During SXSW, I used to be the frustrated local commuter trying to weave through miles of traffic to get downtown, angry that I had to pay an obscene $20 in parking, sad to see other human beings walking around like human billboards, and more than anything else, fucking disrespected by the pedicabs that think they have the conjoined rights of cars, pedestrians and cyclists. This year, my perspective has changed.
Full disclosure: I had a platinum badge this year. So yes, I was a little spoiled out of my mind with exclusive shows, free food, open bars and pretty much free everything (except parking). But my experience this year helped me gain a different perspective. Having unlimited access to all parts of SXSW gave me the advantage of being a local and knowing my way around town while also being able to meet the outsiders coming in. It was interesting to see things from the opposite perspective.
Many of the people I met were sent by their companies for networking purposes so they had money to contribute to the local economy.Yes, it means people are armed with heavy wallets full of cash and business cards, but it also means money for local dine-ins, pedicab drivers and boutiques. It means money that will come back to me and you. It means another potential client, investor or even a mentor with every turn you make. It’s money for everyone, everywhere. And instead of having to find it, it’s come to you. Beautiful, right?
Though the numbers have yet to be released for this year’s fest, 2015 saw the injection of $317.2 million into the Austin economy. If this solid number isn’t enough to convince you, here are some more of my rebuttals to combat some popular anti-SXSW rhetoric.
Adjusting to SXSW Traffic hell
First, yes. The traffic sucks. With or without the giant music festivals that erupt annually, it sucks. It sucked four years ago when I moved here, and it has gotten worse. If you weren’t already aware of this profound level of infrastructure madness, you either don’t live here or you’re like me — part of the “problem” of people moving here for college and never looking back and spoiled by your hometown’s eight-lane highways and loop system.
But, having acknowledged the general shittiness of Austin traffic, I’ve grown accustomed to the heightened stress every year in dealing with SXSW crowds of ignorant pedestrians, careless pedicabs and road raging cars. Regardless of the added inconveniences, the fact is that these tourists all contribute to Austin’s local economy, fuels its yearly economic growth, and like with all situations in life, it’s easier to adapt than try to fight it.
For example, ridesharing programs such as Lyft and Uber have done an excellent job in keeping people safe, providing them with a safe, reliable and relatively inexpensive ride home. The real challenges lie not only in the already horrendous blueprints of Austin’s traffic infrastructure but in city councilwoman Ann Kitchen’s proposed ridesharing legislation. The legislation, which calls for extended fingerprint-based driver background checks, might result in these ridesharing companies leaving the city. If nothing more, the Kitchen legislation will result in a dangerous chain reaction: raise the barrier of entry for many drivers, cut the number of drivers down, raise the price of rides for users and ultimately encourage more drunk driving.
That’s what we should be fighting–not SXSW.
Gentrification is not a SXSW problem
Gentrification is a swear word in Austin. But it’s also a socioeconomic trend in America and another way to express one of the most popular phrases in this election cycle’s political rhetoric–“the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer.” It’s politics, and I’m not in the political sphere professionally so I’ll cut it down to this: Gentrification is an inevitable force, and whether you see it as healthy city growth or economic injustice, Austin is not the only city facing gentrification. Despite every inch of the city being turned into a commercial, SXSW sure as hell isn’t guilty of supporting lack of diversity and is the only music festival in Austin that sees thousands of people who come from all over the nation and other countries to take part in the festivities for free. While there are plenty of official events that require official credentials, the variety and vast quantity of free shows makes it the most affordable local festival for those who want to pass on a Platinum badge to get into a show with only a simple RSVP.
SXSW is good for local business, it’s good for me and for you. It brings money to the city of Austin and problems like traffic and gentrification are not unique to SXSW and they surely aren’t unique to Austin.