Around here we are knee-deep in it, the building physically humming from all the activity. This issue's package of cover stories has Robert Bryce and Liza Tozzi taking a look at the limbo to which some immigrants are confined by current laws.
As I write, the Smart Growth Conference is going on, and will be covered in detail by Mike Clark-Madison next issue. Meanwhile, as reported in "Council Watch," Seaholm redevelopment is in the news again, along with any number of other "Smart Growth" initiatives. I'm always amazed at how many people seem to think the purpose of Smart Growth is to encourage growth. Growth is going to happen; the question is, how are we going to manage it?
Nick Barbaro and I have been in a discussion over Mayor Watson's proposed downtown development. Our major concern is how quickly it is moving and with how little public scrutiny. We're also aware, however, that the more public and open any process is, the slower it is going to move. In government this works for the good of the people. In economic and commercial development, where the market is in control, how much of a hindrance is an open, careful, slow-moving process?
It's popular to look to Portland, Oregon, as a model for controlled growth. Much of that city's successful integration of city and environment came from two strong, visionary mayors who pushed their agenda aggressively, uniting disparate sections of the community together, such as business and environmental leaders. A lot was accomplished in a relatively short time. Sound familiar?
But vision alone doesn't guarantee success. We are tremendously impressed with the Watson council; they have been the most pro-active and ó that word again ó visionary council of recent years. Rather than fighting the past wars, they've moved beyond, pushing toward a cohesive idea of what this city should be like in the next century.
Which doesn't mean they are always right, and which doesn't mean they are above the process. We can offer support and still express dismay at the speed and lack of scrutiny with which this downtown development is moving.
Quoting Nick quoting Daryl Slusher, the devil is in the details, and details are scattered all over the place. We are especially concerned because by our reading, the actual details of the contract will be worked out by city staff without direct council oversight, and that's a historic recipe for trouble.
Which still doesn't mean we're against this. Downtown revitalization and transformation is unavoidable. And it's inevitable that we will lose more and more of the downtown Austin we have known as it evolves into a different city. Some of this is good (downtown revitalization, more residential space downtown) and some is bad (moretall buildings everywhere, more traffic). We wish there were some kind of cohesive plan that we could look at, rather than have it vaguely referred to. We are not talking big picture here, we are talking specific configurations. How all these different projects will fit together is of special interest.
In the midst of all this, the city gets ready to take out another beloved music institution, Liberty Lunch. This city calls itself "The Live Music Capital of the World." I've always found this incredibly embarrassing and hopelessly square. When asked if he thought of himself as a poet, Robert Frost replied that "poet" was a gift word. You can't give it to yourself, others have to give it to you. Branson, Missouri also calls itself "The Live Music Capital of the World," and I'd rather give it to them. If you have it, shut up about it.
Still, from signs at the airport, and from the mayor's lips, we keep hearing how this is "The Live Music Capital of the World." Yet the city does precious little but pay lip service to music. From musicians harassed for unloading on Sixth Street to the jungle of complex and often contradictory regulations that affect live music clubs, the city government talks the talk of supporting music, but doesn't walk the walk.
Liberty Lunch is but a detail on the way to a vision. Well, except to the last three or four generations of Austin club-goers, to whom it is forever a part of Austin. Club-going experiences are the signposts by which I remember much of my life. Many of those nights were at Liberty Lunch. This is more depressed or resigned than argumentative ó my sense is that despite their affection for the Lunch, the council will see it as too minor a factor in such a major plan. But if we are going to steamroll our past, shouldn't we at least have more details about exactly what is planned for the immediate future?
Speaking of great past livemusic experiences, the first night I was ever in Austin, back during Thanksgiving weekend 1974, we went to see Doug Sahm and Band at the old Soap Creek Saloon in the hills of South Austin. It changed my life. I knew I was home.
(Jonathan Demme once told me about a time when he was in the Army and stationed in San Antonio. Feeling a little lost, he wandered around the base until he began to hear music. Following it, he found the Sir Douglas Quintet playing at a little bar on the other side of the fence. He stood there on the base listening.)
The Texas Tornados ó Doug Sahm, Freddy Fender, Augie Meyers, and Flaco Jimenez, legends all ó will be playing at Antone's this Friday and Saturday, Dec. 18-19, taping the show for a live album. It should be great: Texas music!
An era in Austin film is about to end. Our good friend Scott Dinger is selling the Dobie Theatre to the Landmark Chain. There isn't the time or the space to sing all of Scott's praises here ó he started the Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival, he has programmed brilliantly for years, he's been a strong supporter of local filmmakers, whose courageous booking of films such as Slacker and Hands on a Hard Body has positioned them nationally. Typical of his intelligence, care, and concern, Dinger sold the theatre to the great Landmark chain, virtually guaranteeing that the theatre will continue to book the kind of films it has become noted for ó independents, documentaries, foreign films, etc. ó and if anything, Landmark's chain clout will help out. But we will miss Scott Dinger. We salute his achievement, and will go on at some length about his contributions in a future issue.