an exploration of urban identity in the middle of Texas
Mourning what’s dying is child’s play. Seeing what’s being born is a lot harder and more interesting. See, for example, Billy Joel’s “Allentown.” At the same time he was crooning his ode to those dark satanic mills, the actual unemployment rates in Allentown were dropping – it is now the fastest growing city in Pennsylvania – because it had made the transition to an “Edge City” service economy. I have no idea how you make a catchy ballad out of that, but that’s my point. It’s a lot more easy and boring to sing the blues to the end of some imagined Austin than to figure out where its soul is actually being born.
My pal Hank Stuever – once one of Austin’s own – routinely has the guts to seek out the future in the great “out there.” (He centered his book about the search for Christmas in Frisco. No, really.) In one of his voyages into the Great Out There in search of soul – in Albuquerque – he came back convinced that he wanted to buy one of those abandoned Circle K’s, and live in it. They were, he said “very mod looking, had become other things like motorcycle-repair shops and tae-kwon-do schools, etc., which is what gave me the private fantasy of wanting to live in one, because that particular style had plate glass windows in front at least 10 feet tall, maybe more. It seemed more fun than buying a ranch-style tract house.”
Hank bets that the soul of Austin is being born in similar Great Out There’s, waiting to be discovered.
Joel Garreau is a student of culture, values and change. He is the Lincoln Professor of Law, Culture and Values at Arizona State University. Previously he was a long-time reporter and editor at The Washington Post. His books examining various Great Out There’s (www.garreau.com) are Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies – And What It Means to Be Human, Edge City: Life on the New Frontier, and The Nine Nations of North America.