About the Book
As Austin grew from a sleepy college and government town in the mid-twentieth century into the sprawling city of the early twenty-first, two broad ideas of Austin as a place came into conflict. One idea was that Austin, like so many other cities in America, would be a place defined by economic output, money, and wealth. The other was based on a place defined by its quality of life.
The quality of life idea emerged because there were lots of people who did not necessarily buy into the ideology of growth. For these people, Austin's quality of life came from cultural factors such as the music, the laid-back feel of a college town, the more liberal atmosphere. It came from the neighborhoods they lived in, and from the natural environment of the area: the heat, water, and sun that added to and accentuated the other things. It all went together, but in the end so much of the city's quality of life was provided by its natural environment that the environment became the main organizing and political arm of the movement for place based on quality of life rather than growth and profit.
On one level this is a history of the environmental movement in Austin; how it began, its connection to the larger national trends, how it promoted ideas about the relationship between people, cities, and the environment. But it is also about a deeper movement, a movement to retain a sense of place that is Austin. The movement for place was the underlying cause of Austin's environmental movement. By the 1990s, the "environmental movement" and "environmentalists" had become the main group that fought against "developers" in a battle over the look, feel, and sense of place that was Austin. Would Austin retain its open spaces, parks, and natural environment as the city grew, or would all that be plowed under suburban development? The book is organized around that history--how it happened, who was part of it, and what it did to create the Austin of today.
The book is also about broader issues that influenced both movements. It is about the larger relationship between people and their environments. It is about the way a particular kind of natural environment, mixed with a particular kind of economy in a particular historical period, shaped a social movement: how that movement shaped a discourse and a meaning of the city, and how that meaning has shaped Austin today.