Archive for: March 2014

The Life of a Hijabi

 

Exposed

By Ingrid Vasquez, Rabeea Tahir, Rachel Bush

A veil full of small pink flowers typical of those on a young girls’ dress  covered the thin black cloth wrapped around me. Putting it on felt like I had been given the key to unlocking people’s secrets. No longer were people’s thoughts hidden behind empty stares and deceptive body language. Suddenly, it seemed as if people did not mind showing what they really felt or what they really thought – all because of my hijab.

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Ingrid Vasquez, a third year Journalism and Mexican American Studies student at University of Texas at Austin, sits in front of the mail building during Explore UT.

It was sort of like a magnet that drew people’s attention and would not let go.

One of these people turned out to be someone I know. I’ve known him for years but I still wondered what his reaction would be. Would he laugh? Would he smile?

We made eye contact as he walked closer in my direction.

I was scared.

I knew I needed to see his reaction because I knew I would see an honest reaction.

But as soon as he took a look at my hijab he turned his eyes the other way.

I felt my entire body slowly beginning to become numb from the bottom of my toes to the top of my head. I was wearing what I would typically wear every day – jeans and a T-shirt. The only thing that changed was my hijab. It was still me – the quirky, shy, 20-year-old college student from Brownsville, Texas. But that apparently did not matter.

Crowds of small children were scattered all around the University of Texas campus on this day. It just so happened that I was wearing my hijab during Explore UT, the biggest opportunity for families all across Texas to visit the university.

One of these kids  – a young, African American little boy wearing a bright blue t-shirt – looked at me and told his mother, “Mommy! Let’s run away” near the Texas Union. His mother laughed and walked away.

“It was intimidating putting it on at first,” said Vasquez. “I didn’t know what people would do or what they would think.”

In the Muslim community, the hijab gives a woman character. Restricted by the covering of their bodies, the hijab allows a woman to formulate relationships with people based on who they are and not what they look like.

But it was after that moment that everything began to make sense to me. I was the person a little boy wanted to run away from just because of something I had on my head. I was the person none of my friends wanted to acknowledge anymore because of something I had on my head.

In the 2 hours I had with my hijab it had become my identity.

As I rested with a friend near the famous George Washington statue in front of the university’s main building, a teacher and her students approached our direction. The group of about 6-10 students were only speaking Spanish.

Being that I am bilingual, I began to ask one of the girls in Spanish  if they were going to take a picture so my friend and I could move away from the area. I was a bit confused as to why she paused before answering my question. She nodded her head very slightly and simply responded “Si” before quickly running away.

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Vasquez shops for gifts at the University Co-op every time she knows she will be visiting her parents.

Her reaction terrified me. She seemed so intimidated by my hijab, that I wanted to see if people a bit older would feel the same way.

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“It’s been a stressful couple of days,” said Vasquez after deciding to treat herself to a doughnut.

So, I decided to go to the University Co-op to shop for some gifts. The store was crowded a bit more than usual due to all the families on campus that day. Even through the crowds inside of the store though, I received smirks and awkward gazes from shoppers.

My experience was  thrilling. I did not know what to expect, so being exposed to the most honest and face-to-face reactions proved to be very enlightening. But by the end of this day, I was completely disgusted by everything I had seen.

Beauty is the eye of the beholder, they say. But how could we see beauty when we tend to see hate?

This was my experience as a hijabi.

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Vasquez works on homework at the Perry-Castañeda Library.

The Corner

By Jarrid Denman and Dylan Baddour

What was once considered the worst corner in Austin has now been revamped as part of a new initiative to clean and further develop East Austin. 

The intersection at 12th and Chicon Streets has been known for being an open market for drugs, violence and prostitution for decades.  In 2012, APD initiated the Drug Market Intervention program, which sought to put a definite end to the crime that disturbed the community for so long.

DMI is an initiative that was first successfully executed in Highpoint, North Carolina.  The primary goal of the DMI is to identify drug dealers.  What is unique about this program, however, is that it offers some offenders a second chance to end their criminal behavior rather than end up in jail and with records.

The program categorizes those arrested, placing them on either the “A-list” or “B-list.”  Those who make the A-list are violent criminals who are prosecuted without being given a second chance.

