Austin is proving to be full of interesting contradictions. Lets work with stigmas for a second. Austin is supposed to be this weird, left wing hub filled with beards, bikes, tattoos, and dare I call it, hippy culture, right? It is, but Austin is also home to headquarters and branches of major corporations like Dell, Samsung, Google, Cisco, Apple, Xerox and more, has proven to be a monumental high tech center of the world and reached a GDP of $86 billion in 2010. How do these two parties co-exist? Green people, leftists often pass sweeping judgements on corporations as if they're somehow inherently evil or flawed. Likewise some business types seem to write off anyone with long hair or too big of a smile as a loaf. Some of the time these things are true but Austin is proving that they don't have to be, that big business can be ethical, that hippies can capitalize.
Austin is the perfect intersection of these two, supposedly opposing, groups. Instead of isolating and waging war, however, it seems the two groups have begun to compromise and attempt to work hand in hand. From the macro to the micro, the huge to the minutia, these two threads seem to be fusing together in everything. Take Serene Hills for example. A large residential development just outside Austin, at first glance seems like a Weeds or a Kevin Spacey in American Beauty sort of existence. A quick talk with developer Domenic Savides though and you realize that the 307 lot community is fit with solar panels, a full perimeter fence to protect wildlife and hugely upgraded waste and water recycling; their contract limits impervious cover to 25 percent and requires soil to have at least 25 percent organic material. Not to mention, the developers partnered with Austin Wildlife Management and built around, thus complementing, many harvestable trees that they found were too beautiful to cut down. I know, old school hippies, 25 percent isn't enough and we shouldn't cut down anything at all but see the light, this is the perfect start. Besides Domenic and the Savides family are already pondering micro communities even greener, perhaps fully sustainable and symbiotic, with full natural power, provided by windmills and solar panels tucked into uneven portions of the lot, away from your roofs and backyards. Austin is proving that big business can be sane, safe and uplifting -- a beginning of a thread, a weird little idea, a partnership that, if taken seriously, will actually rescue our country from downfall one day.
This strange mixture of cultures and ideologies, at what I'll call its early stages, plays out in funny ways. Even something as minor as SXSW tickets are infused with the paradox. The business side says 'make them a thousand dollars,' Austin says 'yeah, but also give artists and speakers tons of guest passes so they're free and accessible for the right people.' Both things do happen. A few drives through the city limits in the van and you see there is tons of business and commerce but there are more independent, self-painted companies than there are conglomerates. CEO's of major companies schedule meditation, yoga and integral meetings in between their golf games and investment meetings. Some integral teachers are commissioned by high up bald men of NATO. Eric and I attended one of these integral meetings where we met professional types who also transcend quadrants of consciousness. Inside the room, on the homeowner's night table is a yellow book called "Conscious Capitalism." This is the direction Austin seems to be pioneering and kneading all at once.
We Americans have proven ourselves to be more than advanced enough to develop new ideas, new systems and new business models when the value arises. If we can shoot the light of sustainable living as far as we shoot the laser of finance and industry we will balance out and our eagle will soar smoothly again. Can company's like McDonald's and Walmart follow suit? It is possible. Austin, from its moguls all the way down to its napkins and water bottles is saying 'try.' Still many locals complain of gentrification, displacement and cultural erosion, of remaining oil fixtures and of corporations who exploit the movement by taking advantage of the fad and the novelty of it. Cultures can clash, oil can ignite and water will blaze back, leaders can be knocked down, others will emerge, the fad can catch and create partial effect, belief can be fought for. These are the necessary rubs, explosions and sacrifices that allow progress to emerge. Such are most movements, this is the awkwardness, the knocking knees, with which it begins.