Austin, Texas, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, is experiencing one of the most dynamic periods in its history. Wedged between homogenizing growth and a long tradition of rebellious nonconformity, many Austinites feel that they are in the midst of a battle for the city's soul.
From this struggle, a movement has emerged as a form of resistance to the rapid urban transformation brought about in recent years: "Keep Austin Weird" originated in 2000 as a grassroots expression of place attachment and anti-commercialization. Its popularity has led to its use as a rallying cry for local business, as a rhetorical tool by city governance, and now as the unofficial civic motto for a city experiencing rapid growth and transformation.
By using "Keep Austin Weird" as a central focus, Joshua Long explores the links between sense of place, consumption patterns, sustainable development, and urban politics in Austin. Research on this phenomenon considers the strong influence of the "Creative Class" thesis on Smart Growth strategies, gentrification, income inequality, and social polarization made popular by the works of Richard Florida. This study is highly applicable to several emerging "Creative Cities," but holds special significance for the city considered the greatest creative success story, Austin.
- Interlude 1: Welcome Home
- Chapter One: Why Weird?
- Chapter Two: A Little Background Music
- Chapter Three: Austin Emerging
- Interlude 2: Lofts Ascending
- Chapter Four: Aliens, Affluence, and Abnormality
- Chapter Five: Keeping It Weird
- Interlude 3: The King and Queen of Weird Austin
- Chapter Six: Sense of Place, Conflict, and Creative Resistance
- Postscript: For the Theoretically Inclined
- Appendix A: Annotated Glossary of Terms
- Appendix B: Suggestions for Further Reading
- Appendix C: Map of Interview Locations
Cities are exceptionally dynamic places. To write about a city is to write about an evolving cultural landscape amidst an unremitting struggle for identity, meaning, and power. Austin is certainly no different. This book provides a temporary vignette of Austin at the outset of the twenty-first century—arguably one of the most dynamic periods in the city's history. Some of the highlighted stories in this text are still ongoing, their fates subject to city council decisions, policy debates, or changes in the global economy. But despite these factors, the central theme of this book remains as poignant as ever. Wedged between homogenizing growth and a long tradition of rebellious nonconformity, many Austinites still feel that they are in the midst of a battle for the city's soul. Some feel that they are making progress in this struggle. Others feel that the battle is already lost.
Interestingly, Austinites aren't alone. Throughout the United States, growing midsize cities are searching for a balance between the prosperity of new development and the unique character of their cultural landscapes. It is little wonder that dozens of "Keep ____ Weird" movements have popped up all over the country (Boulder, Colorado; Portland, Oregon; and Louisville, Kentucky, are just a few examples). In recounting the story of the "Keep Austin Weird" movement, this book reveals some of the unique ways in which people demonstrate attachment to place or sense of place. Ultimately, this story demonstrates an already well-accepted notion: cities are what we make of them. Without a devoted citizenry, cities are likely to lose the unique cultural character that makes them desirable places to live, work, and play. I suspect that the story of Austin might encourage people to participate more actively in their city's planning process; encourage city governance to hold all-night, open city council meetings; and encourage each reader to contribute to his or her cultural landscape in an authentic and creative way. At least, that's my hope.
By Joshua Long
A native Texan who lived and worked in the Austin area for more than twenty years, Joshua Long is Assistant Professor of Social Sciences at Franklin College Switzerland in Lugano, Switzerland.
"This is an excellent treatment of place meaning and resistance. It is a clear and compelling case study of the defensive struggle to preserve a sense of place. Its numerous quotes thoroughly convey a particular vision of place captured by the term 'weird' and reveal the economic, social and political dimensions of that vision. . . . It should be a very popular book among Austinites but also outside of Austin among urban geographers, planners, urban sociologists, and others interested in the politics of place and urban development."
—Paul C. Adams, Associate Professor of Geography, University of Texas at Austin