In February, I had the wonderful opportunity of going with a group of Grand Rapidians to visit Austin, Texas with the goal of learning about the city and exchanging ideas with its leaders.
Perfect timing. It was cold and miserable in Grand Rapids while biking weather in Austin.
But the experience was so much more than the weather. Austin is an interesting city….not only is it different from other large cities in the U.S. but it’s not at all like the other big Texas cities. A world of its own.
It’s motto: “Keep Austin Weird.”
Before going on the trip, I read a book written about five years ago by by Joshua Long, titled “Weird City: Sense of Place and Creative Resistance in Austin, Texas” who took the question “What makes Austin weird?” and used it for his Ph’d program. Just that is a little weird, don’t you think?
You see, Austin is going through some tremendous growth and lots of the locals weren’t happy about it.
They wanted things to stay the same.
What did that mean? They didn’t want the elements typically associated with growth: suburban sprawl, traffic congestion, big box store dominance and homogenizing development. Long, in his book, describes some of the fights over change.
The folks Joshua Long interviewed wanted to hang on to the values of non-conformity and creativity. They love their bat colony, strange yard art, Moonlight towers (used in place of street lights), Spamarama and many other examples of silliness.
So, I too, went in search of Austin’s weirdness and why is it so attractive to creative people. Not sure I have an answer but my blog posts will attempt to communicate what I saw in the city in my brief three days of tours.
This city has gone from a small hippie cowboy town of 250,000 people to over a million in about 20 years. All the problems of growth abound made worse with the lack of a cohesive transportation system.
They are just getting a rent-a-bike system popular and successful in cities around the world.
Affordable housing, education, city services are stretched and challenged as the city deals with the fact it is so popular, hip and cool. Simply put: Lots of people want to live in Austin.
And the growth continues. We learned from a city official that 100 people move there every day and they get 75 new cars every day. Every day! That’s staggering.
Hard to imagine that it can retain it’s “Weirdness.”
Everywhere we looked on our walks around town we saw construction cranes. I laughed when I heard someone say, “Our city bird is the crane.” I heard that in Shanghai ten years ago when I visited that city. Evidently the birds have migrated.
More on Austin in future weeks.
For blogs I wrote about Austin a couple of years ago click here.