Archive for: November 2014

Frequent Flyers Compete in First Ever World Cup

By Adam Beard, Melinda Billingsley, Madison Hamilton, Omar Longoria and Landon Pederson

Stepping though the arched glass door, your sense of gravity is immediately lost. Your body shoots up as four 1600 horsepower fans glide you through the giant wind tunnel. Legs and arms become heavy props that must consciously be stabilized throughout your flight.

No, you did not just drink the fizzy lifting drink in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory – this is the indoor skydiving experience.

For the first time in history, this sensation has been combined with one of the biggest international sporting events to create the World Cup of Indoor Skydiving.

In January the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) and International Parachuting Commission voted iFly Austin as the arena to host the international competition. Although there are more than 28 indoor skydiving facilities worldwide, the Austin wind tunnel is regarded as one of the most advanced establishments.

On Nov. 14 skydiving teams from Canada, Czech Republic, Poland, Monaco, France, Mexico, Sweden, Russia and the United States gathered at iFly Austin for the competition.

“It’s nice to have international competition to judge and see where you stand on a world scale,” said Mike Silva, a Team USA member.

Judges also flew in from all over the world to crown a winner of the three-day competition.

Although judging a sport through a glass tunnel is seemingly difficult, Ron Miasnikov, chief judge from Israel, explains that indoor skydiving is much easier to judge than outdoor, which is solely based on video footage from the air.

“It’s so friendly for the people who can just sit outside the tunnel and watch and know what is going on,” said Sergio O’Farrill, a member from Team Mexico. “Much more friendly than doing it from the sky where you don’t know what’s going on during a jump.”

Formation Skydiving (open and female), Vertical Formation Skydiving, Freefly and Freestyle are the five events that indoor flyers compete in.

“The judges base their score on creativity, difficulty and execution,” said Chris Dixon, an iFLY Austin instructor and Team USA competitor.

While formation relies on team synchronization, much like figure skating, the free fly events are more individual and artistic. Although each event has distinct movements and goals, freestyle is the most popular among flyers and spectators alike. During the event, the best flyers in the world show off their style and skill by flipping and twirling at high speeds around the tunnel.

“Hopefully we get more teams involved and people will be interested in coming to this type of competition,” O’Farrill said.

However, indoor skydiving isn’t just for professionals. Silva has instructed flyers from 2 to 98-years-old.

“There’s nothing as cool as feeling what it’s like to fly,” Silva said.

To view photos from the World Cup of Indoor Skydiving, follow this link:

To view the results of the World Cup of Indoor Skydiving, follow this link:

Home Is Where You Put It

By Daniel Jenkins, Shelby Custer, Jonny Cramer and Helen Fernandez

While strolling through the tree-lined streets of South Austin’s Zilker neighborhood, just south of Zilker Park and Barton Springs Road, old, quaint homes contrast modern, lavish homes. The striking incongruence prompts an internal uneasiness. The scene shares similarities across many other historic neighborhoods in Austin, Texas.

The Little House before the relocation process began. Photo by Shelby Custer.

The Little House before the relocation process began. Photo by Shelby Custer.

According to, the population of Austin increases by about 40 to 60 people each day, so a change in landscape is inevitable. Thus, old homes are demolished almost daily. But, for some, it’s important to maintain the historical integrity and culture of Austin’s original neighborhoods.

On October 27, a 1926 home on 811 Kinney Ave. went before the local historical commission to be deemed worthy of preservation or its opposite, destruction. In the end, the board ruled the home historically insignificant.

The owner of 811, Alice Parrish, age 68, grew up in the Zilker neighborhood. She rode her bike by 811 as a young child and purchased the house in 2006.

“I love to save things,” said Parrish. “And I end up thinking the little house and I will just grow old together.”

Her neighbor, Ben Livingston equally hopes to save the old home from demolition. He’s resided in the Zilker neighborhood for 17 years.

Ben Livingston is the new owner of The Little House. He’s resided in the Zilker neighborhood for 17 years. Photo by Helen Fernandez.

Ben Livingston is the new owner of The Little House. He’s resided in the Zilker neighborhood for 17 years.
Photo by Helen Fernandez.

