Archive for November, 2006

Good News in the Fight for Northcross

I just got home from the Responsible Growth for Northcross community meeting. The RGFN group formed to support desirable development for Northcross Mall and wants neighborhoods to be involved in planning for the area’s redevelopment. Currently, Lincoln Properties, owner of Northcross Mall, is planning to redevelop the site with a 200,000+ square-foot Super Wal-Mart as the anchor store. This gigantic building would become the third largest big box store in central Texas, after IKEA in Round Rock and Cabela’s in Buda.

There were hundreds of concerned Austinites in attendance, and the RGFN steering committee seemed well-organized and well-researched given the short amount of time that has passed since the first article announcing this project ran in the Statesman on November 8. I’m encouraged and inspired, by the turnout, by the news that Wal-Mart is not a done deal, and by the success of other Austin neighborhoods (such as Circle C) in fighting off the Beast from Bentonville. The building and demolition permits have not yet been granted. We can still fight and win. First and foremost, every concerned Austinite needs to contact city council members and let them know you oppose the Northcross Wal-Mart and ask them to direct the city manager to suspend approval of the site plan. Also, RGFN needs lots of help. Two days ago I was disheartened by the idea of Wal-Mart becoming my new neighbor. Today, I’m excited to take on the fight.

Austin’s 5th Gift to the World: Gaming

Munchkin - Steve Jackson Games
I present to you, Austin’s fifth gift to the world: Gaming.

Austin was home to two well known gaming franchises in the early 1980’s. Richard Garriott, aka Lord British, founded Origin Systems here in Austin and produced the Ultima titles and the Wing Commander series. Origin was bought by Electronic Arts in 1992, one of many local gaming companies to be acquired in the last 10 years. Digital Anvil, an Origin spinoff, was acquired by Microsoft in 2000. The Austin Chronicle’s Marc Savlov wrote a great round-up article on the Austin game development scene in November of 2004.

Steve Jackson Games was founded in Austin in 1980. They’re famous for their role playing and strategy games like Car Wars and current hit, Munchkin. The company started a support BBS (that’s Bulletin Board Service for all you kids out there) for their games in 1986, which eventually morphed into one of Austin’s early internet service providers. A secret service raid on the aforementioned service in 1990 was a catalyst for the formation of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Those buying modern gaming systems from Alienware now have a connection to Austin since Dell acquired them. You might have heard of Dell. They’re in a neck-and-neck battle with HP for bragging rights as the largest computer vendor in the world. They’ve cooled off a bit in the last several years, but they were on fire on the 90’s. AMD, the computer chip maker, also has a major presence here in Austin.

Lastly, an IBM processor design team here in Austin played a major role in designing the cell processor that’s currently shipping in the new Playstation 3 console that’s so desirable, people are willing to shoot each other for the privilege of paying $600 for it.

Austin’s also home to the Austin Game Conference, which was recently acquired by CMP Media.

When you unwrap that new game this holiday season, there’s a pretty good chance that it somehow has ties to Austin’s gaming and technology industry.

4th Gift: SXSW
3rd Gift: Alamo Drafthouse
2nd Gift: Whole Foods
1st Gift: Slacker

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Austin’s 4th Gift to the World- SXSW

I am pleased as punch that I get to write about South By Southwest as one of Austin’s many gifts to the world. I got to go to SXSW with a gold pass as my only Christmas present last year, but it was totally worth it. I knew I had to go when I found one of the people who inspires me most was a keynote speaker, and I had an absolute blast going to as many movies as I could, catching some really excellent panels, and getting my gig here at Metblog along the way when I met wae at a party. plat.gif

SXSW began with only music on their mind in 1987, expanding to involve a film conference and an interactive/technology conference in 1994. Together the conferences draw hundreds of speakers, dozens of bands, hordes of films and nearly 20,000 people to our clubs, convention center, and theaters. It not only provides networking and recreation, but also educational opportunities for students by offering student discounts to conferences and free badges to volunteers.

Austin’s 3rd Gift to the World: Alamo Drafthouse

drafthouse.jpg
My favorite and most taken-for-granted Austin experience is, without a doubt, Alamo Drafthouse. I’m so spoiled by being able to combine dinner, drinks, and movies all in one mega event that I just don’t feel right going to any other theater. I expect menus, waiters, relevant and obscure TV and movie clips, and definitely no commercials. Unless they’re vintage. Or really really bizarre. Alamo Drafthouse is one of the coolest I-wish-I’d-thought-of-that ideas to come out of Austin. And everyone else is noticing too. Entertainment Weekly named it the number 1 movie theater in the country. Tim and Karrie League, Alamo wunderkinds, have taken their Rolling Roadshows across the country. Alamo even got a mention in a recent episode of NBC’s freshman drama, Heroes. In addition to the four locations here in Austin, Houston has one, Katy has one, San Antonio has one, and if you meet their qualifications, they’re taking applications for franchising. I can only hope that someday all movie theaters will be as wonderfully fun, tasty, and respectful of both the moviemakers and audience as Alamo Drafthouse.

