Whenever a group of my former Austin High School classmates gather, invariably we find ourselves comparing the old Austin (good) to the new Austin (bad).
For example, a couple of months ago, a group of us were sitting around a table under the trees at Austin Pizza, when someone brought up John Kelso’s May 5th humor column in our local newspaper, the Austin American Statesman, in which he lists Austin places/things he thinks should be saved from the bulldozer. With classmate Ben Wear, the Statesman’s transportation reporter, we recalled the dueling columns between him and Kelso several years ago wherein Kelso had waxed eloquently of the Austin he discovered in the late 60s-early 70s, prompting Ben to offer up his own take of Austin during that period. While Kelso found Austin to be full of charm and great fun, Ben described Austin as a sleepy college town – pleasant enough, but a bit boring, with restaurant fare limited to either chicken fried steak or Mexican food. Ben, who left Austin after college for Oklahoma City, had written that he found it much more interesting than Austin, which prompted a follow-up column, wherein Kelso roasted Ben, questioned his sanity, and virtually yelled, “Get a rope!”
So, we suggested, Ben could reprise those dueling articles (which were fun reading, by the way) by responding to Kelso’s column listing Austin places that should be saved. In between bites of pizza, we discussed a column in which Ben counters Kelso’s column by pointing out the flaws in his list, all with high dungeon and great humor, of course. But, on further reflection, it was hard to quibble about much on Kelso’s list except for the blue rectangles under the railroad bridge on South Lamar, which he likes because they “give Austinites something to crab about other than the traffic.” Most of the other places, e.g., the Poodle Dog Lounge, Dirty Martin’s, and the downtown Whole Foods, seemed pretty sensible inclusions.
As that idea fizzled out, Ben suggested we could take a different twist, coming up with a list of places from the past we wouldn’t miss if bulldozed into history. But that was a stumper. All I could come up with was a block of warehouses on E. 7th that are pretty unsightly, but that and the rest of our offerings were not column-worthy.
Later that evening, as I continued to think about Ben’s ripe-for-the-bulldozer list, I came to the conclusion that this is what happens when you get older: everything in the town you knew from childhood becomes special. Virtually any and all places take up residence on your own personal Memory Lane — whether good, bad, or ugly, you just don’t want any more tear-downs on that street. The same concept applies to my aging body parts. While I might not need them all anymore, I still don’t want to lose my original equipment. I’ve had to bid adieu to my uterus and gall bladder, but as for the rest, I’d like to leave with as many as possible.
But back to saving Austin things, how about Lions Municipal Golf Course (also called Muny), known for being the first integrated golf course? I admit that (pun alert!) links between Muny and me are fairly weak since I’ve only stepped foot on the course to serve beer at a tournament from one of its golf carts. But Muny has always been a part of my Austin. In the pre-Mopac days, there were only two ways into town from my home in Westlake Hills – you’d drive through Zilker Park or take Red Bud Trail, crossing the low water bridge to Lake Austin Blvd. I passed the golf course on the school bus going to O.Henry and Austin High (the old building) and after I learned to drive, I regularly traversed around the course on my way to visit friends in Tarrytown. Driving by the cool, green, tree-filled course, I often wondered nervously whether a golf ball could possibly make its way over the fence and come sailing down on the roof of my mother’s car.
If the UT Board of Regents has its way, however, I might never get to experience that special kind of anxiety (now on my way to Hula Hut in my own car). The University, you see, owns the property, called the Brackenridge tract, and has already voted not to renew the golf course lease with the City of Austin when it expires in 2019. In fact, the Board has expressed a desire to terminate the lease early, long before its 2019 expiration, if they can negotiate a termination agreement with the City. With the lease out of the way, the Board intends to let developers do their “developing thing” on the tract.
Whether or not you know the difference between a driver and a putting iron, there are important reasons (aside from its address on my Memory Lane ) to oppose this plan. First, call me a tree-hugger, but we should not be eliminating green spaces, this being one of the largest open green spaces in Central Texas. This space functions as a living, breathing set of lungs on the edge of a city becoming more densely populated every day. Think of it as a much smaller Central Park, removing carbon dioxide from the air and releasing oxygen every day, every hour, every minute. So, whether preserved as a golf course or a park, the tract is more valuable as an open space than somewhere to plant another shopping mall.
If you don’t care about large, oxygen-producing green trees (or the air you breathe), here’s another reason for you: traffic. As it exists now, the golf course draws a minimal amount of traffic since golfers must obtain tee times (appointments), before they come to play, thereby spreading the non-residential vehicular traffic over the day. Some, if not all, of the proposed development projects would exchange open, tree-laden land for houses, buildings, parking lots, and cars. In other words, development would draw many more vehicles, whether the development is residential, commercial, or educational. Whatever the project mix, much more traffic will be generated, conceivably at peak periods, clogging the small, single lane streets in the area along with Enfield Dr. and Lake Austin Blvd.
As a resident of Southwest Austin, separated from West Austin by a river, you might question my interest in traffic in the West Austin area. Although I have strong environmental interest in trees and green spaces wherever they exist, admittedly, my opposition to development on the Brackenridge tract is tinged with some self-interest. Specifically, I’ve heard of development proposals that are coupled with a request to the City or Texas Department of Transportation to reconfigure the interchange at Lake Austin Blvd. and Mopac to accommodate the projected increase of traffic to the tract. Such accommodation would entail the creation of a giant and will-it-ever-get-finished construction project right where Mopac, Cesar Chavez, West 5th, West 6th, and Lake Austin Blvd. come together. In other words, we are talking about a royal pain in the derriere, particularly for downtown commuters and students (Austin High, UT, etc.).
Before the Board of Regents goes any further down the development highway, wouldn’t it be nice if they were to consider Austin’s existing transportation woes and the institution’s contribution to our increasingly intolerable traffic? Only two of the 10 regents live in Austin, so maybe they don’t realize that on any given day, it can seem as if all 50,000 UT students are on our roads, riding, biking, or driving. But shouldn’t they realize that Austin citizens support the University’s educational mission by providing the infrastructure, the roads, the police and fire protection, garbage collection, and many other city services? Wouldn’t a good neighbor think twice (or twenty times) before imposing any more traffic misery on this city that does so much already?
And, one more question: Why, Mr. Kelso, is Lions Municipal Golf Course not on your list of places to save??! Maybe Ben Wear could ask him.
Read more about the Save Muny efforts and Ben Crenshaw’s personal plea at http://www.savemuny.com/