Austin's unique "BE"

Monday, April 6, 2009

Michael Barnes - Austin as "Open City"

One of our thought partners on Austin Equation, Michael blogs about Austin as an "Open City." He also explains his preference over Richard Florida's notion of "Tolerant."

We have reposted his blogposts here.

Michael Barnes

Austin as Open City 1

Today, I had planned to nominate “Open City” as Austin’s new sobriquet.
Yet our hometown acted more like “Closed City” after the mall and the club partially shut down during Texas Relays weekend, the city’s premier African American social event, in fear of rowdiness.

At parties all weekend, including some Relays-related ones, hosts and guests expressed concern, outrage or just plain befuddlement over the closings, agreeing with City Manager Marc Ott , who said: “I find this not to be consistent with the way I’ve come to know Austin.”
Certainly not the Austin I encounter, night after night, as your social columnist.
Some activists have called for boycotts. In the case of already beleaguered Highland Mall, that might inadvertently hasten the demise of the largest retail outlet convenient to many African Americans. What would that solve?
And what of the feared rowdiness?
I walked up and down East Sixth Street late Saturday night. It was no different from any other frisky, holiday weekend night, except the skirts appeared a bit shorter and the heels a bit higher.
Who sent out that style memo?
More to come…
Austin as Open City 2

Austin has suffered through a history of cursed slogans.

More than 100 years ago, short story writer O. Henryintroduced “The City of the Violet Crown,” a rather ephemeral catchphrase, based on atmospheric phenomena, not a headdress worn during pagan seasonal rites, as one might guess.

austinsunset.jpgAnybody notice a violet haze over the hills recently? I thought not. 
Fifty years earlier, a French traveller suggested something like “City of 12,000 Mounds,” an unflattering reference to Rome’s eternal seven hills.
Actually, I think he meant it as a compliment.
Through most of the 20th Century, Austin made do with “River City,” a  rallying cry it shared with 5,763 other North American burgs, including the fictional location of “The Music Man.”
The name survives through businesses and teams such as River City Aquatics, River City Rangers Soccer Club and River City Donuts.
Really? River City was the best our fore-parents could do? Well, Houston was known as “Bayou City” before it became “Space City.” Not much more concise.
More to come…
Austin as Open City 3
Mustachioed former flower salesman and city council member Max Nofziger pushed through “Live Music Capital of the World.”
While the claim stuck, the trademark remains controversial because of the original per-capita-music calculations, and because, as this column has pointed out before, we don’t support a music industry. We support a liquor industry fronted by some very talented, underpaid musicians.
Nofziger’s gift has also inspired hundreds of imitators, such as, for South Austin, “Live Taco Trailer Capital of the World,” and, for downtown, “Live Wine Bar Capital of the World.” (OK, I just made those up.)
A few years back, billboards popped up with the phrase “Idea City” accompanied by a fanciful city skyline.
I liked that — short, sweet, descriptive of Austin’s newly celebrated creative class.
Turns out it was the name of advertising giant GSD&M’s headquarters on West Sixth Street. Austin loses again on the watchword front.
Leadership Austin’s Heather McKissick and Bootstrap’s Austin’s Bijoy Goswami are currently noodling on a clever new city slogan. I’ll let them reveal their brainchild officially in their own good time, but if you want a preview, just Google their names.
As so often with the Internet, all will be revealed.
More to come …
Austin as Open City 4
“Open City” came to me while “brainstorming” with Heather McKissick and Bijoy Goswami the other day at Dominican Joe coffee house on Riverside Drive. (I prefer that colloquial term to “spit-balling” or, worse, “blue-skying.”)
My nomination for city slogan starts with an airy vowel, clipped by a crisp consonant, ending after only four syllables.
And it is, so to speak, “open” to numerous interpretations. Austinites are naturally open to change, innovation and difference. Yet they are also congenitally open to preservation, conservation and authenticity.
I like “open” better than the related and widely trafficked “tolerant.” In “The Rise of the Creative Class,” his mash note to Austin and her sister cities, Richard Florida theorized that those thriving centers remained healthy, economically, after the information revolution because they were “tolerant.”
I’ve lost my taste for that word. It sounds condescending, as in “we don’t approve of you, but we can, for the sake of business, tolerate you.” That’s not the Austin I want to live in.
Because of a twisted youth, “Open City” also reminds me of the Roberto Rossellini ’s 1945 neo-realist movie “Roma: Città Aperta.” The title translates, of course, to “Rome: Open City.”
The subtitle relates to a wartime option used when a threatened city is abandoned in order to save its landmarks and civilians, as the Germans and Italians opted with Rome, retreating before the Allies in World War II.
I daydream that Austin could be considered an open city in the culture wars. As rural and (mostly) western Texans tangle with urban and (mostly) eastern and central Texans — Rep. Tom Craddick vs. Rep. Joe Straus ; Gov. Rick Perry vs. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison , to use red-only examples — Austin could become the place where a truce allows both sides to lay down their arms to relax, reflect and recreate.
Hey, isn’t that what happens anyway when the Legislature is in session? Even though politically motivated Austin-bashing may erupt, the legislators, aides, lobbyists and state employees take advantage of our physical and cultural amenities. Believe me when I say they do.
I’m the one roaming the Open City.


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