The best thing about the Drafthouse isn’t the tables in place of every other row, the unobtrusive wait staff, or even the tasty food and drink. It’s the creative movie-themed events, like the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory chocolate feast, God of Cookery chef throwdown, videoke, and, of course, much-beloved Sinus Show. For many events, Alamo brings in big name film folks, such as Quentin Tarantino, Peter Jackson, and local hotshots Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez. My favorite events have been the sing-alongs, specifically the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Boyband sing-alongs (evidently, I have an inner teenage girl fighting to be set free). What have been your favorite Alamo memories?

Photo courtesy of Jette Kernion

Austin’s 2nd Gift to the World: Whole Foods

lamar.jpgWhole Foods Market, the granddaddy of natural/organic food markets, first opened in Austin on September 20, 1980 on Lamar at 10th Street with 19 employees. That location is now occupied by a used CD store, Cheapo Discs. I remember going to Whole Foods on lunch and dinner breaks from the Sound Warehouse at 11th and Lamar, which is now a Whole Earth Provision, in the late 80’s/early 90’s. To me, a kid from Dallas, it was quintessential Austin hippie and one of the things I loved about the city. I remember really liking that they gave tortilla chips and salsa with their sandwiches. Mmmmm…salsa.

In some ways, the growth of Whole Foods has mirrored Austin’s own growth over the past 25 years, struggling to maintain a balance between staying true to the original spirit and rapid expansion and growth. The company has experienced explosive growth over the last 10 years, coinciding with a rise in interest in natural or organic foods. According to their website, their stock has split three times since going public on January 23, 1992 and they’ve grown to 187 locations in the U.S. and U.K. with 39,000 employees.

The 80,000 sq. ft. landmark store and new corporate headquarters opened on March 3, 2005 across the street from the location they’d occupied since 1995. If you’ve never been, it’s quite an impressive sight to behold. I’ve gotten lost in the walk-in beer cooler more than once, only to become entranced by the chocolate fountain. That store is more of a destination and meeting place than a place you’d want to shop regularly.

One of the founders of Whole Foods, John Mackey, maintains a blog on the Whole Foods website. He’s recently used it as a forum for debate with Omnivore’s Dilemma author Michael Pollan, who Mackey believes unfairly characterized Whole Foods in his section on Industrialized or Big Organic. There’s quite a comment thread there and lots of information, Pollan’s responses are here and here. Having read Pollan’s book, I agree with Mackey that it doesn’t paint a flattering picture and he’s using the power of blogging to try and correct the perception created by the book. It’s a lot to read, but worth checking out.

Look for our third and fourth gifts today as we catch up and then fall in step with our Metroblogging brethren for the rest of the week.

1st Gift: Slacker

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Austin’s 1st Gift to the World: Slacker

From November 26th to December 2nd, Metroblogging sites around the globe will be unveiling seven gifts their cities can share with the world – one gift a day for seven days. Metroblogging Austin’s first gift is … um, 3 days behind.

slacker.jpg“Sorry, I’m late.”
“That’s okay, time doesn’t exist.”

Sure, it would have been nice to launch our gifts with the rest of the network. But this is a town that embraces the afternoon wake-up call, the intellectualization of pop-culture, and the underemployment of the overeducated. In other words, Austin is for slackers, and it just wouldn’t have been fitting for Austin to blog along in step. Especially since it was a gorgeous weekend better spent wandering around. And then there were those unwatched episodes of Battlestar Galactica waiting on iTunes. But I digress …

It was 15 summers ago that Richard Linklater helped define the decade emerging from the wreckage of the 80’s. Out of the throes and woes of the oil bust, disenchantment and cheap rent sowed the seeds for the slacker ethos that Linklater then cultivated and captured in a low-budget cinematic feature that augured the rise of indie films. Slacker only grossed $1.2 million domestically, but it struck a chord with 20-somethings nationwide, and indelibly linked Austin with the creative hedonism portrayed in the film.

Today, many of the shooting locations have been radically altered or disappeared entirely, transformed by the economic and demographic realities of the tech boom and Austin’s surging popularity. And while it’s hard to imagine any of the film’s iconic characters thriving in an environment of luxury condos and toll roads (how many Yuppies will sell you Madonna’s pap smear?), Austin’s film industry has evolved and grown up to keep pace. Linklater’s commitment to the region and to independent production has been instrumental in building the film industry in Central Texas, most obviously manifested in the Austin Studios production facility at the old Mueller Airport.

