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August 31, 2017

A city is what you make it

We are the reason Adelaide can't have nice things.

  • Words: Farrin Foster

As y’all might remember, I’m in Austin at the moment working on a freelance job.

Safe from the tragedy and destruction that has befallen other parts of Texas during Hurricane Harvey, Austin has been humming along as normal this week. That means enthusiastic locals expectantly ask me, “how are you finding the city?”, about four times a day.

Farrin is CityMag’s editor

There’s something in the way they pose the question – with knowing smile – that makes, “oh, it’s wonderful”, seem like the only allowable answer.

But – while the rest of the world is completely enamoured with Austin, I’ve been wondering what is so fucking special about it.

There’s a lot that’s not special about ATX. Downtown contains very few things of note (the Elephant Room is an exception) – it’s mostly a bunch of anonymous looking office building and a strip of venues filled with drunk college students. All the good food, coffee, and bars are flung far away from each other. Often there’s no footpaths, and all the time there’s practically no public transport. The population of homeless people is incredibly high.

Still, this is one of the fastest growing cities in the States. People want to come to Austin. Yes, sometimes it’s for jobs tied up in the tech boom, and sometimes it’s for the university. But often, as has been proven by plenty of conversations I’ve had, it’s just because they like it here.

And after the last few nights, I finally worked out why people like it here.

I went to see some bluegrass music the other night. It was a Monday, and things were still a little damp from the storm, but people came out in droves to a regular bluegrass jam session at Radio Coffee and Beer held by a handful of local musicians.

The audience was diverse – everyone from crust punk college kids to old cowboys hitched up at the bar to hear the music, and chipped in when a pitcher filled with dollars for the band was passed around. People were friendly, they were enthusiastic, and – importantly – they were there. 

In Austin, people show up. They show up to gigs. They show up to art shows. They show up to bars and restaurants every. Single. Night. And in the morning. And in the middle of the day.

I’m not sure they ever go home.

And the places they show up to are local. Like people in Adelaide, Austinites have a natural aversion to conglomerates. Rather than going to Starbucks, they’ll walk another 500m to a neighbourhood coffee shop. You barely see McDonald’s locations in this town.

But unlike the people in Adelaide, people in Austin extend their love of the local beyond food and coffee and into the realm of culture. Here, leaving your house to support some musicians on a Monday night is standard. Meanwhile, in Adelaide, the only thing that can drag us from our couch is the promise of an international touring act. And even then, we might just wait to see how we feel on the night and buy a ticket at the door.

There’s a lot of things that separate Adelaide and Austin. They’re growing, we’re not. Their economy is sound, ours is rapidly hollowing out. They have an international reputation as a creative city, we have to explain that Adelaide really is a city.

But, it’s entirely possible Austin’s contemporary advantages actually originate in its active and supportive population. After all, infectious enthusiasm for a place creates growth, it doesn’t stymy it. If we could find a little bit more energy to support our own local arts and culture in Adelaide, maybe we could have a few more nice things – even when it’s not festival time.

There are some things we can’t change about Adelaide. Our apathy is something we can change, unless we can’t be bothered.

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