Though it’s been some time since we were last together, I find myself wandering back to your memory during the cold vortex evenings in New York.
We were a classic case of opposites attract. Me, the seasoned urbanite and native New Yorker accustomed to high density design, a 24-hour transit system and excellent walkability. You, the wild young urban newcomer, with a little under two million people in your metropolitan area, a historically sprawling urban form that was kinder to automobiles, and a transit system that left much to be desired. With my driving skills severely lacking, I wasn’t sure if I was prepared for this kind of relationship, but over the course of two years with you I came to embrace this wild frontier and all the quirks that came with being with you, Austin Texas.
Before micro-apartments became the newest trend in New York City I spent my time with you in a 350 sq foot apartment from the 1970’s that came with all the accoutrements of it’s time, including a popcorn ceiling and floor to ceiling wood paneling. But what you lacked in architectural sophistication you more than made up for in affordability. I was able live comfortably with my $535/month rent of and support my Tex-Mex habit on a meager TA salary. So it’s no surprise you constantly rank as one of the best places to live for young and often broke professionals in the U.S.
Getting around took a little getting used to. In 2008 you had 3,500 linear miles of missing sidewalks according to your sidewalk master plan. It was common to be walking down a sidewalk only to reach a point where the sidewalk just stopped. Getting around meant being adventurous and sometimes walking in the street, something I never dared to do in New York. You helped me take the leap into cycling, what you lacked in formal transit options you more than made up for with your vibrant cycling culture. For a novice cyclist like myself, I had plenty of side streets and alleyways I could use to zip through the city while avoiding major traffic. Bike shops and social rides were plentiful and I could always rely on a fellow cyclist to help me with flat tire.
Even with a less than spectacular skyline there were many little pleasures in your landscape. With a very strict downtown viewing corridor, the Texas State Capitol is visible from more than a mile away in every direction, inspiring Texas pride in even the most ardent of east-coast intellectuals. You also had the Bremond Block Historic District, a collection of some of the most stunning Victorian homes dating from the 19th century.
You were also blessed with many natural natural wonders like Mt. Bonnel, one of the highest peaks in Austin and one best places to watch the sunset in the city. Hamilton pool was an oasis of natural spring water on some of the hottest days of the year. Not to mention a plethora street art which give you your weird reputation.
I don’t even know what to say about your cooking, I have yet to meet another city above the Mason-Dixon line that can match your Mexican prowess. Every time I indulge in a significantly overpriced taco in Brooklyn, all I think about is your warm queso embrace and rivers of mole sauce. On top of that you have a multitude of breweries, including Black Star Co-op the first cooperatively owned and managed brewery in the world, that quenched my thirst on warm days. Not to mention, you are also the birthplace of Whole Foods.
But even with your hippie, tactical urbanism charm, overtime I felt limited. I could only go so far without the use of an automobile and over time it felt like I had seen all there was to see within your city limits. After two consecutive years of 100 degree and drought advisories, I packed up my things and returned to the arms of New York.
Still I’ve continued to follow your progress, and it’s been great to see how far you’ve come as a city, with your very own MetroRail serving downtown and surrounding suburbs, and highly successful bike share, Austin B Cycle, that has been the talk of the town.
Though we have separated, I will always think of you fondly as my imperfect and weird urban love and liberal oasis in the heart of Texas.