From Journalist Frances Bula’s City States Blog:
My son, who does visuals for DJs … sent me an email from Austin today. He’s of course at the South by Southwest music festival … It seems he also has something to say about city policy.
“we went to a show last night that started at 3am and was on a bridge. like basically imagine if a band played a show on cambie st bridge and 800 people showed up and it didn’t get shut down. i asked a cab driver how it’s possible that all these shows can happen in such crazy locations and he said sxsw funnels something like 30 million dollars into austins economy so the city just turns a blind eye to all these crazy events. i thought it was really funny imagining these bands filling out paperwork to get a permit to play a show on a bridge at 3am but i guess there is none, the city just lets people do whatever they want.
i wish vancouver would relax it’s liquor license laws and take the same attitude, which would promote art and culture, instead of spending millions of dollars trying to force designated “culture” or “club” sections of the city. and only giving liquor licenses to people who can afford the 250 thousand dollars or whatever which only corporate superclubs can really afford. a similar sxsw event could happen in vancouver if only they would do that.
[apparently there is some organization of the spontaneity according to a reply from Gary Etie, an engineer and consultant in Austin]
“I just want to get the word out, because, as you say, it is a very critical issue, that affects the arts, and the ability to party, while preventing disasters that can occur from overcrowding in unsafe buildings, if not done properly and professionally.”
[Bula:] Now that is what I call one dedicated watchdog.
So there is in fact a permit system. But, from the sound of it, it’s a unique and flexible one that Austin has developed so that, yes, it can encourage exuberance and, yes, bands can hold concerts on a public bridge at 3 a.m., but there are also some rules in place so that the city doesn’t end up with bodies floating in the river, major disasters, etc.
For those who want a closer look at Gary’s site and blog, go to www.austincitypermits.com and www.austincitypermits.com/blog.
Urban areas can be like the frontier, where new forms of living or expression can be tried, beyond the reach of the state. Or, cities can be highly prescribed places where order is the main goal of government. It seems that many cities drift back and forth from “over ordered” to a state of nature.
As cities attempt to offer more space for creative expression and fun, I predict many challenges from business, citizens and other organizations to where a city policy will sit on the spectrum between anarchy and boring, excessive order. Austin is known as a “creative” hub, and a festival like this furthers that image, which probably helps attract talented, highly creative people.
More semi-random thoughts on this:
I like the idea of relaxing the order for certain occasions, like sxsw, to let creativity reign anywhere and everywhere for a few days so long “as bodies are not showing up in the river” the next morning. Locals can participate or leave for the duration. And, such an event can contribute to a city’s creative “brand.”
To me this approach seems more inspiring than having a designated “entertainment” zone in a city where the anarchy can take place most nights — like the New Orleans French Quarter. The latter almost seems artificial — a disneyland for young adults.
But I also wonder: could the Austin SXSW festival disorder work in cities and places that are normally tightly controlled? Or would the removal of some authority create a situation that many people cannot handle responsibly?
My reasoning (based on perhaps debatable premises) is that places like Texas naturally have less state presence and control so people are accustomed to being more responsible for their actions and looking after themselves, rather than relying on the state. So, relaxing regulations further for a few days isn’t a shock to the system … as it might be elsewhere.