I don't mean to step on Katherine's post from earlier today, but I have to be honest in saying that I'm not nearly as enthusiastic as she is about today's announcement regarding the RunTex takeover of Austin's historic Trail of Lights. For more information as well as the Mayor's press release on the issue, check out Katherine's post; I won't repeat it here.
I'm disappointed by today's announcement that the only way to “rescue” the Trail of Lights, after having jettisoned it from the city budget, is to outsource it to a private, albeit, non-profit entity. My disagreement goes beyond the politics of this May's municipal election (I'm sure it's just simple co-incidence this announcement came in the lead up of the Mayor's re-election kick-off). My difference of opinion comes down to a fundamentally different perspective on how we treat events that have arguably belonged in the public domain.
The Trail of Lights is in a unique category- that of government sponsored public events. The City of Austin, as a government entity, has had a long tradition and history of providing over 300,000 residents and visitors alike, with a memorable touchstone. It is an event, not unlike city sponsored fireworks or festivals, where government in its most direct tangible form, has the opportunity to showcase how it can work to provide a public good to the people.
Cutting the Trail of Lights funding from the budget was a poor decision when it started in 2009. In 2010, the budget was cut entirely. Then the city privatized the event for 2011 which turned out to be a disaster. And now we are supposed to get excited about handing over a nearly half century old tradition to a non-profit, even if it is RunTex?
And what if it is successful? The message we will have sent is, the City of Austin has failed not only itself and the legacy of the Trail of Lights, but we have ceded the debate over whether there is a role for government sponsored public events.
If successful, people won't rave about the return of Austin's Trail of Lights. They will rave about RunTex's Trail of Lights. And lost forever will be our chance to get it back. Lost will be our argument to not only say, but show the public that city taxes do more than just make payroll, that they can bring joy and serendipity into untold lives, and be the basis for memories that last a lifetime for every resident regardless of how rich or poor, how old or young, how native or foreign they are to our City.
I wish I could see this as 'gaining' something back. I hold out hope that maybe the City will one day find the money and courage to reclaim this history…
The event, originally known as Yule Fest, began in 1965 by Mrs. Alden Mabel Davis and former Parks and Recreation Directory Beverly Sheffield as a holiday gift from the Parks and Recreation Department to the citizens of Austin and its visitors.
We are giving away the City's gift to the people.