Although Austin police have combated crime in this area for years, no initiative to date has proven as successful as the DMI, according to APD’s Sergeant James Dixon.

“Before DMI there were undercover operations, high profile operations, [and] they all worked but we never addressed the root cause of the problem and it somehow migrated back to the area,” Dixon said.  “We found out that initiating the DMI identified the root cause — The root cause was the sellers of the narcotics.”

The whole idea is to identify those who perpetuate drug use.  Once the drug providers are identified and given a second chance, they know that they risk being convicted if caught on the street again.  For those that receive a second chance, APD encourages them to discuss their involvement and seek rehab, or face jail time.

“We have a support group available for them at that point,” Dixon said.  “We have ministers, we have police officers, we have Goodwill, and family members to get them not to reoffend.”

The program has been a success thus far, with only 17% of people who reoffend.

“Things have changed drastically on 12th and Chicon,” Dixon said.  “If you go down there yourself you don’t see a lot of people hanging out.  They know out there that 12th and Chicon is really not the place to be at this point.”

 

Crime is not the only occurrence with widespread effects.  Gentrification has also taken its toll on the East Austin community.

With dwindling crime rates, East Austin has been primed for development.  The area has become more attractive to potential residents and businesses, and property values have gone up as a result.

As a whole, general inflation in Austin has increased nearly 35 percent, median home costs have gone up 40 percent, and rent by 50 percent.  Yet, the average household income has only gone up 25 percent since 2001.

Founded in 2000, Chestnut Neighborhood Revitalization Corporation is a nonprofit organization that focuses on community and economic development. According Sean Garretson, economic developer for CNRC, the organization has completed single unit homes and multiple-unit housing projects.

“A lot of it has been about this issue of gentrification,” Garretson said.  “If you look at the sheer numbers and the share of population in East Austin of African Americans, it’s dwindled significantly.”

The Chicon Corridor Development is the CNRC’s next project and includes four buildings located on 13th and 14th streets.  Each building will have 3,000 square feet of commercial space on the bottom level, and two levels of residential units comprised of approximately 15 units.  Of the 43 units, 33 of them will be affordable housing, and the remaining ten will be market rate units, which alleviates the loss of profit due to building affordable homes.

Construction is said to begin in two months, and residents can expect to move in by Spring 2016.

Although the CNRC conducted a market study to clarify target demographics, they plan on marketing to East Austin residents who are most in need of affordable housing.  The corporation determined that those who are ages 25-40, and 50-65 will benefit the most from more affordable housing in East Austin.

“When we made a decision about a year and a half ago we were trying to figure out what to do next,” Garretson said, “and I was like guys if we’re gonna have an impact anywhere in East Austin, 12th and Chicon, that’s where we gotta be!”

Austin Gets Exotic with Local Pet Store

Photo by Cheney Slocum.

A chameleon hangs from a stick in its tank at ZooKeeper Exotic Pets in North Austin.

By Cheney Slocum and Jamie Oberg

“There’s something magical about a pet shop.”

Daniel Keeper sits in his office, walls lined with artifacts and oddities like dinosaur eggs, metal antlers, and a plastic monkey head that starts screeching as it senses the wave of his hand. Outside his office door a fluffy black chicken runs around his store, ZooKeeper Exotic Pets, clucking as children laugh. One couple looks adoringly at their Swoop, their five-week old yellow bird, and another girl smiles as her pet chameleon climbs up her arm and attaches itself to her sweater. Most pet stores are magical, but this one is more. It’s exotic.

Daniel Keeper opened ZooKeeper Exotic Pets in 1988, the first exclusively exotic store in the state. The current location, his fourth, is located on the corner of U.S. 183 and Burnet Road in North Austin.

At the store, Keeper and his staff care for and sell many different types of exotic animals including snakes, tropical frogs, scorpions, hedgehogs, bearded-dragon lizards, a bird-eating spider and Sophia, a two-toed sloth who hangs out in an enclosure near the door.

Even though his passion for animals was always present, Keeper didn’t begin his professional life in the pet business at all.

“I grew up and became interested in other things as well and tried to make a vocation of conventional things, so I ended up as a service manager at a rental car company in Austin,” Keeper said. “But after ten years of employment I realized I wasn’t happy doing what I was doing and I started thinking ‘I wonder if I can make a go of my interests.’”

