National Trust asks residents to reflect on local identity, preservation of culture

Vidushi Shrimali

When UT graduate Jason Clement asked Austinites to describe their city in one word, some of the most popular answers were eclectic, weird, confused and home.

Clement and Julia Rocchi, online content providers for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, made a stop at the Renaissance Market on 23rd and Guadalupe streets on Monday to film interviews for their “Austin Unscripted” project.

The project aims to capture what makes the city unique for Austinites and what elements of the city’s cultural heritage should be preserved.

Clement graduated from UT in 2004 with a degree in advertising and considers himself an Austinite. He said the city was a perfect place to see if a social media project would be effective at reaching the community.

“If it didn’t work in Austin, it wouldn’t work anywhere else,” Clement said.

The team started on Friday at the Wheatsville Co-op on Guadalupe Street, and then worked their way all over Austin, inviting passersby to tape their views on the city. Interviews usually lasted two minutes and included questions such as, “What should Austin save?” and Clement’s favorite, “Can you describe Austin in one word?”

Clement said the team usually picked food places, such as the popular food trailer, Hey Cupcake! on South Congress Avenue, hoping those who support local businesses would take a special interest in preservation efforts. Popular answers included protecting the city’s green space, such as Barton Springs.

UT alumna Marisa Newell said the natural environment was one of her favorite things about Austin.

“The city has a lot to offer what other cities don’t,” Newell said. “There are new places, no matter how often I go out.”

Austin artist Randy Eckels interviewed for the project at the market. He has been selling his silver pieces on the Drag since the market opened in 1976, he said.

Eckels said Austin has changed drastically since he moved to the city 24 years ago.

“Cultural heritage has disappeared, nightclubs and restaurants are closed,” Eckels said. “Austin is starting to look like any other big city.”

While Clement agreed the city’s landscape has changed since he graduated, he said he still believes Austinites take a strong interest in their city.

“People here are really plugged in. Local businesses can’t be [replaced by] shopping centers and people are scared of neighborhoods getting supersized,” Clement said.

Caroline Barker, spokeswoman for the trust, said that part of the reason Austin was chosen as the site of the project was because of the strong presence of social media in the city.

The videos will be on YouTube in a couple of weeks. The team is also encouraging those who couldn’t make it to the filming sites in person to voice their thoughts on the group’s Twitter page, as well as for Austin residents to attend the annual National Preservation Conference that will be held in Austin Oct. 27-30 this year.

“Austin is known for being wired,” Barker said. “We want to make people even more aware of preservation efforts and places that are important to the fabric of the city.”