The Austin Chronicle

The New Bubbaville

December 4, 1998, News

--Industrial-sized barbecue grills decorate the neighbor's driveway. A different auto mechanic lives on every block, each with his own specialty. Impromptu block parties erupt, and families have seemingly perpetual yard sales operating on their front lawns. It's the stuff of South Austin legend. The only catch is, more and more often these days North Austin is where such neighborhoods are found.

--As the Southside gets hipper, the rent gets higher, and even the yard art turns ironic. The cost of living has weeded out much of the riffraff. And riffraff, at least in part, is what South Austin was all about. There have long been two factions in South Austin, living in sometime harmony: The cool faction and the Bubba faction. As the coolness quotient in South Austin has been turned up to almost blistering intensity, it has largely been at the expense of the Bubba contingent -- many of whom have been exiled to the great white north, above Koenig, clustered around North Lamar.

--I am among the many who pay more to live in South Austin. When I gave my new Southside address to a Californian friend, one familiar with the Austin mystique -- and South Austin in particular -- he wondered whether I'd soon be raising chickens and operating a shooting range in my backyard. I do neither of these things, and am sure that if I did, the neighbors would protest strenuously. South Austin, while still a great place to live, is home to a decreasing number of people who raise chickens, and an increasing number of people who want their friends to think they raise chickens. Those people have gone North. North Austin, of course, has no mystique of any kind, but it is always in unheralded places like this that the unexpected can thrive. Following are four reasons why North Austin is the new South Austin:

  • The rent is still cheap. Cheap enough to foster a mix of UT students, up-and-comers, and people who would rather have a little disposable income -- or be able to work less, or spend more time doing sculpture, or sitting in the driveway drinking beer or whatever, than shell out for a super-trendy duplex in Travis Heights.
  • The ethnic restaurants are authentic; the real deal tucked into the strip malls of North Lamar and Burnet. The immigrants who run them can't afford the space on the Southside, and the storefronts that house them are not prepossessing. But once you get inside, you can find authentic Korean, Mexican, or whatever.
  • The people who live up there do not have supercilious attitudes about their neighborhoods. No bumper stickers boast the existential merits of one zip code over another. Who ever heard of the old-timey bubbas of South Austin adopting cooler-than-thou postures about their backwater 'hood? In North Austin, they're flying beneath the radar, at least for now.
  • The thrift stores still have bargains. At the Second Blessing retail shop on Burnet, there was recently sold, for $15, the red vinyl backseat of a Buick, which was transported back to South Austin and installed on the roof of someone's garage. Sometimes, to live the South Austin lifestyle these days, you have to import it from North Austin.

---- Jenny Staff

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