Slackers existed long before the movie, but Linklater’s film gave them faces and dialogue that defined the term for a generation, and helped define Austin in the process. While the film’s very popularity may have helped erase the environment that spawned it, there’s still a tangible slacker spirit that resonates in Austin, even amid the cranes and brushed aluminum. Linklater pegged it during a retrospective interview on Salon:

I like Austin more now. I think the mind-set’s still the same. The campus alone takes care of that: We’ve got 50,000 young people; a certain percentage of them are gonna be cool.

Click here to see what other Metroblogging Cities are giving.

Tags: Metblogs7Gifts 7Gifts Metroblogging7Gifts

Freddy Fender musical tribute

The lineup for the Freddy Fender tribute set for tomorrow evening at Antone’s just keeps growing. Joe Ely and Rick Trevino have now joined Los Jazz Vatos (with Ernie Durawa), Little Joe y La Familia, Los TexManiacs (with David Farias on accordion!), Fabulous Flames, Conjunto Aztlan, Johnny Degollado y su conjunto, Joel Guzman, and Ruben Ramos. The doors are supposed to open at 6 pm, and the music to start at 7. This should be Austin’s finest farewell to el mero mero Be-Bop Kid, q.e.p.d.

Fighting the Beast

I don’t like Wal-Mart. I have lots of reasons for not liking Wal-Mart, but what it all comes down to is, I don’t like Wal-Mart. What I do like is Austin and my home and neighborhood in north-central Austin, carefully selected for its proximity to both work and cool Austin-y things. So imagine my dismay when I learned that the owners of Northcross Mall have made plans to build a 2-story Wal-Mart in a space now occupied by that mall. A space mere blocks from the home and neighborhood I love. I know, of course, that Northcross needs something new to be relevent and money-making again. But I really don’t want it to be a Wal-Mart, much less a 24-hour, 2-story beast with a 3-story parking garage facing my neighborhood. I’ve gone through lots of emotions after hearing the news, mostly anger, sadness, and resignation. But I’m starting to feel some hope and encouragement, because there are people in the neighborhoods surrounding Northcross Mall who are organizing to fight the development. Responsible Growth for Northcross is having a meeting this Thursday, November 30, at the Grace Church of the Nazarene at 7 p.m. One of the things I love about Austin is that Austinites really care about the city and its future, and they’re ready and willing to do what it takes to make their voices heard. So I’m glad there’s a group of my neighbors organizing to work for what they believe in. Join us.

WorldChanging In Austin

WorldChangingThe WorldChanging Book Tour is coming to Austin this Wednesday, November 29th at 7pm at BookPeople.

Their mission statement does a pretty good job of describing what they’re about:

Worldchanging was founded on the idea that real solutions already exist for building the future we want. It’s just a matter of grabbing hold and getting moving.

Austin’s own Jon Lebkowsky is one of the contributors to the project and blogged about the book back in October. There’s a reception after the BookPeople event next door at the new REI location. Alex Steffen, WorldChanging ring leader, and Bruce Sterling, itinerant Austinite, author and WorldChanging ally, gave a keynote conversation at SXSW 2005.

So get down there Wednesday night and pick one up as a holiday gift!

Holiday Round-Up

77078138_1ab2f103a1_m.jpgThe city holiday festivities kick into high gear this week. I missed the Chuy’s parade on Saturday: too many out-of-town guests to get everyone motivated. Maybe next year.

The annual KUT Holiday Sing-along with John Aielli and Capitol Tree Lighting is this coming Saturday at 6pm at the Capitol. Businesses up and down Congress Avenue are typically open with some special activites, follow the link for more info.

The Zilker Tree Lighting is this Sunday, Dec. 3rd, also at 6pm. The Trail of Lights will open the following Sunday, December 10th at 7pm and remain open until December 23rd. It’s open 7-10pm nightly.

Several of the city’s libraries are hosting holiday festivities, you can get a complete list here.

Lastly, if you’re planning on doing your holiday shopping at The Cadeau, you’d better get over there. They’re closing after 54 years. No raised rents or large corporations involved, owner Jeanette Nassour is closing both the location on North Lamar and location on The Drag in the wake of her husband and business partner’s death in August of this year. Another symbol of the Austin that existed when I moved here in 1989 slips away into the mists of time. They did quite well over the years, gradually expanding into neighboring storefronts as those around them vacated the space. I’m assuming it’ll be chopped up into multiple stores? Any word on what’s replacing it?

Photo by Patita Pirata

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