Page Two

Page Two
There are these lines from a Loudon Wainwright III song (first album) that keep going through my head. They are there when I walk through the office, which is humming at an extra-charged rate, and when I shower in the morning. Driving to work I hear them instead of the radio. "Downtown is where it's at/I don't doubt that/but today I can do without." This is the Chronicle's special Downtown Guide which in one power-packed issue offers everything from maps to anecdotes.

"Downtown is where it's at."

We've been downtown for weeks now, focused on mapping and annotating the area as well as, in meeting after meeting, trying to decide what we should cover in this issue. A team led by the intrepid Kate Messer has been scouring downtown, determined to finally turn out a Chronicle street guide where we don't, as we always do, leave out one long-time advertiser in exactly the kind of business we want to support.

The issue is more than maps or listings. All our editors and writers have concentrated on trying to tell the stories of Downtown. The real idea, of course, is through the stories, photos, annotations, maps, and ads of this issue, to get a thin slice of downtown, of the downtown Austin we know and live in, between the covers of this issue.

The topic we've examined the least in this issue is the big picture of the future of downtown. Certainly we detail the news, the story of what is happening now, the foundation of that future. From the Live Music Capital of the World closing a legendary club to visionary plans for developing residential space in the core city, the one constant is change. Everyone agrees that the way downtown Austin is now, it is not going to be very much longer.

I think that during those many years in which environmental activists (Chronicle staff and myself included) threw around the words "compact city" our vision had more to do with limiting and controlling suburban sprawl and less to do with the urbanization of downtown. Regardless, brace yourself; at the same time this city sprawls out in every direction, it's about to start sprawling up into the sky downtown. Expect lots of big buildings, residential and commercial, over the next decade.

When I first came to Austin, it was a town playing at being a city. There wasn't good bread, rents were ridiculously cheap, bookstore selections were limited, and parking was plentiful. Sweetish Hill was starting and Texas French Bread only a few years in the distance, so I'm not whining. I, in fact, loved it that way. Between 1974 and 1981 Austin hardly changed at all (except, as noted, the bread got better), which was fine. Since 1981 it has gone through all kinds of changes.

Now Austin is a city that wishes it were a town. There is great bread, ridiculously expensive rents, terrific book selection from the chains to the independents and no parking anywhere. Some political forces believe if we still act as though we were a town, we'll stay a town. Yet growth is everywhere. Ironically, the debate used to be about dying inner cities. Here it is going to be about how much development downtown can handle before its nature and personality are forever changed.

This issue argues for the vitality of Austin as a city of ideas, culture, and commerce and not just concrete, asphalt, and wood. But the political realities and decisions being made today will affect the city. Thus, in this issue we could speculate on the future of downtown, but instead, we've given you the information; the vision is all of our responsibility.

This Guide is one in a series, charting out the areas of our city, and they will be revisited regularly. It took an incredible amount of work from the entire staff, especially production and editorial (notably our interns, who are amazing). There is an incredible amount of detail in this issue and it has all been carefully checked. Some will still be wrong; write and let us know. A lot of people have spent a lot of time working on this issue. I hope it is fun.

I only met Carole Kneeland a few times. From the first, she knew what the Chronicle was, and more importantly, what it was really about. This was a time when we were still flying under most radar, especially that of mainstream media. I don't say this to say I liked her because she liked us. I say it to point out how knowledgeable and perceptive a news person she was. Kneeland was the rare TV news person -- she thought the job was more about news and reporting than personality and hysteria. Her presence as news director at KVUE 24 raised the level of discourse. Her decision to recommit KVUE 24 to the news, rather than the exploitive and spectacular, did more than raise the level -- it changed the terms of the debate. After a long bout with cancer she died earlier this week. The Chronicle staff offers our condolences to her husband Dave McNeely, and to her family and friends.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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