When Bob Walkup gave his State of the City address last week, it was most notable for his announcement that he wasn't running for another term than anything else. It was a fine speech, especially the reflections on January 8th, but, still largely the same sort of political platitudes that you get from those sort of manufactured events.
However, Austin had its State of the City event last weekend, and the city's mayor Lee Leffingwell opened with a Angry Birds joke, closed with a comparison of Austin to the Green Lantern and was awesome in between:
I said a moment ago that Austin is a special place, but that’s not just me talking. I can’t remember the last time I picked up a magazine or newspaper and saw a list of “America’s 10 best cities for whatever” that didn’t include Austin. If there were a list of cities that appeared on lists, we’d be on the list. So I think the big question we have to ask ourselves is this: what really makes Austin so special?
Probably the simplest answer to the question of why we’re “special” is just that we’re different.
Let's be honest: A lot of cities and towns across America — especially suburban communities — are becoming more and more indistinguishable from one another all the time. I won’t name names, but almost anywhere you travel these days, you see the same shopping malls and strip centers; the same chain restaurants; and the same big box retailers.
But you also see an increasingly uniform culture — influenced more, in many cases, by what's happening on TV or on the Internet than by what's happening in the community. But in Austin, it’s different. Yes, we have Wal-Marts and Home Depots and McDonalds and Taco Bells. And yes, we watch American Idol and Dancing With The Stars and Glee, just like everybody else. And those are all good things.
But in Austin, we also have Book People; and Toy Joy; and Breed & Company; and the Wooten Barbershop; and Waterloo Records. We also have The Hoffbrau; and Mighty Fine Hamburgers; and Home Slice Pizza; and the Frisco; and Garaj M’Hal. We have Sholz Garten; and the Continental Club; and Antone’s; and the Mohawk; and the Scoot Inn.
We have Barton Springs; and South by Southwest; and Eyeore’s Birthday; and 2 million bats; and the Texas Rollergirls. We have 6th Street; and Longhorn football; and Hippie Hollow; and Frisbee golf; and Austin City Limits; and lots of very strange things on display in people’s front yards.
So why does all of that matter? In my mind, it matters because, as more and more cities become more and more alike, those cities that are different are going to be the ones that attract people who also want to stand out. People who want to make their mark in the world. People who want to push the envelope, in a good way. People who don’t shy away from challenges, or opportunities.
And as I said before, it’s really the people of this city that make us strong. And it’s the people who create and perpetuate the places and things that make Austin unique — which then inspires more of the same. It’s weirdness breeding weirdness; it’s success breeding success.