Photo by Cheney Slocum.

ZooKeeper owner Daniel Keeper in in his office.

So he looked around Austin and realized there was only one pet store that carried exotics, and only in a small closet in the back of the store, Keeper decided to “make an entire store of that closet” and open his own store for $80 a month in rent.

Originally, Keeper maintained his conventional job from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and operated his store from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., but decided after a few years to go all in.

“My wife was so scared because we had a mortgage and a kid, but I told her it’s kind of like going off the high board for the first time,” he said. “Once you’re up there you just hold your breath and go. You do the best research you can do, you just go and put your head down and start working and don’t look back up until you’re sure it’s safe again. And that’s what I did.”

Keeper describes his store as primarily service oriented and hires only staff members who he thinks will get along with others and contribute to the store’s laid-back, friendly atmosphere.

“The average person that comes in here is happy to be here. They’re excited,” he said. “It’s not like going to the dentist; there are fun things in here. So when someone comes in its easy to strike up a conversation with them, because you have something in common.”

With such unfamiliar animals housed within its walls, ZooKeeper staff attracts a wide variety of customers and seeks to educate them while providing a fun experience, especially the children.

“Sometimes we’ll take them to the back where we are feeding the baby animals or take them to the incubators and show them that,” Keeper said. “If you’re a parent there is nothing better than walking into a place and having somebody treat your kid like they are a little person. I remember being a kid and people didn’t treat me as a human. So I try to get down on their level, and some of them are really smart, it’s just amazing to them.”

While Keeper says he enjoys educating all customers about the creatures in his store, owning an exotic pet can be a tough task.

“I’m good about helping people look into the future and get past just being excited about the animals they’re interested in and trying to show them the high points and the low points,” Keeper said. “We want them to be successful, and we want it to be a good fit for both [the animal and the owner]. We always try to show them the ups and the downs of everything.”

For some animals require exotic diets, nontraditional living quarters, or expensive regimens, Keeper said he has had to intervene in the sale of the animal.

“There’s a fine line in the pet industry about making decisions for people. When I was up and coming consumer in the pet store, I didn’t want somebody telling me I wasn’t fit for an animal. I didn’t want someone making that decision for me,” he said. “Now that I’m on this side of the counter I try to find the right animal for the right person. In a few circumstances I’ll put my foot down and say this is not the right animal for you and I’ll try to make something that’s a better fit.”

As Austin has gained popularity as a host for movies and television shows, Keeper has received callers with strange requests that might not be a good fit for the average consumer.

“We’ll get a call out of the blue saying they need 10,000 roaches or something like that. A lot of the time they’ll also need a wrangler, or someone to manage the animals while on the shoot,” he said.

The store has provided roaches and scorpions to the television show Fear Factor, and had National Geographic photograph their animals for a series on arachnophobia, or “fear of spiders.”

“We just ask that we get some legal promise that our name will get mentioned in the credits,” Keeper said. “Usually that’s what we’d like, some acknowledgement and a little PR for our efforts.”

Last year, ZooKeeper was approached with an offer for its own reality television show highlighting the culture of the store, its customers, and the exotic pet “lifestyle.”

Keeper and his staff met with the prospective producers, who also work with the show Pawn Stars on the History Channel. The staff got a contract from New York and shared tales of store pranks and fun times, but ultimately decided against participating.

“A lot of my staff was freaked out about being on camera, and every customer that came in (about 100-200 daily) would be required to sign a legal agreement to be on film,” Keeper explained. “It seemed like a lot of hassle for not much money.”

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Spiders like this one are bred in the store. Some spiders will hatch up to 1,500 eggs at one time, each needing its own separate food and habitat.

Along with just selling animals, the store also has its own breeding program. Keeper began breeding animals before he opened up at his first location. Currently, the store is incubating eggs for a batch of red-bearded dragons and tortoises.

“The breeding just came out of an interest in seeing if I could be successful in it,” Keeper said. “Most of the time when animals feel comfortable enough to breed its because you’ve done a good job making them feel comfortable. If you get something to breed its kind of an assurance that you’ve done something right.”

