SXSW is bad for Austin.
I could leave it at that, turn in my five word article and get myself fired, but I’m not a goon and I’m not at a loss for words, either, so I have plenty to say.
It’s gotten to the point where I begin to feel as though we, people who live here, have failed to honor our motto, “Keep Austin Weird.” That weirdness is on its way out. The influx of large real estate companies and the increased commercialization of the music festival has contributed to the degradation of Austin’s spirit. This all sounds corny, and there are still plenty of zany bits of Austin culture, but you should think about how much there used to be relative to the current state of affairs.
South Congress is full of fun shops and cool, “ethical businesses” like Lucy in Disguise, Home Slice Pizza or American Apparel, but as the popularity of these locations rises, so does the financial value of property on South Congress. Local favorite Amy’s Ice Cream lost a location last year due to absurd property costs. Their new landlords, the Weitzmann Group, had bought the property and subsequently tripled the rent.
Austin is a victim of gentrification on a massive scale. Austin, now boasting on of the highest city living costs in Texas, used to have one of the lowest for major cities in the whole state. This inflation of prices extends beyond just living. Exorbitant entry fees for music venues are the bane of poor attendees, and this limits the opportunities of many potential fans. A great example of this is the expensive Austin City Limits festival, with $225 passes. While much of SXSW is free, this capitalist spirit accompanies the arrival of the festival.
SXSW clogs up residential roads as well as those downtown with out-of-town commuters. It took me almost a half hour to drive just over ten miles yesterday because my Lyft driver was fighting SXSW traffic the entire way. It also incentivizes liftsharing organizations to up their prices accordingly, hurting the consumer who would normally use Lyft or Uber specifically for their affordability.
Additionally, the prospect of high profits brings larger and larger businesses to Austin. This influx makes things harder and harder for groups like the Friends of Sound music store or Amy’s Ice Cream ice cream parlor. These businesses are replaced with expensive condos that hike up living costs elsewhere, so that now it’s perfectly normal for a one-bedroom apartment to cost at least $1000 a month.
There’s the long version. SXSW is bad for Austin.