Our Unique Common Denominator
by Kristin Armstrong
Illustration by Joy Gallagher
I cannot believe this, but I have lived in Austin for more than 20 years.
That may seem normal to many of you, but keep in mind that my Dad worked for IBM so I grew up moving about every two years. The idea of being in the same town long enough to sprout roots, or sprout children with roots, is almost unfathomable to me. My son has a Texas flag hung above his bed and drives a pickup truck, what more can I say?
As a longtime Austinite, I have had the chance to live in several neighborhoods over the years. There was my first apartment up by the Arboretum – close to work but not close to fun, so I promptly broke that lease and moved to Barton Hills by Zilker Park. I remember riding my bike to Chuy’s and scraping together money for a frozen margarita so I could eat a free happy hour dinner of chips, salsa and refried beans in the bar. I lived in a rented house with six girls over on Deep Eddy, which was very convenient to Deep Eddy Cabaret and late night breakfasts at Magnolia Café on Lake Austin. I bought my first house, a fixer upper in Tarrytown – more fixer than upper. I got married and moved to a house on the lake. Oddly enough, the first time I ever visited Austin I stood up on Mount Bonnell and looked down and said, “I’m going to live down there one day.” And hot damn, I did. Later I got divorced and had a couple houses in Tarrytown, one of them on whimsical Stamford Lane. In eighth grade, my son Luke decided he wanted to play football across the river so we started house hunting. We found a house and clicked our confirmation via DocuSign while traveling that summer in Spain, and suddenly we had a new neighborhood.
There are many things that mean neighborhood. There are different styles of homes—from small, older homes and bungalows to sprawling remodels. There are manicured lawns and gardens watered by private well, and there are scrubby cedar trees with natural grasses (mostly brown in summer) and agaves. There are places where you can walk to cafes and small grocers, and other places where you drive a sticker-covered SUV to HEB. There’s high-rise living downtown, and then there are people who have chicken coops, gardens and driveways littered in scooters and strollers. There are hip places south and east, old school places central and west, new places downtown, and north has gotten so vast I am not even sure what all is up there. There is the Hike and Bike, the Greenbelt and the Violet Crown trail linking our nature-loving town in fitness and fun. And of course there is the traffic keeping us all packed tightly together.
The most important thing about neighborhoods is the thing that I love most about Texas as a whole: the people.
The most important thing about neighborhoods is the thing that I love most about Texas as a whole: the people. A neighborhood is all about community. Not far from my house is one of those “ little libraries” like a birdhouse filled with donated books, with a couple Adirondack chairs beside it. Like a front porch, it speaks softly, ‘come and sit awhile’. Neighborhoods invite us to slow down and connect. Recently a precious teenage boy was in the hospital after a serious car accident. I was at the grocery store and saw a poster with his picture on it and a reminder to pray for him and his family. That, right there, is community. When something happens to one, it impacts the rest of us. People care. My friend found a stray lab, ancient and blind, wandering dangerously in the street. Her neighborhood has an online chat room where she posted a pic of the pooch, who was shortly reunited with her frantic family.
Long-time residents (I guess I am one now?) often complain about the growth and change here in Austin. But if you look beyond the construction and the traffic, to the undercurrent beneath the surface, I would venture to say something about our bursting communities. The thing that attracts people to our beautiful city is not just the sunny weather, the University, the music, the industry, the lakes, the parks, the food and the fun –it’s the energy of the people who choose to live here.
Positive, healthy, open, friendly, conscious, family-oriented, fun-loving, intelligent, generous people tend to attract more of the same.
Read more from the Neighborhoods Issue | June 2016