I very much enjoyed Karl Pallmeyer's article "Chain Reaction" (Vol. 16, No. 13) that dealt with the encroachment of the chain, corporate bookstores on the independent bookstores of Austin and elsewhere. I also believe this phenomenon is a sad commentary on the general Wal-Martization of America.
I would like, however, to make one correction to Mr. Pallmeyer's article. Mr. Pallmeyer's article stated that Houston has "no independent general bookseller." This is clearly not the case. The Brazos Bookstore, a Houston fixture for more than a decade and a half, has managed to hold on to its business despite the demise of nearly all the independent bookstores in Houston. Karl Kilian, the owner, has turned his bookstore into one of the best independent bookstores in the Southwest. Mr. Kilian's inventory incorporates a broad range of hand-picked titles and one can often find books there that you would find nowhere else. The list of authors he brings to read and sign books is also one of the most impressive I have ever seen and far surpasses the lists of readers for any chain.
Times have been tough for Mr. Kilian over the past years, but his perseverance has shown that independent bookstores can make their way. I believe Mr. Pallmeyer's article would have been much more interesting if he had talked to Mr. Kilian and gotten his story.
I am the architect who prepared the design for the Cancer Survivors Plaza project in Austin. As you know, the project was rejected by the Austin City Council on November 7, 1996 by a 4-3 vote. The reason for my letter is what Council member Beverly Griffith said, as well as what she did not say, in her letter to you a couple of issues ago.
What she said about the site selection process in Houston is not true. Since I was the architect for the Houston Cancer Survivors Park project as well, I still recall very well what happened there. Several sites were offered, two of them next to M.D. Anderson Medical Center, one in the Galleria area and one on Post Oak Street. They were all rejected by Mr. Bloch. Then, while driving through Houston, he saw the little triangle, about 0.9 acres, next to the big fountain on Main Street and close to the main entrance to Hermann Park. That site was Mr. Bloch's first choice. Although there was some opposition to it, the Park Department succeeded in securing it for the project.
I never worked on selecting a "mutually agreed-upon" site in Houston. What I did work on was preserving 17 beautiful live oak specimens which made the selected site so attractive, and on incorporating an existing fountain into the new design. The fountain became the centerpiece of the new plaza, and paving, irrigation and electrical lines were routed with a great deal of care in order to protect the wide but shallow root system.
Regarding the argument that the proposed site in Austin should be preserved, I would like to ask two questions: What is it exactly that we are preserving, and what for?
This piece of land has been standing as it is today for about 30 years with almost zero improvements. Currently, the Park Department spends measly $1,800 a year on it. There are erosion problems on it, no seasonal color, and minimal irrigation. This portion of the hike-and-bike trail is used considerably less than the MoPac-Lamar section, does not offer any opportunity for transitioning from the street to the lake level, and has no access for the handicapped.
What are we keeping it for? What is the appropriate use for this site? The safest option (politically) is to keep it the same. The best option is to consider it in the context of the urban core and the now accepted "compact city" objectives and downtown revitalization.
What Mrs. Griffith did not say was that there is a plan for this area adopted by the council about a decade ago. It is the Comprehensive Town Lake Plan. The plan calls the area between Drake Bridge and Congress Avenue Bridge "the most urban of all the waterfronts." It proposes a promenade and semi-circular terraces between the street and the lake for a variety of activities. The proposed design for the Cancer Survivors Plaza offers almost verbatim all the components called for in the Plan. It does not ruin the site -- to the contrary, it greatly enhances it.
As an architect and urban designer I recognize fully the importance of parks within the urban tissue. However, although parks can serve a variety of functions in a city and have different size, shape, feeling, level of privacy and interaction, Austin has only one type of park around the lake -- open green space. Cancer Survivors Plaza will add depth and a theme to the park experience, a variety badly needed in downtown Austin without disrupting anyone's business or recreation.
I certainly agree that there need to be places of "respite" in Austin. I am not sure, though, that all the parks have to be the same, and that the most urban and one of the busiest intersections in the city is the best place for the "respite" (about 50,000 cars daily). To truly get in touch with the lake, Austin will have to provide urban, civilized ways of getting in touch with water, and include those not wearing the running gear.
Another important thing Mrs. Griffith did not say is related to the issue of maintenance. She did not mention that the surrounding office buildings and the Radisson Hotel have accepted to take care of the maintenance with their present crews for the next 5-10 years until larger endowment has been created to maintain the park in perpetuity.