While most of the pet breeding is just for fun, the store also breeds “food animals,” such as crickets, worms, and mice, to help supplement the store’s income. Breeding these animals in-house allows Keeper to avoid relying on vendors for the mass quantities of these animals sold. On average the store sells 500 to 1,000 mice (many of which are frozen into what employees call “Mice Pops”) and between 20 thousand and 50 thousand crickets weekly.

Whether it’s to buy some of these food animals or to just browse, there are always people poking in and out of ZooKeeper. And they like it that way.

“I think our enthusiasm for what we do is contagious,” Keeper said. “My favorite thing is dealing with kids of all ages–not necessarily just physiological kids– you can just tell when someone has that ‘Wow!’ when you see that whole amazement of having a close-up one on one experience with nature. “

What exotic pet would you want to own?

Austin nonprofit educates community on health benefits of an insect diet

By: Faith Daniel, Cheyenne Matthews-Hoffman and Nataly Torres

Before you grab the fly swatter and aimlessly chase your insect target, think about the little critter that you’re about to swat. A bug’s life isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Bugs typically meet their fate at the sole of your wandering shoes or by being showered with insecticides. Creepy crawlies are feared by many, but are mostly considered to be gross. We eat gummy worms, so why not consider eating the real thing?

Robert Nathan Allen was a recent college graduate, managing a local bar in Austin when his mother sent him a video on the sustainability and health benefits of eating insects as a joke. Intrigued by entomophagy, the consumption of insects as food, Allen researched the practice and reached out to entomophagists worldwide. Blown away by the benefits of eating insects, Allen wanted to be the first person in Austin to have bugs on the menu. Although that particular idea didn’t pan out, he spent the next year and a half hatching the idea for Little Herds.

Just like other food products in Austin, one can purchase locally grown insect meals.

Just like other food products in Austin, one can purchase locally grown insect meals.

Allen may not have been the first person to have crickets and larvae on menus around the city, but he did see the need for an educational advocacy group. Austin lacked a nonprofit that could provide the community with education and transparency on eating insects, but while also focusing on how they are raised, processed and used in food. “Not only do we want to assure that they’re healthy, hygienic, clean and sustainable, but we also want you to see how you can take cricket flour and turn it into something in your own kitchen,” says Allen.

There was no doubt in Allen’s mind when deciding where to plant and grow his project. Known for its interest in nutrition, sustainability and love for all things weird, Austin was the perfect place to get the ball rolling. Allen saw that Texas’ capital city is very progressive and forward thinking, and thought that Austin would be more likely to accept the practice of insect eating.

He also spent a great deal of time finding the perfect name to suit his bugged out venture. “Little Herds ended up being the one that had the best fit for what we were doing in terms of focusing on the education of edible insects, but also really focusing on children’s education. It has a great dual meaning there — little herds of insects and little herds of kids eating the insects,” says Allen.

Little Herds was incorporated in June 2013 and received their 501(c)(3) that December.

Still in its infancy stage, Little Herds is focusing on educating the community through various programs. The nonprofit focuses on the younger Austinites- children. Little Herds works hand-in-hand with schools, museums and farmers markets to educate the community on entomophagy by planning various educational programs. Oftentimes, the nonprofit will have events geared towards children that allow them to experiment with insects in the kitchen. Little Herds believes that it’s important to reach out to the younger generation because if they can adopt insects into their diet, they will be more likely to pass it on to their children. The nonprofit partners with local chefs to ensure that the meals are delicious and nutritious.

Little Herds isn’t trying to sugarcoat the idea that people are eating bugs. Being upfront and letting people know and understand what they are eating is important. “The best way to get over that psychological taboo isn’t to hide it or turn it into something that it’s not. It’s to be point blank with people about what they’re eating,” says Allen.

Delicacies such as this were presented during the event, made by professional and educated chefs.

Delicacies such as this were presented during the event, made by professional and educated chefs.

When you inform people about the health benefits and its sustainability and that most of the world eats them, it reduces their fear and hesitation to try the edible critters. “When you present them in an approachable, traditional and normal way, they don’t have a problem giving it a try,” says Allen.

With almost 2,000 edible species in existence, insects provide health benefits greater than those provided by traditional meat sources. Insects tend to be higher in calcium, zinc and protein and are low in cholesterol and fat. Hormones and antibiotics aren’t used when raising insects. Unlike with other animals, there is no risk of crossover diseases with insects. An insect diet proves to be healthy for humans, but is also beneficial for Mother Earth. Raising and harvesting insects uses very little land, water and feed.