“These walls [of 811] are like old people; the walls have stories,” said Livingston. “Can you imagine what stories these walls have seen after 80 years? This house has a lot to talk about.”

He describes trinkets of history found within the home. There’s an old wooden board that’s imprinted with the words, “Calcasieu Lumber.” Owned by two brothers, “the company employed builders and became a one-stop shop for those looking for a new home. During Austin’s residential building boom in the 1920s Calcasieu built many of the homes that created the subdivisions surrounding downtown Austin,” wrote the Austin History Center.

In the home built with redwood flooring, Livingston discovered other memorabilia including old marbles underneath the house and a newspaper dating back to 1958, which had been rolled up and stuffed into a chimney hidden behind a wall.

The Little House from helen fernandez on Vimeo.

Parrish and Livingston paired-up to preserve the home’s history. With the help Brown and Sons House Movers, Livingston mounted the house on a tractor-trailer and carefully transported the home to its new abode, 36 miles away in Wimberley, Texas.

In a note written and tacked to the wall of 811, Parrish wrote in the voice of the old home:

“I’m so thrilled and excited that I’m going to my new land and sanctuary in Wimberley. I know that you will take great, gracious pride in my well-being.”

With love,

811 – The Little House.”

Alice Parish talks about her thoughts on moving her beloved home to Wimberly. Photo by Shelby Custer

Alice Parish talks about her thoughts on moving her beloved home to Wimberly. Photo by Shelby Custer

One old home was saved from its demise, but many more are turned into rubble and replaced by “McMansions” in the South Austin neighborhood.

Another neighbor, Susan Willis, who’s lived in her home that was built in the 1950s for 38 years, said, “I feel like I’m losing my sky due to McMansions and mega-condos. I feel claustrophobic; we’re getting closed-in on.”

Like many others in the neighborhood, including Livingston and his wife, Willis doesn’t necessarily appreciate the change in her neighborhood’s environment and landscape.

“It was once a friendly neighborhood, but many of the new homeowners are shut-off. There’s a fence around their house; the gate shuts automatically when they drive in. We never see the families; they want nothing to do with us,” said Willis.

Livingston adds, “We were once able to just show up at neighbors’ houses. We didn’t have to call or text before coming over.”

Ben Livingston was heavily involved in the process of relocation for The Little House. He is now the owner of The Little House. Photo by Shelby Custer.

Ben Livingston was heavily involved in the process of relocation for The Little House. He is now the owner of The Little House. Photo by Shelby Custer.

The new, modern architecture also annoys many long-standing neighborhood inhabitants. Willis describes some recent homes constructed of cinder blocks as resembling “prisons” and some utilize the look of “cheap metal.” Meanwhile, they “all look alike and have little architectural value.” Willis dislikes the design and architecture company, Moore-Tate, and their distinct style of stark white siding and dark jutting roofs.

Developments are unavoidable in the city of Austin. Nonetheless, the neighbors in Zilker will do their best to maintain their beloved history and culture among the homes they reside in.

Austin’s premiere pole dancing studio allows students to embrace their inner monkey

Voter Turnout – It’s Not Bigger in Texas

By Maria Roque, Sara Cabral, Anna Daugherty and Olivia Starich.

Texas is a state steeped in tradition.

From maintaining its cowboy heritage through rodeos to football tailgating, Texas prides itself on upholding a history of consistency.

Among Texas’ less admirable traditions is the state’s low voter turnout, which consistently ranks among the lowest in the country. The state’s figures for the National Election, which took place last Tuesday, are no exception.

Recent efforts to synchronize the mayoral and city council election schedule with the national elections and the rapid growth of Texas cities outpacing others in the nation could have helped boost turnout for last week’s national election. Despite these changes, voter turnout in the Lone Star state was down 271,000 votes from the 2010 elections, with approximately 33.6 percent of the 14 million registered voters showing up to the polls.

This midterm election was a historic election for both Texas and Austin. It was the first election during which the voter ID law was implemented and the election with the most open seats since 1906. The gubernatorial race also gained national attention early in 2014 when candidate Wendy Davis, known for her 2013 filibuster on women’s reproductive rights, was officially pitted against now governor-elect Greg Abbott.

The Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life, housed in the University of Texas’ School of Journalism, aims to improve civic engagement in Texas through nonpartisan research and education.

According to the 2013 Texas Civic Health Index report by the Annette Strauss Institute, Texas ranked 51st in the nation for voter turnout in 2010. Texans ranked 42nd for voter registration with 62 percent of voting-eligible citizens reported being registered to vote.

Regina Lawrence, director of the institute, said Texans likely do not vote because they are convinced that an individual vote will not make a difference. While this may be true for larger national elections, Lawrence suggests that offices at and below the state level are more easily impacted by individual voters.

“You may or may not know that some of our local legislators, our local representatives were chosen in their last election by literally a handful of votes, 10, 15, 20, 50 votes” Lawrence said. “So in that context, your individual vote actually matters quite a bit.”

At the local level, the election marked two important firsts for Austin. The November election was the first time for the mayoral and city council election to coincide with the federal election schedule. Austin constituents also voted for the first group of City Council members under the 10-ONE system. Under this system, council seats changed from six city-wide representatives to a council of 10 representatives, one for each geographic district in Austin. Many races went into run-offs, so results are not conclusive.

On a statewide scale, results proved disconcerting for members of the Democratic party as Republicans swept most statewide offices, including the highly-contested Governor and Lieutenant Governor positions.

Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, suggested that a voter identification law enacted in 2011 may have dissuaded voters from going to the polls. Hinojosa maintains that many of those would-be voters might have been Democrats, which could have resulted in a different outcome.

The voter ID law, introduced and passed as SB 14, is undergoing review in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after being ruled unconstitutional last month, and remains a contentious issue following the Texas elections.

According to the appeal, approximately 600,000 voters may have been disenfranchised; however, there is currently no concrete calculation of disenfranchised votes. The impact of SB 14 on voter turnout or the outcome of major races cannot be determined.

Regardless of the effect SB 14 might have had on voter turnout, Texas’ civic participation remained habitually low, with early estimates suggesting that Texas out-voted only Indiana by a small margin. Other factors are deterring would-be voters from casting their ballots.

Election Day 2014 on the UT Campus from Maria T. Roque on Vimeo.

A 2012 U.S Census Bureau election report shows that the two most common reasons for not voting among constituents ages 18-44 years old were, “too busy” and “not interested.” Texas is also poorly-ranked on other civic health measures. Texas residents ranked 49th for contacting elected officials, and 44th for discussing politics a few times a week or more.

“The phrase you’ll hear is that Texas isn’t a red state, it’s a non-voting state, and it’s very true,” said Max Patterson, president of University Democrats. “A lot of people don’t understand the impact of their vote because they have that mentality that this is a red state, it doesn’t matter, especially on the local levels.”

A single vote carries less weight at the national level, which is why Lawrence suggests that collective action, driven by grassroots political discussions and information sharing via social media, is imperative to make large-scale change.

Lawrence and Patterson agree that the power to increase participation and produce change lies in increasing voting numbers and in improving civic engagement. Analysis of voter demographics shows that one of the nation’s largest demographic groups is still missing from the polls: millennials.

Despite constituting 52 percent of the world’s population and numbering 86 million in the United States, millennials have the lowest voter turnout nationwide. Their absence in the polls is troubling since political issues such as unemployment and debt management directly affect them. Millennials lay claim to a 40 percent unemployment rate and 70 percent of the group has an average personal debt of $30,000.

In its efforts to get millennial voters involved and thinking about politics, the Annette Strauss Institute holds civic fairs, similar to science fairs, for middle and high school students, where students develop a project around an issue of interest.

“[Research shows that] when you ask students to get actively involved with something and they get to decide what the problem is and what the solution is, that that’s really empowering and that those young people do tend to go on and vote more consistently once they’re old enough to vote,” Lawrence said.

The institute also hosts post-election debriefings for the Austin and UT communities in addition to other programming designed to get would-be voters talking about issues in their communities.

The key to boosting Texas’ voter turnout likely lies in driving millennials to the polls. Lawrence’s work with the Annette Strauss Institute and outreach efforts by student-led organizations such as UT’s University Democrats continue to entice students towards a higher level of civic engagement. However, until obstacles such as personal time constraints and lack of interest can be negotiated by young would-be voters, the quest to boost voter turnout in Texas could continue to be an uphill battle.



