1970s Austin No. 10: Charlie Betts on the decade’s good and bad
We asked thoughtful locals why the 1970s left such a lasting imprint on Austin. We received many provocative answers, which we’ll share here first.
Feel free to send yours to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charlie Betts, retired director of Downtown Austin Alliance, current chairman of Austin History Center Association
Music was becoming in the 1970s a trademark in the U.S. Austin City Limits put us on the map. A low cost of living was attractive to musicians who could find a “day job” to supplement their music aspirations. ACL early on was country, folk and bluegrass (my kind of music) but soon began to diversify greatly. Not too long afterwards the Chamber and the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau recognized that music could be great for business and visitors. Music contributed to the ever improving economy of our city to the point that now it is in danger of being “priced out” of the community.
Technology has had a tremendous impact on our culture and ramped up in the 70″s. Semi-tech was critical in attracting technology of every type. Real estate values began their continuing rise as well as general cost of living. Wealth began accumulating like never before, and job opportunities broadened as never before.
I used to give a talk to the “Leadership Austin” group about how job opportunities evolved from the ’60s to the ’70s. Because I had hit the job market in the ’60s, the comparison was very evident to me. In the ’60s, the job opportunities were good if you wanted to work in government (particularly the state), or work in your Daddy’s business.
That about covered it. Most of my classmates in the ’60s moved to either coast, Dallas or Houston for jobs. Expanding job opportunities in the ’70s began the in-migration that has been economically rewarding to most of us but also has also brought unwelcome changes to many ways of living that we have loved in our city. You know the lengthy list of changes: General increase in cost of living, mobility deterioration and water shortages.
The ’70s also brought the environment-developer wars that is still very much alive today. It has influenced how the city has grown and what quality has (or has not) been maintained. Mayor Kirk Watson orchastrated a somewhat effective truce where developers were encourage not to develope in the environmentally sensative west areas but rather in the preferred growth corriders to the east. One can argue on the effectiveness of that truce. Environmental-developer tension has been a long-term reality of our community.
The historic preservation movement gained public community support in the ’70s primarily because of significant losses like the Butler House, the Houghton House, the Honnicut House and the Shot Tower (just to name a few). The alarm over those losses resulted in the city’s Landmark Ordinance. That ordinance has been effective in minimizing significant historic losses ever since but has also been misused as a zoning tactic. But that’s another story. Historic preservation was recognized as an important factor in maintaining the character and fabric of our city, and that’s what makes our city uinique, what makes Austin Austin.
I am reminded of the changes that began in earnest in the ’70s when I board the last-leg flight from Dallas to Austin, and don’t know a single person. We used to bump into quite a few friends on that flight.