Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Houston leading the rise of America's third coast

Just a few small items this week:
The one thing he grants is truly weird about Austin was the population's hatred of ease of transit, an antipathy manifested by residents' refusal to do anything to alleviate their woes."More highways will make us just like Houston and Dallas!" is the rallying cry, and to be like those towns would not be weird. 
But to people who have actually been to all three cities recently, it's apparent that they are already more alike than different. "I cannot truck people who say they don't want Austin to become Dallas or Houston, because it is," says Patoski. 
Nowhere is that more apparent than downtown, where the past ten years have been home to a crass real estate boom that would shame even Donald Trump. Austin's downtown was once home to much that was funky, family-owned and attitude-free.
Writing on the Web site Newgeography.com, Aaron Renn wonders if they have earned the right to such snobbery. He believes that what they see as progressivism could also be interpreted as "White Flight writ large." Say you grew up in the suburbs of Dallas or Houston and would love to be in the middle of the action of the big city, but places like Oak Cliff or Houston's East End are just a little too real for you, with their methadone clinics, police sirens and 24-hour cantinas.

In Renn's view, that's where places like Austin come in. Why move to or stay in the suburbs of your square city to escape minorities and get slammed as a bigot for doing so, when you can move to some hep place like Austin and win praise for your progressivism?

"They often think that by moving to Austin they have done something great for humanity," notes Youssefnia.

Smugness about their monochromatic progressivism is just one aspect of "Austitude," a collective municipal narcissism shared by so many Austinites. To them, Austin is better, smarter, friendlier and utterly unlike everywhere else in Texas. Austitude is very prevalent not only in Austin but also in California, a prime source of migrants to Austin since the 1990s tech boom.

Tell Austinites that you live in Houston, and some will actually say to your face, "Oh, I'm so sorry." Delia Swanner, a Houston native now living in California, says she is sick of hearing Californians — even ones who've never been to any city in Texas — tell her Austin is the only place in Texas they'd consider living. 
Today's Houston finds more rising young rock bands choosing to stay here than at any time since the 1960s. Fitzgerald's is back as a cutting-edge venue after years in lunk-core alt-rock purgatory. The Heights, Houston's own mini-Austin, is filling up with fun beer gardens and low-key restaurants, and there are other scattered pockets of cool in Montrose, the Museum District and the East End. Taking in a concert in Discovery Green can trick you into thinking you are in Chicago, only with better weather, and Austin so loved our Art Car Parade, they've attempted to steal the entire concept, just as they've attempted to steal the memory of our Townes Van Zandt/Guy Clark/Steve Earle/Rodney Crowell songwriting history.

What's more, Houston is a city and proud of it. Masliyah loves living in the kind of city where it's easy for her to buy her dressmaking supplies and also to travel the world without leaving home. "The other day I went shopping at Phoenicia and it was like I'd gone around the world," she says. Youssefnia also loves Houston's cosmopolitan atmosphere and realistic sense of itself.

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At 10:54 PM, July 19, 2011, Blogger Anphang said...

As an Austinite who is as flabbergasted as Lomax to find that so few notice how crassly Austin's history has been bottled and sold for the benefit of out-of-staters, I still have to wonder why so many local commentators seem to suffer a sort of inverse "Austitude," making good sport out of identifying those aspects of Austin they find most objectionable. Actually, in my more spiteful moments, I wonder if it's simply the easiest way for a non-Austinite, nonpolitical counter-culture type to make conversation with his fellow (in this case) Houstonite.

To speak to the former set of articles, I have to say that I like Joel Kotkin a lot - except when he feeds the worst victimization and inferiority complexes of Southern culture to bash the East and West Coasts. I feel like this is the domestic variant of the same issues that cause anti-globalization types to fear or scheme against the rise of Asian countries. The growth of the South is not just some kind of existential threat to the coasts of America, but also a huge opportunity for them to reform old institutions and break new ground at the same time.

Finally, I'd rather listen to actual market analysts rather than prognosticators of the same when reading about business-friendly practices. This is especially true when the consensus on what constitutes "business friendliness" always seems to boil down to good schools, market stability, and governmental predictability. Of course, business owners and shareholders would rather have higher profits and margins than lower ones, so we hear about low taxes and fewer regulations - but if Sweden and Singapore can both be globally competitive, I'm pretty sure there are multiple economic "sweet spots" on the left-right spectrum.

At 8:51 PM, July 20, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having lived in Austin from 1996 to 2003 (after also being a student 89-90), I agree that the place was overrated. And yes, locals and the media were very smug about how much more desirable Austin allegedly is in comparison to especially Houston and also Dallas. Sure, the place has its distinctive features, but the drawbacks become increasingly annoying and take precedence once you are no longer a twenty-something.
1. Concentration of night-life and activity downtown geared for the 20-something crowd, not much anywhere else
2. Well-known deficient freeways and streets. It became tiring to constantly drive narrow streets through neighborhoods all the time (ie 45th, Enfield). Loop 360 and its signals became sooooo tiring.
3. Much of the town is rather unsightly. Locals seem to gloss over this. I'm talking about everything east of I-35, Burnet road (also very narrow), North Lamar (north of 45th), and especially the I-35 corridor itself
4. Most suburbs are below the standards of Houston and Dallas in terms of attractiveness and home quality. Especially true east of I-35 and in Pflugerville. Nicer places in the west are much more expensive and have poor roads (RM 620, for example)
5. Lack of major international airport. Things are somewhat better now, but it was a huge deal in the 1990s when Austin-San Jose service was launched (ie the nerd-bird)
6. Semi-arid climate and drought. It seemed like there was a drought 50% of the time, and lake Travis looks horrible when the water gets low.
7. Less of everything. Bigger cities have more bars, restaurants and entertainment opportunities
8. Double standard on urban density. All the new urbanism types promote density, but in-town neighborhoods fight like hell to stop it in their neighborhoods.
9. This could be open to argument, but I think the music scene was overrated. My perception is that there's more going on in Dallas and Houston, mainly due to sheer size
10. And did I mention horribly substandard freeways and streets, nonstop controversy about doing anything about it and ultimately little being done?


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