“This is something that people can grow in their backyard, anywhere in the world. Even if you’re in drought conditions, disaster conditions, this is a protein source that’s healthy and you can grow with very little input,” says Allen.

By 2050, there will be an estimated nine billion people on the planet. At this rate, there won’t be enough food to sustainably feed that many mouths. “We can take insects and create these foods that can really help relieve famine and malnourishment in areas all over the world. It’s something that could have a long shelf life. It’s something that can be processed easily and cheaply and won’t lose all that nutritional density,” says Allen. Incorporating insects into one’s regular diet is an economically approachable, low-tech solution.

Little Herds is working with businesses and government agencies to sure that the public is properly educated about where to get their insects and how to prepare them. Eventually, their hope is to start a movement and share this practice with the rest of the country.

With organizations like Little Herds in the picture, maybe people will be less bugged out to try insects.

Egg Rolls Made the Right Way—Angry!

 

 

Stanley Flukinger's Angry Egg Roll truck on South Congress and Krebs.

Stanley Flukinger’s Angry Egg Roll truck on South Congress and Krebs.

By: Will Korn and Chris Caraveo

Most people who enjoy egg rolls as a side with the occasional Chinese dish probably don’t realize exactly what they’re eating. It’s also very likely these people haven’t met Stanley Flukinger.

Flukinger, the owner of Angry Egg Roll, a small food truck in Austin, Texas, is a New Yorker who prides himself on making egg rolls the right way—in the Cantonese style so familiar to him back home. Big, bold and fresh, with the perfect mixture of meat, vegetables and nuts characterizes the Cantonese style.

Flukinger’s journey to Austin was prompted out of curiosity. He had spent much of his life in New York, working in business for several years in and out of the state. He eventually tired of the Big Apple scene and began looking for something a little different.

 

“One night my wife and I were at home in New York, and she told me ‘There’s a plane leaving for Austin in two hours—why don’t you get on it and see what it’s like down there,’” Flukinger said. “I really liked it so we moved down here.”

But Flukinger didn’t immediately jump into the food truck to start serving his New York-style egg rolls. He first worked as a technology director at the non-profit organization American Youth Works. He also ran his own band, Stanley Man. In April of 2013, he finally decided to test his Cantonese egg rolls on Austinites.

 

Before he got into the egg roll business, Flukinger was rocking with his own band, Stanley Man. He has been away from music while he runs his truck but might make an appearance at the 04 Lounge during South by Southwest and play for the crowd.

Before he got into the egg roll business, Flukinger was rocking with his own band, Stanley Man. He has been away from music while he runs his truck but might make an appearance at the 04 Lounge during South by Southwest and play for the crowd.

 

He began sampling his recipe to friends, family and even some local Chinese restaurants. Everybody loved his way of making egg rolls and so Flukinger took to starting his new business. He acquired a city vending license, bought a small trailer on South Congress and Klebs street, right next to the 04 Lounge, and started pumping out his egg rolls.

But life inside the trailer is no easy task.

 

Flukinger refreshes the frying oil each day he cooks so his rolls come out great. He cleans as he goes because of the small space he has.

Flukinger refreshes the frying oil each day he cooks so his rolls come out great. He cleans as he goes because of the small space he has.

 

“By law, everything has to be prepared and produced inside the trailer,” Flukinger said. “I have to make and sauté the meat, chop the fresh veggies and roll the egg rolls. All of this can take upwards of four to five hours, and I can usually yield a batch of about 50 at a time.”

Flukinger says his egg rolls are different than any others out there.

“I’m really just trying to make them right and be very respectful of the ingredients,” Flukinger said. “Nobody else is really doing that—most places treat the egg rolls as sort of an afterthought that isn’t taken seriously.”

 

This batch of vegetables is used for both meat and veggie rolls. Flukinger divides this large load so he has enough for both items.

This batch of vegetables is used for both meat and veggie rolls. Flukinger divides this large load so he has enough for both items. Cilantro, which he says most people neglect in egg rolls, is a permanent ingredient in his rolls, giving them an angry kick.

