect handmade trinket, the aggressive hustling has begun to taper off, thanks to the combined efforts of the artists and the Austin Police Department.
“The 23rd Street vagrant problem usually starts with aggressive panhandling,” District Representative Officer Gary Griffin says. “A lot of the transients become really aggressive with the students when they are in need of money, and this frightens the students.”
Artist Jennie Bennett has witnessed the growing vagrant problem firsthand over the 16 years she’s been selling at the market, and she says police neglected the area entirely during the day in recent years.
But she took a leadership role in lobbying for an increased police presence. “We feel like the artists need to have input, looking at the market with fresh eyes and seeing what we could do differently,” Bennett says. “Safety was a big part of that.”
Over the past two months, there’s been a drastic improvement, thanks to Griffin, who was assigned to the area this summer.
“Boy, he is really going at it!” Bennett says.
The increased APD presence has significantly improved the sense of safety, prompting the artists to request a “good behavior maintenance policy of the vagrant population” to ensure the focus continues. The proposed policy calls for apolice daytime bicycle patrols seven days a week, in addition to current evening and night patrols.
Bennett says the artists want to take a positive approach. “We recognize that [the vagrant population] is a chronic issue here,” she says. “Just because somebody is a street person doesn’t mean they’re a bad person. All we want is good behavior from people in the area.”
The artists met with APD representatives in July to discuss safety concerns and hand over their report requesting more bike patrols. “They were all very positive and glad that we have been on top of this,” Bennett says. “We’ve gotten on track for open communication, which is great.”
With the artists taking more ownership of the market’s prosperity and APD increasing its presence in the area, the 23rd Street market is on its way to becoming a major draw once again.
“I think the ideal is that everybody feels comfortable being there,” Bennett says. “We just want people to have fun, want to come down there, and want to hang around.”
For more on the 23rd Street Renaissance Market’s evolution since its ’70s heyday, click here.
Top: Frank Parker attends to the jewelry he’s been selling at the Renaissance Market for 30-plus years. Middle: The Renaissance Market is thronged with shoppers in early 1971. Bottom, Bracelets with political and personal statements are among the wares offered at the market.
Credits, from top: Sandy Carson, John R. Van Beekum, Sandy Carson.