Hyper-localization. It’s a bit of jargon that’s come to prominence in journalism and market-segmentation circles, essentially meaning that one can find
more—or at least equal—power in an effort by directing it at a very specific area; as in a zip code. Mobile phone app developers have embraced this concept in creating programs that utilize the built-in GPS positioning capabilities of most smart phones to help users find products, businesses, activities, and other people that are nearby. I decided on a different method. I took a walk.
I’ve been an Austin resident since 1980, save 3 years in high school in Texarkana. In that time, I’ve lived in about 14 places in this city. 4-5 were north or around campus. The rest were south. I currently reside in 78704, an area billed as “more than a zip code… a way of life.” Seems to me that people co-exist here in many ways of life, but it’s a nice place to call home regardless. Not too much rampant development. Not too many big box stores. A lot of ‘individuals’ and small businesses, which are probably my favorite attribute of the area.
When my wife and I opened up our first out of the house office in 2008, we looked central and south, but we really wanted to be near our home. We ultimately chose a place about 8 minutes drive from our house on the end of the trendy/funky South Congress district of shops, restaurants, and—more recently—parking lots full of food trailers. It was fine, but a little pricey and a little bit of a schlep, especially when running home for the kiddo or when rush hour happened. As I started awakening from the long slumber of a technology-laden mindset and really began looking outward and inward, I could feel that more changes were coming beyond ditching the laptop and smart phone. I knew that once I shed the omnipresent, omnipresent gadgets I would be suddenly faced with a subsequent series of realizations about my life and choices. It was thrilling, but frightening.
I think part of what makes technology and especially so-called ‘productivity and connectivity’ platforms, is that they present both a portal for escape and a mirage of superhuman capability. For me, technology has made a lot possible. I was able to start a business with my wife with nothing more than our reputations, a laptop, and a cell phone. As the business grew, I used nighttime and weekend moments to keep things moving forward and to build all aspects of the operation while also servicing client needs. I always knew that my time, psychological agility, and energy would bend—although I was
unsure how far. So, in this way, through real and tele-commuting and by working here and there, I was able to stretch myself beyond what I would call reasonable.
About the same time I started re-assessing my abuse of the internet and it’s complicit hardware, I began realizing that I was becoming one of those who would be on my deathbed, not wishing I had spent more time at work. I had built this life raft to escape from the day job conundrum, but had been so busy paddling it that I hadn’t made time to lay back and enjoy the sunshine. It seemed that another change was in order. Our old lease was up at the end of November, and we started weighing our options. What sort of daily reality did we want for ourselves. Lovely as our old offices were, I found myself feeling as though I had to suit up and get over there 8 hours a day. As I started slowing down, and entering my tech-detox, I began envisioning a new sort of workday. I imagined work at a human scale and a realistic pace. You know… like in a small town and/or 30 years ago. It’s not to say that I was some sort of jet-setter or high-powered so-and-so, but with a PR/branding business in Austin, there is just a number of events, meetings, and errands that are built-in. Then I began looking at the neighborhood around my home in a way I had never done before.
I had always appreciated the small shops and amenities nearby, but almost always at 40 miles per hour as I sped to and from our house. In the recent years since we moved in, a lot of cool things had come in and I found myself extra-interested in seeing them succeed. Recently, I started diverting my nap-time stroller excursions out of our immediate neighborhood to the adjacent commercial areas. Since I no longer push with one hand and stare into an iPhone with the other, I started really looking around and taking inventory. There is a lot in the 4 blocks around our house to be really proud of—and businesses I wanted to know about—and see succeed.
One of the really peculiar things about modern life is that while we have access to a tsunami of information about our communities and friends, we are often so busy running around and “checking in” that we’re generally checked out of actual engagement with our surroundings. As I started exploring these 4 blocks from our front door, I found that it was a place I wanted to be. I wondered if I could be one of those people who walked to work. And so I began a Craigslist search for a suitable situation. After a just a few weeks, I found a place with potential that was literally 8 minutes walk from our front door! Including the street we live on, I can get there by crossing 4 streets—two traffic lights—and the best part is that there is all of this great stuff on the way.
I found myself quickly romanced by this idea of ditching my car some days and just sort of taking things down to a pedestrian pace. It took some work, but
I negotiated the lease and re-configured our offices into this space. We’re still getting things set up, but I feel so good knowing that I’m supporting my neighborhood and truly living there. Rather than whizzing by the local shops and hoping they survive, I am getting to know the clerks and owners, giving them my business, and have even started to think of ways to work with them in some capacity. There is a certain element of sustainability about it that’s very satisfying as well. While I don’t walk every day, I feel good about the fact that I am driving less and breathing fresh air more. For the first time in what seems like years, I am slowing down enough to pay attention. I’m looking around and not only appreciating, but participating in my immediate community. I am picturing a new reality for myself wherein I create a little Northern Exposure right around my home.
While not entirely, what if most of what I need is right here in a stone’s throw from my house. Perhaps, if I take the time to find out, there could be good friends, collaborators, clients, and more right here. Of course, through the wonders of the internet and airplanes, I can continue to do business all over. But I can focus the rest of my energy right here. As someone recently pointed out, Buddha, Jesus, Gandhi, and other great spiritual leaders did all or most of their life’s work in their immediate surroundings yet had a profound and global impact.
So, that’s my new definition of hyper-localization: living, working, and being in the immediate community around my home and making a sincere effort to be a part of the here and now. To hell with what the smartphone and marketers tell me, I’m going to discover what’s nearby with my own eyes, ears, nose, and two feet. Here’s a short list of things I’m loving about my 4-block world right now:
- My neighborhood – full of decent, friendly, and engaged people
- The Soup Peddler/Juice Box stand designed by Michael Hsu
- Phil’s Ice House/Amy’s Ice Cream – kiddo loves the playground
- Giovanni’s Pizza that’s counter intuitively embedded in the Valero gas station
- Half Price Books
- Rockin’ Tomato Pizza
- Phoenicia Bakery – Mediterranean deli and grocery
- Onion Creek Productions
- Re-discovering the charms of Kerbey Lane Cafe
- Re-discovering the charms of Matt’s El Rancho
- Baker’s Street Pub – a chain, but I’m interested in the idea of a neighborhood watering hole within crawling distance
- A soon-to-open Torchy’s Tacos (which is replacing our beloved Chango’s)
- And a bunch of businesses I don’t have a reason to patronize, but I’m glad they’re there: Tribe Comics, Austin Pets Alive, et al.
View My little neighborhood in a larger map