UT Micro Farm Grows from the Ground Up

The UT Micro Farm is the university's first student-run farm. Photo by Elizabeth Williams

The UT Micro Farm is the university’s first student-run farm. Photo by Elizabeth Williams

By Briana Franklin, Breanna Luna, Joe McMahon and Elizabeth Williams

Sustainable and organic produce is not something UT is known for, but a plot of land on the east side of campus is trying to change that.

The UT Micro Farm is the university’s first student-run farm. Established in 2012 as a Green Fee project, the farm occupies about a fifth of an acre near Disch-Falk Field. The farm grows vegetables, fruits, flowers and herbs to be sold to various markets and donated to a local food shelter. Students practice organic farming and hope to eventually be a sustainable farm.

“I thought it was really fascinating to see where food came from,” said Stephanie Hamborsky, the farm’s development assistant, on beginning her work with the micro farm. “I got really excited about really taking charge of this farm and turning it into something that the whole community knows about and providing people with affordable and sustainable produce.”

Austin is home to more than 10 urban farms and 30 community gardens that provide local restaurants, grocers, farmers markets and communities with items ranging from fresh produce to free-range eggs to mealworms. The micro farm, as its name suggests, runs like a farm on a much smaller scale.

Katie Lewis, a sophomore biology and pre-veterinary major, is the farm’s manager. She said that the farm provides a special experience to student life.

“Organic farming and working with my hands and being able to grow things has always been a passion of mine,” Lewis said. “It’s nice to be able to express that while at school.”

Students manage the day-to-day operations of the farm, from tilling the soil to planning crop irrigation. While they have access to campus advisors and resources, much of what the students do is learned on their own.

Edgar Navarrete, a third-year nutrition major and the farm’s fertilizer specialist, has been volunteering at the farm since the Fall semester began. He said that learning on the job is a major part of working on the farm.

“Learning a position here is tough,” Navarrete said. “It’s like taking another class.”

“I got really excited about really taking charge of this farm and turning it into something that the whole community knows about…” – Stephanie Hamborsky

The farm is a hands-on experience where students can gain a better understanding of where their food comes from while contributing to the local food economy.

Hamborsky, a junior plan II and biology major, said that one of the farm’s biggest goals is to change Austin’s food economy by providing organic food to a growing city.

“We want to engage the local community to come out because one of the biggest problems in Austin is the disparity between East Austin and central Austin,” Hamborsky said. “East Austin is essentially a food desert. There aren’t a lot of sources for organic, local foods here and there aren’t a lot of accessible grocery stores in their area, so we’d like to provide affordable produce.”

While the farm aims to transform the city’s food market, the group still faces an essential hurdle.

“We do have some students who come out to volunteer in big groups, but a lot of times it’s difficult to retain volunteers,” Hamborsky said. “I think that definitely being in a big city and school that doesn’t have an agricultural focus, it’s hard to find students that are interested in this.”

Getting the university community involved has been a constant challenge for the micro farm. Open volunteer work days at the farm occur during the week. Students also sell their produce at both the HOPE Farmers Market and their own stand in front of the farm, but establishing a reliable volunteer and customer base is an ongoing battle.

“I talk about it all the time and my friends are like ‘what’s that’?’” Lewis said. “I think as an organization, that’s one of our biggest challenges — getting students to know that we are here and getting them to volunteer.”

Through social media and campus farm stands, the students hope to impact Austin’s food community for good.

“We have a lot of biology and environmental science majors volunteering because there are a lot of scientific aspects to farming,” Hamborsky said. “But what a lot of students don’t know is that we need students from all backgrounds to help out.”

Check out Austin’s other urban farms.

All the Art in Austin is Fine

Piece created by Rone, an artist originally from Australia who is famous for doing portraits. The piece is located on the corner of 5th and Pedernales street. (Credit: Jamie Balli)

Piece created by Rone, an artist originally from Australia who is famous for doing portraits. The piece is located on the corner of 5th and Pedernales street. (Credit: Jamie Balli)

When it comes to fine art and street art in Austin, the lines get a little blurry.

