West Campus

Photo Credit: Briana Vargas | Daily Texan Staff

High rises are quickly taking the place of the quirky condos that used to keep West Campus weird, pulling rental rates up with them.

The price of living in West Campus has only increased, and as the student population balloons, students are moving further and further from class to make ends meet.

Elizabeth Mueller, professor of community and regional planning, said displacement is key to defining gentrification.

“Gentrification is about neighborhood change, but it’s important because it’s neighborhood change that has negative effects on existing residents,” Mueller said. “Usually, it’s used to refer to a neighborhood where residents are of lower income and have fewer housing choices. So as their neighborhood changes, they may not have very good choices if they can no longer afford to live there.”

When it comes to West Campus, Mueller said it’s hard to call West Campus “gentrified” because students hardly live in one place longer than a year, meaning that displacement can not be discerned. Rising rent makes staying close to campus difficult for students, which is a problem ­­— whether labeled or not — and city planners are trying to turn the tides.

Mueller said students have moved outside of West Campus to areas like East Riverside, where they trade proximity to campus for larger apartments and reasonable rent. To alleviate undesirable student sprawl, the city of Austin and neighborhood organizations northwest of campus made West Campus/University Neighborhood Overlay, or UNO, a city planning policy with new incentives and regulations for West Campus high rises.

Jake Wegmann,  UT planning and development professor, said UNO incentivizes development of high rises, while creating regulations that benefit the whole of West Campus.

“The idea is to invest in improving the public realm to help support the much higher density of buildings and people that are in West Campus now,” Wegmann wrote.“This has taken a lot of pressure off other neighborhoods, such as Heritage and the area due north of campus and east of Guadalupe.”

UNO used a form of zoning called “upzoning” to allow West Campus developers to build taller buildings with more potential for rent income if they agreed to designate 10 percent of their units as low income housing, also known as SMART housing, and to help fund
neighborhood infrastructure.

The objective was to create more housing options close to campus and to ensure the expensive, new buildings didn’t push low income students out of West Campus, Wegmann said.

UNO’s incentives have also improved the quality of life in West Campus via improvements to sidewalks and streetlights. In addition to improving infrastructure, UNO doesn’t ignore other nearby neighbors either —  decreasing the number of students who want to live in neighborhoods also decreases students’ demand for neighborhood housing, thereby protecting the price of living for the neighborhood families.

“UNO has been a smashing success — a piece of careful city planning that has basically accomplished what it set out to do,” Wegmann wrote.

Tatum Lau, urban design and community and regional planning graduate student, lives in Austin and said the decisions made by city planners, designers and neighborhood associations have the power to make social ripple effects — for good or for bad.

“When people feel powerless about what is going on, as planners and designers, we have to be reminded that we made that choice as a city,” Lau said.

Photo Credit: Megan Canik | Daily Texan Staff

In “Talladega Nights,” Ricky Bobby may have been too stubborn to admit his love of crepes, but Mohamad Abdulkader, co-owner of West Campus’ new Cedars Crepes food truck, happily declares his love of the thin pancake.

Abdulkader and his wife opened Cedars Crepes this past summer to share their love of the dessert with Austin. He said their appreciation for crepes came as a result of growing up in Lebanon.

“In Lebanon we have a lot of French culture, and crepes are a major part of that,” Abdulkader said. “It was our favorite dessert when we were kids, so we decided to spread it here.”

Abdulkader said he also wanted to share his culture without doing what every other Middle Eastern restaurant in Austin is doing.

“I don’t want to do old Arabic food, because there’s so much Middle Eastern food now,” Abdulkader said. “There is less of a crepe selection in Austin, so I want to bring people that opportunity to try something different.”

Though crepes are the focus of his food truck, they aren’t the only part of Lebanese culture Abdulkader is trying to bring to Austin. He said he also wants to bring an atmosphere of friendliness and personability similar to that of his home country.

“In Lebanon, people talk a lot to each other, and it’s very friendly,” Abdulkader said. “It’s also friendly here, don’t get me wrong, but just in general people in Lebanon know who you are even if you’re in an area like Beirut, which is big. That’s why I like to know all my customers, because I want to build that sort of relationship and make friends with them.”

Though Cedars Crepes is currently Abdulkader’s nighttime gig, his goal is to eventually turn it into both a full time career and a family institution.

“Me and my wife are a young couple that just got married and had a baby, and we’re really just trying to do what we love,” Abdulkader said. “Hopefully (Cedars Crepes) can turn into a family tradition.”

The crepes at Cedars are simple, but tasty. A majority of the menu items focuses on sweet crepe dishes featuring everything from nutella and jam to fresh fruit and cream cheese. The nutella crepe with a choice of fruit is probably the best option for anyone looking for something sweet and classic. The combination of nutella and fruit with a homemade crepe makes for quite a comforting dessert. I would personally recommend getting strawberries, as their tartness is a good foil to the richness of the nutella.

Cedars also has a selection of savory crepe options. The cheese mankoushe, which combines shredded mozzarella and feta cheese in a warm crepe, is a good option for someone looking for something hearty. Those wanting a bit more of an herb-centric crepe, though, should try the za’tar mankoushe, which includes wild thyme and oregano mixed with olive oil, sesame seed and tomato. The oregano and thyme give this crepe a naturally rich flavor without being too overpowering.

In addition to crepes, Cedars also has some non crepe-based dishes like cake and ice cream. One great dessert they offer is the fruit cup, which is essentially just three scoops of ice cream topped with five different kinds of fresh fruit. It’s a wildly refreshing snack for those Texas winter days that feel more like summer.

The prices at Cedars Crepes are great for West Campus residents. Most of the menu items fall in the $4-$6 price range and the portions are sure to make the average customer full. With quality food, affordable prices and friendly service, Cedars Crepes is a great spot for students to grab some food that isn’t tacos or Asian fusion.