Placemaking Process Projects

Austin Community Character: Keeping it Weird

The City of Austin, TX, prides itself on being weird. So much so, that the city’s unofficial slogan is “Keep Austin Weird.” Entire news articles have been devoted to whether the city’s weirdness is on the decline. “There’s new weird stuff, and there’s still old weird stuff here. But it’s endangered,” said Red Wassenich who is credited with coining the phrase back in 2000. The Austin Community College librarian was frustrated that “Austin had been moving away from its funkier roots.”

What is for sure is that Austin’s weirdness is an integral part of its character. It’s a city where you might spend Saturday night at a women’s roller derby event. On Sunday morning, you can get a chorizo-and-egg breakfast taco on your way to the Cathedral of Junk, and then go home to manicure your polka-dot lawn.

Austin is in the process of rewriting its 30-year-old land development code through a process called CodeNEXT and community character documentation is a huge part of the effort. In Austin, the process, which seeks to engage the public, is called “Community Character in a Box.” Austenites have been asked to get out and document their neighborhoods through photography.

The results from the first set of communities are in and Opticos will be in Texas next week to present the first installment of the city’s new Community Character Manual to the public. Here are a few of our favorite images* from the process and the stories behind them.

Tyson's Tacos

Tyson’s Tacos serves up pork belly and baby back rib tacos from 6:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Victory Grill

Johnny Holmes originally opened the Victory Grill in 1945 for black soldiers returning from war, but it eventually became a popular stop along the “Chitlin’ Circuit” featuring prominent blues and jazz acts. The mural that covers the building’s west wall is courtesy of Trust Your Struggle, a collective of artists dedicated to social justice and community activism. It honors Austin soul queen Lavelle White, Holmes, and the first musician Holmes ever booked to play the joint: pianist Roosevelt “Grey Ghost” Williams.

Austin Lance Armstrong Mural

This mural of Lance Armstrong on a Lamar Blvd underpass is courtesy of Austin artist Mike Johnston.

Güero's Taco Bar

Güero’s Taco Bar started out as the backroom of the Central Seed and Feed Store. Now it’s an Austin landmark featuring tacos al pastor, hand-shaken margaritas, and live music in its Oak Garden.

Austin Quickie Pickie

The Quickie Pickie is oh-so-very Austin-y. They cure their own bacon and make their own chorizo (great for tacos!)—from locally sourced meats of course—and offer 24 beers on tap. As an added bonus, 7-11 Slurpees are just a pedicab away!

Wonder Space Collective

This telephone booth in Austin’s Chestnut neighborhood advertises the Wonder Space Bazaar, a monthly event hosted by a group of local artists and craftsman to provide a place to sell and exchange their work.

West congress mailboxes

Residents in Austin’s West Congress neighborhood get creative with their mailboxes.

The Natural Gardner

The Natural Gardner is Austin’s organic gardening headquarters.

Oak Hill Mosaic Wall

Neighbors, volunteers, students, and art therapists worked together to create this mosaic wall in Austin’s Oak Hill neighborhood to honor everyone who helped out during and after Austin’s largest wildfire in 2011.

Lucinda Hutson's Rosedale cottage

Herbal-cookbook guru Lucinda Hutson is known in Austin for her Day of the Dead parties and her Rosewood cottage is known for its extensive use of purple and its extravagant garden.

Nubian Queen Lola's Cajun Soul Food Café

Nubian Queen Lola’s Cajun Soul Food Café is closed on Sundays when owner Lola Stephens-Bell feeds local homeless in the cafe’s backyard for free.

El Chato bustaraunt

El Chato is Austin’s first bustaurant.” The 1958 GMC PD4104 was specially made for Greyhound and now serves “family-friendly interior Mexican cuisine.”

*This is by no means a comprehensive list.
Main image: Larry Miller/Flickr.

Like this article? How about these: