This is not a new subject. I’ve broached it before, but I found myself commenting about it to someone, and after a short search through the archives, realized that I haven’t written about it in a while. I qualify this by noting that I can only speak for the city of Austin, and if anyone has more of a research or social science background, I would be more than happy to help with some deeper inquiry into this subject.
Since I began caching four years ago, I have noticed a socioeconomic divide in cache placement. There is a middle ground rife with options, but far fewer are found in poor or rich areas. East Austin has traditionally been a poor area. In a lot of cities, the eastern portions tend to be less affluent because they are usually the older parts of the city, especially if the city has a north-south river flowing through it. In the case of Austin, this is by design. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Black and Hispanic residents were pushed east of the road that would eventually become I-35. Though there have been strides in changing that, both altruistic (repaying decades of discrimination) and profit seeking (these neighborhoods are close to the city center, making them juicy targets for development), the effects of segregation are still felt. When I started, one of the first things that I noticed was that there were relatively few caches to the east when compared to the central corridor of town. I’ve also noticed that cachers tend to avoid those parts of town as well. I live in a part of town that is on the edge between IH-35 and poorer parts of town. Consequently, I’ve seen FTFs in this area sit unfound for days at a time because local cachers are less willing to come to the area. Over the years, I’ve seen more caches cropping up to the east, but I’ve also noticed that those neighborhoods they’re showing up in are ones that are gentrifying. There is a newer, more upscale development about a mile south of me. When an FTF shows up in and around there, it doesn’t last long, and I myself help contribute to that.
Conversely, West Austin has the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city. It also contains far fewer caches than the more central parts of town. I can’t speak to this as much because I have never lived in West Austin, but I know the reasons I don’t go caching over there. There are not as many public spaces to the west and a lot of the neighborhoods possess greater security than most urban neighborhoods. I can almost feel the disapproving looks when I venture into one of them. I don’t like scrutiny to begin with. The idea of looking suspicious, searching for something, or pulling out a ladder or a pole? Nope. Looking for a cache after dark, poking around with a flashlight? That’s a double nope. The greater likelihood of encountering police or security patrols is a huge turnoff for me. Oddly enough, the western parts of the city are more likely to have greenbelts and undeveloped land outside of the neighborhoods, offering some possibility of a more natural or even rural-ish experience in a city.
I’m sure a lot of people have never spent any time thinking about this subject, so I want you to think about it now. Are there parts of your city that you avoid caching in? Why? It’s possible that some places are just too far away or might be inconvenient for you. I certainly get that. But consider if there are other issues at play. Do they have the stigma of being poorer or rougher than you prefer? Do the fences and security systems make you not want to get involved? Do you notice these trends in your city? I don’t have answers to the issue, nor do I think it’s a pressing issue that needs to be immediately resolved, but it’s something to think about. We all have our biases. It never hurts to take a look at them. I’m no fan of Socrates, but he wasn’t wrong that the unexamined life is not worth living.