It takes a whole lotta cranes to hoist up a new Marriott in downtown Austin, where change is changing faster than you can say change. The upcoming architecture at 2nd Street and Congress Avenue demonstrates the pattern of change in a city where urban = big growth. Is it too late to keep Austin Weird?
You’d have to go back to the days of the losing battle over Las Manitas, the revered cafe that once fed all kinds of Austinites (from the weird to the decidedly not-weird) on this coveted downtown Austin block, to find the roots of this conundrum. Regardless of the outcry when Las Manitas was threatened by a bland corporate hotel chain known the world over for its predictability, the die was cast by 2008. Marriott (and its developers, White Lodging) won the battle to stand in place of the entire textural, colorfully cheeky block of individuality, replacing the contrasts of angles and styles and skies that existed along Congress Avenue from 2nd Street to 3rd.
Austin: where change is changing faster than you can say change.
A corporate logo stamped on countless buildings was destined to take the place of Las Manitas and the gaudy vibrancy of Tesoros and the Joseph’s mural and ultimately, to cast its own lengthy shadows on the sparkling Frost Tower. And with that choice made, Austin became a growth magnet for more high-rise condos, hotels, apartments and office buildings than could ever have been imagined by the builders of the Frost Bank tower. Once Austin’s tallest building, the Frost Tower didn’t hold that distinction long. It, too, became an endangered species, along with the truly weirdly-Austin smaller landmarks that preceded it.
Austin’s weird rep is the city’s key to its tourism marketing, and what attracts companies and residents to relocate here. But the city’s true designs are on urban growth, and its true hankerings are for development and rising towers. The city’s dedication to that principle rules over support for the unique personalities that gave Austin its weirdness cachet. When it wasn’t really trying, when its identity was all earnestness and individuality, Austin became weird.
Bring on corporate America to Austin, and watch the weird wither away. How long can Austin keep its soul in an environment of growth at all costs? ♦
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