I admit it. I am one of the thousands of people who have moved to Austin in the past 10 years. I moved here in 2009 with my wife and our then 13 year old cat. We had been here twice before; first time, for me, was in 2007 when we did some shows at SXSW. The second time in 2008, when we had just gotten married and chose Austin as our honeymoon destination.
I fell in love with Austin. It was easy. It was way different from Sweden, where I had spent all my life. The mentality here was just so liberating – easygoing, laid back, open minded and respectful. People where genuinely nice and, it seemed, happy with life. Much more so than I had ever experienced anywhere else. I loved the heat and the humidity – I still do – and I felt like this was home, although I had never been here before.
I guess we came here just moments before the floodgates broke and the dam gave way, because in the past three or so years, it seems Austin has changed. For the worse, if you ask me. I see it every day; the increased traffic, the rudeness and stress in people’s faces, the decreasing number of people that say “Hi” when you pass them in the street. The increase of hipsters and the disappearance of baggy shorts, big t-shirts and flip flops in the streets and on the restaurants patio’s. Something has gone missing. The laid back spirit that I came to experience and fall in love with has been replaced, it seems, by a growing level of stressed out people who seem to be in some sort of race. A race to get there first, to pay more, to build bigger (and in most cases, uglier) to move “forward” whatever that means and to generally compete. It’s like a gold rush all over again and these people, this mentality, this greed, is killing the true spirit of what so many of us fell in love with in the first place. The city is growing and, sure, it’s improving, but if you can’t afford to be in the race there’s really nothing improving for you. Rents have sky rocketed, housing prices are through the roof, the roads are congested (some mornings it takes me an astounding 20 minutes to go from South Lamar, by the new Alamo – and don’t get me started on that whole development – to Cesar Chavez. It’s crazy. There’s a railway track running all the way parallel with South Lamar – why not put a commuter train or tram on that stretch? There could be stops all the way from Ben White, Town Lake, Enfield, 38th, 45th, Anderson Ln and so on.
All these new apartment complexes…I have to say that it seems like the architects all lost their sense of innovation, creativity and design. All over town, these boxy, ugly places are popping up. 300 new units here and 300 new units there and everyone’s got their own car and everyone’s gonna join everyone else on the streets in the morning and afternoon rush hours. And as much as I dislike it, I find myself living in one of these places. My wife and I were fortunate to get a one bedroom – an affordable housing unit – on South Lamar and I love the location. I love the fact that there is a courtesy officer on site that you can call if someone is loud late in the evening, I love the closeness to the greenbelt and all the restaurants around here. We can’t afford to go out to eat right now, but some day we will and I look forward to it. “Affordable” btw means half my paycheck and maybe that says more about my salary than the prices on rent, but if we hadn’t gotten the affordable housing deal, our apartment would cost $1600 / m. That’s crazy, if you ask me, but I guess people make that kind of money these days and can afford to pay that much for living?
All these things going on. And still. I love Austin. I absolutely love living here and I really want to stay here, I have no wish to go back to Sweden and nowhere else I’d rather live but here. I’m not saying that everything was better before, but we need to stop for a moment and think about what kind f city we want to build for ourselves? Is it going to be an including, diverse, exciting, creative city where the old Austin can live together with the new, or is it just going to be a luxurious playground for those who can afford to pay up? I just wish that this expansion madness would slow down. It needs to. It has to, because Austin – the Austin I fell in love with 8 years ago is disappearing. And that is just too sad. Maybe I don’t have the right, the authority to talk about Austin like this, being a newbie myself, but I love Austin and I don’t want Austin to become what it is becoming.
I call this picture “Remnants of Weird” because it embodies everything that’s going on in Austin right now. You’ve got the old institutions; Saxon Pub with it’s guarding knight by the street, South Austin Music with that spinning guitar, a sense of the old, weird, unique being pushed out before our eyes and replaced by yet another large boxy apartment complex. Streamlined. Soulless. Soon all that’s left will be apartments and hip expensive places to spend all that IT / web designer money and the old Austin will move further out, or maybe somewhere else all together and then you’re going to have to come up with a new, more accurate city slogan, ‘cos you’re not keeping it weird anymore.