I’ve lived in Austin for seven years, and within those seven years my feelings toward the city have oscillated. I’ve fallen head over heels in love, I’ve been heartbroken over change and I’ve been inspired by a new kind of affection. I fall into one or all of these categories at any single time.
In 2012, I wrote the pro-growth article “Austin is Ch-Ch-Changing: Give up the Hate and Embrace the Non-Natives Who Make Our City Great,” but one year later I questioned Austin’s rapid growth with the article “Austin Changing: Why My Love for Austin is Being Challenged.” Sometimes I felt like a teenager girl, yo-yoing between her emotions. Do I love Austin? Do I hate Austin? How do I feel about this complex and complicated city?
I look back on these articles with both empathy and embarrassment. Look how silly that girl was, thinking she understood Austin! And I know I’ll one day look back on this article with equal sentiment.
It wasn’t until recently, when I was faced with the prospect of leaving Austin, that I realized the answer didn’t have to be black and white. One can love their city but be frustrated with the direction it’s going in, as I imagine one can hate their city but encounter beautiful moments that remind them why they continue to live here.
You see, even though I’m frustrated that the futures of iconic landmarks such as Hole in the Wall hang in the air, I’m disappointed with the plethora of characterless condos being built and I’m puzzled by the influx of people who would never categorize themselves as “weird,” I still kind of like this city. It’s still better than a lot of places.
That’s not to say I feel ambivalence toward Austin; it’s quite the contrary. I no longer feel the need to have one single opinion about the city. As the city grows, so do I. We all do. And our opinions can take a new form.
When Austin is bad, she is still good, because at her core she has the best of intentions. She’s progressive, she’s open and she’s creative, but that doesn’t mean I don’t fear this can all change. I worry that the economic gap will widen, our environment will be sacrificed and our character will be compromised. I worry for our brothers and sisters of color being pushed out of the city. I worry that our city officials will not manage growth in a way that is smart. I worry that money will rise above all else. I worry that Austin will become the face of what is ugly with America.
But I hope and I act because I know the city was built on a system of listening. Sometimes our voices are heard and sometimes they’re not, but we are not powerless. It is each citizen’s responsibility to help steer this ship on the right course, and if you find that you’ve sailed into a brick wall, let’s break it down together.
And I ask newcomers, as presumptuous as it is, on the behalf of people who love Austin to please do right by you AND Austin. Yes, she is a land of plenty, but please don’t pillage. Please open yourself up and add to what makes Austin special.
I recently watched the Richard Linklater film “slacker”. When I visited austin it reminded me of my home in california, I would go on to drive 6 hours each way from my home to the city 7 times within approx 3-4 months. but I started to notice after a while how annoying it could be… the traffic, the yuppies, UT republicans, the commoditization of weirdness by people that are by no means weird!! In ‘slacker’ the city just seemed so different, less cars, more casualness, less pretentiousness, more home-y,less flashy, more down to earth, less hollywood and more indie it had changed so much and realized what change meant. I hope these trends are only temporary in not just this city but other burgeoning ones across the country.
“the city was built on a system of listening.” To whom? Ask the African-Americans who were legislated by the 1920 city plan over to the east side of what is now I-35 about how the people running the city listened to them. (Spoiler alert: They didn’t. They forced the black population over there after cutting off civic services like trash removal, parks, and schools for years.) Ask the few remaining people of color who still live on the east side whether their city listened to them before selling out to developers. Ask the parents of students in eastside schools whether the AISD school board listens to their concerns (when there is one representative for 28 eastside schools, when other AISD district reps speak for half as many).
This city is built on a system of listening to white people with power and money, and to claim otherwise is disingenuous and/or willfully ignorant.
Hey Lauren, I’ve been reading your blog for as long as I’ve lived here — just three years this past August.
When I first visited Austin in 2012, I was stunned by the character, the uniqueness, the smell of the jasmine blooming. I was in awe that a place could be so warm and welcoming and accessible. I can’t speak to all of the injustice that has occured, and frankly I get annoyed when people bitch about changes here — that’s what cities DO. They change. We hope, for the better.
When I visit other places, I miss it here. Not in the “can’t-live-anywhere-else” feeling but in the “I know where I’m supposed to be at this time in life” feeling. Thanks for writing so many articles that speak to the variety of feelings we can have about place.
Like you, I did some time in California and man that will really fuck you up! 😉
And for anyone who is not happy here, I’d say get involved. With the local politics, a hobby you like, a sport, etc. Anytime I have wanted to change my habits or my social circle here it’s been found and I totally love that about it.
Very interesting post, as always. I am not living in Austin but considering moving there (sorry!), however, I have to say when I was there recently I was really wondering where all the alternative people were. I was expecting a lot more “weird” and a lot less mainstream America but I am hoping that if/when I move, I can find some kindred souls. I am currently living in a “booming” European city where we have the exact same issues, poorer people getting pushed out as the previous poor areas become “up and coming”, less and less alternative people and shops, more and more expensive, mainstream stores appearing on the main street.
I sympathize with the gentrification going on in your city. Austin certainly has that funky character but it many ways its been commoditized , and instead of being more dense like in europe and many other ‘smart’ cities- San francisco, new york, boston, portland-its very suburban and spread out. It’s certainly a yuppie haven with a lot of chain restaurants popping up in formerly indie places like The Drag, across Univ of Texas campus. The ‘weirdness’ is definitely not that common, hey I’d even say Pittsburgh was weirder, you need to go out of your way to find quirky stuff. A 2 mile radius from downtown Austin is really where are the cool areas are, away from that it becomes almost any other suburbia in Texas.
I am sad to hear of the most recent information about Hole in the Wall. I moved back to Chicago and felt the same way here. Learning of the bar/restaurant’s struggles to stay open, makes me realize that Austin may be becoming to large for me, and makes me wonder if it might be true that I’m not missing much, as Austin continues to grow. I miss Austin uncontrollably, but I always loved it for the small town feel. Now, with blogs I still follow, seeing it growing larger and larger, makes me feel like the city is losing its magic and wonder…
Told Ya So!!!
25 year resident
My family has been here for a century. You are utterly clueless. No I won’t explain it, but rest assured that this city was dead long before seven years ago.
That’s ok. I didn’t need you to explain to me if you have that attitude.
Hi Lauren. I just discovered your blog (via the “Fear” billboard being shared on Facebook), and I really appreciate your fresh approach to things.
I have lived here since I was 15 years old, and I spent a lot of time as a teenager on the Drag. I would pretend to be a UT student and drink cappuccino at Quackenbush’s. Yes, I even went to Liberty Lunch countless times. I practically lived there. When I graduated from high school in 1991, Richard Linklater’s film “Slacker” was hot. It played at the Dobie for at least a year. I went to see it with a group of friends who were also Drag rats and I was pleasantly surprised to find that one of the characters was wearing the t-shirt I had on (purchased from a merchant on the Drag)! Austin was wonderful. People were complaining back then that it was changing too fast, but I didn’t understand all that. I was only 18.
Twenty-seven years later and my head is spinning with all the condos going up downtown. The traffic, which started getting really bad in 1996, is only getting worse. I have friends that are leaving. All of this makes me sad. Our quiet downtown is now bustling (which is kind of a good thing), and all the old havens are dying out. I guess some of the change makes me happy, and some of it makes me really sad.
I can only imagine what it was like back then. I feel like Slacker is such a great time capsule. My bf has lived here almost 20 years, and the changes have also startled him. I try to go to the old-school “Austin” places and hold on to them tightly. Sadly, many of them are going away too.