A sense of vibrant creativity has defined Austin for many years now. The city is best known for its colorful live music scene, filled with artists working in a variety of genres. But more recently, Austin has staked out a reputation for being a place for the advancement and exploration of art.

Austin’s famed Castle Hill Graffiti Park on Baylor Street downtown exemplifies this. The large collection of graffiti and street art is now considered a local destination, something tourists and travelers passing through make a point of seeing before they leave.

Street art, such as that which is on display at the park, has spread throughout Austin. Murals around town, like the University Co-op at the University of Texas campus, serve as examples of street art’s influence.

But as Austin grows and more people bring their business to the city, a new market has emerged for private commissions, pieces tailored more for an individual than for public perusal. Thus began the demand for Austin’s artists to produce fine art.

This piece done by Sloke, Rei, and Spain is located behind Kasbah Hookah Lounge on 28th and Guadalupe street. (Credit: Jamie Balli)

This piece done by Sloke, Rei, and Spain is located behind Kasbah Hookah Lounge on 28th and Guadalupe street.The camel is designed to compliment the Moroccan lounge. (Credit: Jamie Balli)

Jake Bryer of Austin Art Garage sees fine art as being far different from its street cousin.

“There are some defining characteristics separating street art and fine art,” Bryer said. “Street art is more about communicating on a large scale with the general public, while fine art is more about connecting on an individual level.”

This separation makes for some important differences in the actual creation of each piece. While fine art is meant to be owned by an individual and must suit the taste of a buyer, street art can be created free from such concerns. An artist is better able to communicate their own message or push perceived boundaries.

But there are financial issues which must be considered. For all the good a message sent might do, it won’t necessarily put food on the table. And even if an artist does decide to focus on monetary gain, there’s no guarantee that they’ll be able to sustain themselves.

Rachel Stephens of the Wally Workman Gallery sees many artists who face these kinds of struggles, and attributes some of that difficulty to a customer base that can’t keep up with the number of aspiring creators in town.

“Even today, very few galleries are able to survive because the collector base is still somewhat limited,” Stephens said.

Stephens sees adaptability as key for local artists trying to make a career out of their passion.

“I think that many Austin artists become jacks of all trades, as not many of them have been able to support themselves solely with their fine art,” Stephens said.

Artists may also be helped by having a willingness to expand the breadth of their work. Some residents who have an appreciation for Austin’s reputation for public art displays may wish to see similar works commissioned for themselves, blurring the line between art that is categorized as “fine” or “street.”

The Virgin Mary, a piece created by Sloke and Rei, is located on Cesar Chavez and Pedernales street. It was created with other art pieces around the wall that are dedicated in celebration of Dia de los Muertos. (Credit: Jamie Balli)

The Virgin Mary, a piece created by Sloke and Rei is located on Cesar Chavez and Pedernales street. It was created with other art pieces around the wall that are dedicated in celebration of Dia de los Muertos. (Credit: Jamie Balli)

“Who really defines fine art? I think the pieces of street art that go beyond self-serving graffiti and intelligently speak to a larger context can be considered fine art,” Stephens said.

While this may be true, Bryer is quick to note that, in his experience working in a gallery, he has found that not everything that works on the side of a brick wall can be expected to sell and generate income for an artist. Even if it isn’t purely self-serving.

“Not everyone wants a skull painting in their kitchen,” Bryer said.

While making it work as an artist and finding the right middle ground between one’s passions and the realities of the art business may be difficult, it can be done. Roshi K works as an artist in Austin and has produced many commissioned pieces for clients, such as Fun Fun Fun Fest and the Victoria Festival. She has found that the key to transitioning from working on the street to being a professional may lie in making the right connections and aggressively pursuing clients.

“(You need to) do well at marketing yourself and putting yourself out there, and you’re working and talking with people, which means you can’t be shy,” Roshi said.

Roshi also emphasizes the importance of striking the right balance between quality and quantity, producing enough to work to create a healthy reputation while also making sure that each piece is up to one’s standards.

And having some talent doesn’t hurt either.

“It’s one of those things where if you’re producing a ton of amazing pieces, of course that’s going to be more likely to catch a lot of people’s attention,” Roshi said.

Austin Yogis Unite at the Wanderlust Yoga Festival