 

The name of Flukinger’s business, Angry Egg Roll, is also unique among the competition.

“I chose that name because the farther away I got from New York, the worse the egg rolls got,” Flukinger said. “I got so angry that I just couldn’t find a good egg roll. Stylistically, my egg rolls are big and gnarly looking—angry looking.”

 

The angry egg roll on the left puts the small rolls usually found in restaurants to shame. Flukinger said that other places tend to treat the egg roll as an appetizer or side dish. Not his though.

The angry egg roll on the left puts the small rolls usually found in restaurants to shame. Flukinger said that other places tend to treat the egg roll as an appetizer or side dish. Not his though.

 

 

For the first few months, Flukinger was working solo inside the trucks for most of every day. He recently just made his first staff hire, and he’s looking to expand his business across Austin as soon as he can.

 

Flukinger has three secret sauces that he puts in his egg rolls, which he buys from different suppliers.

Flukinger has three secret sauces that he puts in his egg roll mixture, which he buys from different suppliers.

 

Angry Egg Roll will soon be readily available to UT students. Flukinger bought a five-by-four foot stand on Guadalupe Street, right outside the entrance to the University Co-Op.

He plans on allowing his new hire to begin managing the South Congress location. He then wants to move into the Guadalupe stand, and make another hire to manage that location. Flukinger says he ultimately wants to add a location on Sixth Street, joining his egg rolls with Austin’s nightlife scene.

Just don’t call him a chef.

“I have no interest in being a chef, or really even in working in these small trailers,” Flukinger said. “My passion is simply to make and serve the egg rolls that I would want to eat around here.”

The inside of a pork egg roll looks way different from most other egg rolls. Flukinger pays respect to the Cantonese style of making egg rolls, which hasn't been replicated throughout other restaurants.

The inside of a pork egg roll looks way different from most other egg rolls. Flukinger pays respect to the Cantonese style of making egg rolls, which hasn’t been replicated throughout other restaurants.

 

 

 

Licensed To Carry

Concealed Handgun Licensing
By: Kristina Latham, Patrica Small, & Dylan Carter

“Your life will change, the very minute you pull that gun out and squeeze the trigger, shoot somebody and your life will never be the same,” said Michael Cargill. Cargill is the owner of Central Texas Gun Work, and an instructor for concealed handgun licensing classes. He promotes safety and gun knowledge as the basis of his class, “the gun is the last line of defense, you have other options first,” said Cargill.

Having a license to carry a concealed handgun was legalized underSenate Bill 60 in 1995. Recently however there has been much scrutiny in the media for acts of gun control. Joseph Farror an advocate for gun rights said, “I think we should be able to have our guns, if the president is protected by guns, we should be able to protect ourselves.”

For a person to obtain a concealed handgun license in the state of Texas they must meet a multitude of requirements. According to chapter 411 section 172 of the law enforcement and public protection agency of the Texas Department of Public Safety one must be a legal resident of the state for a minimum of six months, over the age of 21, have never been convicted of a felony or class A or B misdemeanor, is not delinquent of child support payment, not a chemically dependent person, and of sound mind.

White males are overwhelmingly the largest demographic wanting to receive their concealed handgun license. They are responsible for 63.33% of the total applicants approved for licensing in 2013, while African American’s were the third largest demographic with just 5.41% of approved applications or 13,133 out of 242,641 license received. Cargill says those fighting for the abolishment of the right to carry a concealed handgun, should look at the statics to see the people with have concealed handgun license are not the people committing acts of gun violence.

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The most recent statistics of gun violence in Texas was taken between January 1, 2012 and December 31, 2012. These statistics show that there were 63,272 total convictions of gun violence in people over the age of 21. Out of this total only 120 of these convictions were committed by concealed handgun license holders. That is just .1879%.

As of January 2014 Illinois became the last state to allow concealed weapons. Not every state requires individuals to have a license to carry, but all states permit concealed handguns after obtaining a concealed handgun permit.

The Stars at Night

The tips of sprawling tree branches are silhouetted against an early evening sky as the sun sets in Dripping Springs, Texas, on March 1.