Our City Council often declares itself to be for a concept or idea -- "compact city," "new urbanism," "great streets," "public transit," etc. But when it comes to implementation, it seems that the Council does not have a clear idea about how to go about it, and here is a perfect example. For the first time in years, we have an opportunity to actually do something about revitalizing downtown without even reaching into our own pocket -- and here's what we do.
President, MC/A Architects, Inc.
Dear Editors and Readers of the Chronicle:
Another Owner Responds
I'm glad you wrote an article naming Wheatsville and sort of hinting at the crux of "The Problem." The picture of Mr. St. Louis, however, was as succinct a snapshot of the entire nut as could be described by an E.B. White edited paragraph.
Here we have a "defender" of the springs even, standing in front of a countless (and mind-numbing) variety of olive oils. Merely Shopping? Not exactly. He and his ilk are further inviting other large chains, state and national, to come and do business in Austin. Hell, Mr. Jim Bob is glad that defender of the springs, Mr. St. Louis, shops chain stores. Jim Bob wants us all to shop there because he knows that more chains will squeeze out the small, privately owned and run shop. He knows that with more chain stores there will be changing demographics.
Mr. St. Louis might as well piss in the springs when he shops at chain stores. These stores need to be boycotted. Each dollar is a vote for the golf courses Mr. J.B.M. will get to build. I don't know how to see it any other way. You can find what you need to purchase at smaller locally owned stores. You may have to call around, the product may have to be special ordered and you may have to wait awhile. And yes, you may have to pay more (I don't even want to discuss the short-sightedness of the crowd whining about "But it's cheaper over there!") I abhor the alternative. So I plan my shopping trips a little more, buy food for three to five days and search out small locally owned businesses where I can spend my money --
C.E. Egger, Jr.
Airport Food for Thought
Next time, before you let some second-rate joker write a story for you, make sure that he doesn't make fun of Texas. I, myself, am proud of the State of Texas (There's no place better!). In case if you try to deny that this joker said this, try looking at Volume 15, No. 13....
Do you make fun of all the states?? Or is it just Texas?? Aren't there some kind of laws against that??? Maybe so....
Letter to the Editor:
I Mosh, Therefore I Mosh
Everyone keeps asking me why I would go to a Pantera concert and get into the mosh pit. How can I describe how much fun it is? Well, everybody enjoys music, from symphony to country to rock & roll, everybody loves some kind of music. Something makes you bounce your head up and down or at least tap your toes every once in a while. So what is it about moshing that I enjoy? What makes guys who wouldn't dance with their own girlfriends, get out on the floor and dance and bang into other guys they don't even know? Well if you've never done it, then you probably won't understand my feeble explanation but here it goes.
Now you must first understand that Pantera's music is much more powerful than any other form of music. In fact it has been self-described as a vulgar display of power, and it is. So if rock & roll music makes you tap your toes then this music will make you jump up and down and shake your fists in the air.
Second, there is anger. The music is angry and it allows you to release all the anger within you in a way that you are never allowed to do anywhere else. Now don't misunderstand me, the anger is not expressed by being violent to other members of the audience. If you were to try throwing a punch in the mosh pit you would probably be kicked down by 50 or 60 other moshers and you would be lucky to survive. No, the anger I'm talking about is expressed by dancing and shoving and bouncing into other dancers and shoving other dancers so that they bounce into the next guy even harder. It's almost like a competition, screaming the lyrics and trying to enjoy the show more than the person next to you. I believe that if there was a Pantera show every month and everybody went to it, that there would be no domestic violence and no violent crime because everyone would have exhausted their supply of anger at the concert.
Third, there is fear. When you get 200 guys moving in one direction and somebody falls down you know it could be fatal. You could get stomped to death by a hundred pair of Doc Martens. We all try to lend a hand when someone falls, but it is still dangerous. This fear provides an adrenaline rush that is quite fantastic. I say guys because it is almost all guys out there in the mosh pit but there were a few brave gals and they seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as I was.
Enjoyment. Pantera's music is great and it's even better live than on the recordings that never get played on the radio here in Austin. The best place to enjoy the show is up close enough to see the expressions on the faces of the performers. The only way to get close enough to do that is to get into the pit. At least that's what I did and I enjoyed the show more than any show in a long time.
There is also the excitement that you get from the music and from the crowd. Many of the songs provide a churning build-up that fills you with anticipation for the next brutal guitar attack in a crashing crescendo of distortion and percussion.
These words that I use to describe the music and the moshing are all about emotion. That is what it is really all about. It is an emotion that doesn't have a name. It fulfills some primal urge within us all and it is the only acceptable way to fulfill this deep desire in a civilized way. Without the mosh, the world would be a more dangerous place for us all. Everyone should come to the show and get in the pit next time Pantera comes to town.