Austin: Quality of Life or Quality Tourism?

I was a bit astonished that the Austin Chronicle found a way to publish an entire article on major events overloading the city without quoting a single Austin resident not personally invested in the events.

By my count, 15 individuals are quoted. (If you catch more, please let me know.) Most live in Austin, at least one doesn’t. All have some personal investment in the major events, and South by Southwest (SXSW) is especially well represented. None are just regular-old Austinites, though.

Chris Richards, pop music critic, Washington Post
Rodney Gonzales, Deputy Director, Austin Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office
Brad Spies, SXSW brand development honcho
Jon Hockenyos, Austin-based economist (not a real job)
Shilpa Bakre, Spokesperson, Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau
Steve Sexton, President, Circuit of the Americas
Marcel Elizondo, Austin Health and Human Services Department
Commander Bill Manno, APD
Battalion Chief David Brietzke, Austin Fire Department
Wayne Vincent, President, Austin Police Association
Police Chief Art Acevedo, APD
Council Member Bill Spelman, Austin City Council
Officer Brian Robinson, who helps facilitate APD’s relationship with the Austin’s Special Events Office
Don Pitts, Austin Music Program Manager
Council Member Mike Martinez, Austin City Council

While the above individuals’ perspectives and opinions are important (indeed, the article is very informative), just as – or more – relevant are those of Austin residents who are affected by these events. Especially those Austinites who derive no benefit from them and, indeed, may suffer because of them. (Obvious cases are those in which businesses – an entire mall and blocks of downtown, in one case – shutter during, say, the state track and field competitions.)

There should have been some focus in the article on how people like me – just regular old Austinites who may not want to visit every damn festival, race, bike (of the manual and motor varieties) show and whatever they come up next – feel about having their driveways blocked by long-distance bicyclists who refuse to even consider making a hole for a car to exit a private driveway onto a public street. Or the massive disruption in the daily lives of residents when streets throughout downtown – or the city at large – are closed for special events. Let’s not forget the smog created by these events. Austin is already close to losing federal funding for poor air quality. I can only imagine the hassle during these events of being one of those new urban dwellers we’ve been encouraging to move downtown. (“During the elevator ride up, a middle-aged man pushed through the rowdy crowd to get out on his floor. ‘You’re paying four thousand dollars per month for your apartment, and all these drunken assholes are in your way,’ said a drunken asshole in an expression of sincere sympathy.”)

Certainly Austin residents do derive benefits from these events, including tourism dollars. But most people don’t run into piles of money they need to detour on their way home from work. They run into “Special Event Ahead: Road Closed” signs. That is, we see the beleaguering inconveniences of these events rather than any overall fiscal benefit. The city has over 400 days’ worth of events. That’s more than a year’s worth. And it definitely exceeds the number of weekends. That number should be cut in half – at the least.

For me, this is about quality of life for everyday residents – not about making sure the city is the number one tourism destination. These events cost money, and few of them pay for themselves. Someone is paying, though.

Every once in a while, I’d like to experience the city in which I’ve chosen to live in and pay taxes to without dealing with event-related road closures, detours and clogging. At this rate, I’m lucky to get one such weekend a year, probably smack in the middle of 110+ degree summer heat.

Remember, it’s the quality of life that drives people’s desire to live — and stay — here; not the quality of tourism. Leave that to the duck tour people.

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