By Katie Paschall, Matt Reese and Taylor Prewitt

For those who have experienced it, few sights can compare to a true Texas night sky. The vast open space coupled with the twinkle of thousands of stars provide a view that can move the soul, that can give peace of mind and that can inspire awe beyond belief.

For those who haven’t, you are missing out.

This is why the town of Dripping Springs, Texas takes the subject of light conservation so seriously.

“We want people to immediately notice our environment when they visit,” said Mayor Todd Purcell. “The beauty of the Hill Country is not lost on our, people. Yet, it is celebrated and preserved.”

The small town of 1,900 people is located only 25 miles southwest of Austin, but the setting could not be more different. Where Austin has tall skyscrapers, Dripping Springs biggest building is the HEB.

In the city, lights are on 24/7. In Dripping Springs, most lights are required to shut off by 2 a.m. And where the Austin sky is clouded with light pollution, the Dripping Springs sky is as clear as the spring water from which the town is named.

Because of this, in February, the International Dark Sky Association named Dripping Springs a “Dark Sky Community,” one of only six in the entire world, and the only community in Texas.

“Dripping Springs joins a select club as the world’s sixth Dark Sky Community,” said IDA executive director Bob Parks in the award announcement. “They’ve embraced smart lighting through effective controls that improve visibility, while preserving the night sky.”

The IDA was founded in 1988, in Flagstaff, Ariz. They were the first organization to call attention to the growing amount of light pollution produced by humans. According to their manifesto, the IDA promotes one simple idea, “Light what you need, when you need it.”

“We know some light at night is necessary for safety and recreation,” Parks said. We work with manufacturers, planners, legislators, and citizens to provide energy efficient options that direct the light where you want it to go, not uselessly up into the sky.”

Translucent clouds gently float across the night sky as calm winds roll through Dripping Springs, Texas, on March 1.

Translucent clouds gently float across the night sky as calm winds roll through Dripping Springs, Texas, on March 1.

Their biggest goal, however, is to raise public awareness about light pollution.

“Many people don’t know what light pollution is, let alone its negative effects,” said Cindy Luongo Cassidy, President of Green Earth Lighting. “It’s a shame, really, that more and more cities are succumbing to high pollution levels.”

Light pollution can be defined as the excessive growth of obtrusive artificial light produced by man-made light sources. Most light pollution occurs in urban areas, though, the problem has started to spread to a number of rural areas according to an IDA report in 2012.

There are several types of light pollution, including light trespass, over-illumination, glare, light clutter, and skyglow. Each of these can negatively affect the area where light pollution is present. The loss of the natural night sky, though, is not the only negative consequence of light pollution. The biggest effect pollution has on the environment is energy waste.

That same IDA report showed that each year during daylight savings, Terna — Italy’s biggest energy provider — saves nearly 650 million kWh in electric consumption, due to the lesser need to light the city during sunlight. This equates to roughly $300 million saved in energy bills.

A large Oak tree is softly illuminated as the moon hangs above in the night sky in Dripping Springs, Texas, on March 1.

A large Oak tree is softly illuminated as the moon hangs in the night sky in Dripping Springs, Texas, on March 1.

Recent studies have shown that over-illumination can have a negative effect on human health and psychology. Exposure to excessive light pollution can increase headaches, cause worker fatigue, medically defined stress, increase anxiety, and even decrease sexual function.

In June 2009, the American Medical Association created a policy in an attempt to control light pollution, due to its negative health effects. Humans, though, are not the only affected. When light pollution is destructive of natural ecosystems and animal habitats, it’s called ecological light pollution. Delicate ecosystems from a zooplankton colony of algae to sea turtle hatchings have been destroyed because of artificial light, suggests a 2009 study by the Ecological Society of America.

There have also been studies suggesting anxiety growth in animals who are exposed to over-illumination. As light pollution begins to spread, these negative effects are starting to become a more serious problem.

“We know the problems that light pollution causes,” Cassidy said. “It’s our job to prevent these from growing. To preserve not only the night sky, but our entire environment. Our sights are now set on San Antonio and Austin. Big cities are just as capable of light conservation as the small towns.”

The IDA is currently working with Austin legislators to create city ordinances that prevent light pollution, and promote light conservation.

“The night sky, in its purest form, is one of the most surreal natural wonders of our universe,” Parks said. “It’s up to us as humans to preserve it.”