catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 13, Num 9 :: 2014.05.02 — 2014.05.15


Your city is calling

Keep Austin Weird.  The Live Music Capital of the World. The New Silicon Valley.

Oh, how I love my city, Austin!  And oh, how very much the rest of the world loves Austin these days, too.  I live in what is now the fastest growing city in America, according to some sources.  Approximately 275 people move here every week.  Rent used to be affordable — not anymore.  Real estate prices have skyrocketed; homes that were selling for $85,000 ten years ago are now going for $285,000.  For most of us here in Austin, the recession never touched us.

Many Austinites are not happy about the growth.  New condominiums are built where it was once green and lovely, and the traffic is getting worse by the minute.  Last year, someone started selling shirts at the South by Southwest festival that read, “Welcome to Austin! Please don’t move here. I hear Dallas is great!”

I’m not a native Austinite, but I feel like one.  I grew up in Spring, one of the many cookie-cutter suburbs of Houston, but I’ve been coming to Austin my whole life to visit extended family.  The first time I swam in Barton Springs, our legendary, naturally spring-fed swimming pool, I was a mere seven or eight years old.  The chill of the cold water, 67 degrees year round, thrilled me every time.  “There’s nothing like this at home,” I always thought to myself in wonder, as I lay floating under the brilliant blue sky and staring up at the towering tree branches that stretch out over the banks of the pool.  

The University of Texas (UT) has always felt like a familiar place to me. Guadalupe Street runs along the west side of the campus, and it used to be peppered primarily with local businesses. I remember shopping in this area, known as the Drag, with my cousin when we were in junior high, strutting down the sidewalk and feeling incredibly cool.  Now it’s almost entirely filled with chain stores and restaurants.  

I have other memories of those early experiences in Austin: going to see shows at the Zach Theatre, our local professional theatre company; jogging around the track at Camp Mabry, the army base that sits smack dab in the middle of town; watching the circus at the Erwin Center, our stadium on the UT campus; climbing up the steps to Mount Bonnell, the best scenic overlook and, so I heard later, make-out spot in the city.

Every time I returned home after a visit to Austin, as a child and then a young adult, I always felt as though I’d left a little bit of my heart behind.  Austin seemed to be everything Spring was not.  Spring is full of tall, spindly pine trees that drop needles everywhere.  The houses all look the same.  The streets are laid out in clear rows on a grid — no curves or twists or turns — and they are lined with garish, overgrown billboards.  The land lies flat; there’s no need for gears on your bike in Spring. Chain stores and restaurants are on every corner.

Austin, by contrast, seemed a wonderland: green hills; rivers and lakes; full, luscious oak and pecan trees; streets that move and turn and hold unexpected surprises around every bend; charming old houses full of character, painted in every color of the rainbow; and local businesses full of quirky, unique goods.

I will never forget my visit to Austin as senior in high school, twenty years ago this fall.  I came for my interview and audition for the School of Music at UT.  Of course I planned to go to UT.  I never seriously considered going anywhere else.  Austin was in my blood by then.

My father drove me and my best friend, who joined me to offer moral support.  I could barely contain the anticipation that was bubbling under my skin, knowing that I would soon be moving to Austin for school.  As we headed south toward campus from our hotel, my dad decided to avoid some of the traffic on Guadalupe, and cut west to a parallel street, Lamar Boulevard.  We passed shops and restaurants, a post office and a florist.  

Then, rounding the curve in the road at 29th Street, all the buildings and signs suddenly fell away, and there were only trees and hills before me.  Green fields ran alongside us, spilling into a bubbling creek bed that beckoned us to come and play.  There were no billboards, no stores or apartments — just the beauty of the land, rolling in green abundance. At that moment, I felt as though there were more wonderful possibilities ahead for me than I could even conceive.  I was absolutely bursting with dreams.  The options were limitless.  The rest of my life stretched before me, and I just knew it would be full of wonderful.

I often remember that moment now, when I’m driving down Lamar and I cross 29th Street.  I still love Austin fiercely. I’ve moved to Austin five different times.  I’ve moved away from Austin four times. I traveled a lot over the years, and even ended up finishing my degree elsewhere. But no matter where the road led, Austin continued to call me back home.  Perhaps, as cities go, she is my first love.  

I’ve now been here for 10 years.  I settled down, got married, have two kids and a household to manage, yet there are still many moments — crossing 29th Street on Lamar, or floating in the beautiful blue beyond at Barton Springs — when I feel that same thrill of anticipation, that same sense that anything is possible.

I think that’s why so many people come to Austin and want to stay.  I get it.  Austin is a city for dreamers and do-ers.  There’s something magical about it that gets under your skin and begs you to believe in it and call it home.  And because I chose to believe, I completely understand and sympathize with the hundreds of people that move to this lovely city every week.   How can I get angry at them?  I’m one of them.  

The real question is whether all the growth will change Austin so completely that it becomes a different city altogether.  As more trees come down and more developments go up, as more local businesses are pushed out by chains and national retailers, as housing becomes more and more expensive and families find themselves pushed to the suburbs, I wonder: what will become of the heart and soul of Austin?  I don’t know.  But for better or for worse, I’m here, and if anything, I love her more than ever. 

Austin, I want to keep you as weird as I can for as long as possible.  Thank you for taking me in and loving me well. Peace.

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