There’s a war going on in Austin, and it’s not over who serves the best breakfast taco or which music festival has or hasn’t gone mainstream. It may in fact be the fiercest fight going on in Austin right now, with the outcome deciding the future of this growing city in ways that eclipse virtually every other issue.
It’s a war waged over a single word. A word that has become a dirty word in some circles and a mantra in others.
It’s the ‘D’ word, for density.
Austin is growing fast. With an average of 157 people moving to Austin every day, those people need to go somewhere
That’s where the battle begins. Pro-density urbanists want to direct that growth into Austin’s core, densifying neighborhoods that are more suburban in character, creating walkable environments based around vertical construction and public transportation. They argue that density is more sustainable than car-oriented suburban sprawl. They also argue that it reflects the current demand for urban lifestyles, a demand which has pushed the price of centralized housing out of the reach of many Austinites.
Those against increased density, on the other hand, argue that packing more people into central Austin neighborhoods will decrease the quality of life in these areas and ruin the character that’s existed there for decades. They cite conflicts over parking, noise, crowding, and a lack of investment in infrastructure as examples of how more density leads to more problems.
With the City of Austin currently undertaking a major rewrite of its land development code, the fight has reached a fever pitch. While both sides clearly have legitimate arguments, their disagreements often revolve around a lack of clear communication.
One question that neither side seems to have expressed is their vision of how dense Austin should be.
In order to give some more context around this question, SpareFoot looked at how Austin’s density compares to other cities in the US and around the world, mapping out how much of Austin the population would occupy if they lived as densely as these other cities.
Via SpareFoot Austin
Enjoy this guest post and infographic from John Egan of Sparefoot.
Need evidence that Austin is a popular place for transplants? Consider this: From 2010 to 2013, Austin was the fastest-growing city among the 25 largest U.S. cities, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s a 12 percent population hike in just three years.
Put another way: During that period, Austin essentially gained a city within a city, as the population rose by more than 95,000. By the way, that figure doesn’t include booming suburbs like Cedar Park, Georgetown and San Marcos.
“It’s not much of a mystery why Austin has fared so well,” Jordan Weissman wrote on Slate.com. “The city was only lightly affected by the recession, thanks in part to the fact that Texas was generally spared a housing bust, and its local economy is anchored by a state government, a massive university, and a tech scene.”
That helps explain why Austin is the envy of so many other cities, and so many people, around the country.
For years, business professionals from places like Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Wichita, Kansas, have descended on Austin in an effort to replicate at least some of our city’s economic magic. But the real proof of the level of envy regarding Austin rests with the number of people who have moved here, who are planning to move here or who are longing to move here.
In a recent piece for the Wall Street Journal, former Austin resident Tom Davenport, a professor at Babson College near Boston and a former professor at the University of Texas, succinctly captured the allure of Austin. He wrote that Austin is “quite interesting and fun. It’s got a funky, laid-back vibe and there are plenty of informal restaurants with outdoor seating, a river (that they call a lake) to run and bicycle around, and huge quantities of live music.”
Given that description, who wouldn’t be envious of Austin? If you still aren’t sold, this infographic from Austin-based SpareFoot offers 16 reasons why everyone has a case of Austin envy.
Over 150 people move to Austin, TX every day, making it the fastest growing city in the US. With warm weather, friendly dogs, a great business climate, and more breakfast tacos than you can shake a stick at, there’s no wonder why.
Located in Central Texas Hill Country, Austin, TX is a unique reservoir of arts, education, and eclectic people. Though the city has grown from a sleepy college town to one of the country’s largest city, its residents have still managed to “Keep Austin Weird.” Referred to as the Live Music Capital of the World, it’s not hard to walk down any given street on any given night of the week and see a great band playing.
Austin also hosts some of the country’s foremost festivals, including SXSW, ACL, and Fun Fun Fun Fest, all of which contribute to the growing amount of talent relocating to the city. Its business climate enjoys the open policies and low taxes that the rest of Texas has, but it also includes the innovative and hustling nature of the slew of technology startups moving here. ‘Silicon Hills’ is quickly becoming a hotbed for entrepreneurial talent.
At the center of Austin is the University of Texas, which now enrolls over 50,000 students. Saturdays in fall are electric events marked by huge crowds dressed in burnt orange. The school world renowned, topping national rankings in computer science, accounting, and engineering.
Austin is also a unique culinary experience. With events like Truck by TruckWest, the city is heaven for food trailers, with over 1,400 food trailers registered in Travis County alone. Of course, you can also find some of the best barbecue and breakfast tacos in the world in Austin.
There are many reasons people move to Austin, TX. An Austin-based startup, LawnStarter, points out six of them:
For those of us who live in Austin, TX, we already know how great of a city this is. How many times have we all seen the memes and blog posts on the theme of thanks for coming visit, now go home and don’t move here?
Some of the allure of the city is more focused on the culture or entertainment options / night life. Surely, those are amazing aspects of the city and the surrounding areas.
Another amazing feature this city offers is a consistently growing economy. One that contributes to both the state and national economies lucratively.
As a city that started out “weird” and cut our teeth with high tech startups, Austin is in fact a truly unique locale. Tech continues to be a driving force, both through local startups, large companies such as Apple and Facebook opening offices here, and via several well known tech conferences such as South By Southwest Interactive.
Hand in hand with that growing tech scene, we have one of the best job markets in all of the United States. We regularly find that our unemployment rate is a couple of percentage points below the national average. In fact, as of March 2014, Austin had the lowest unemployment rate among metro areas in the country!
Forbes: Austin is #3 in Job Growth
The logical conclusion of such a low unemployment rate is that we are also creating jobs, and a lot of them. This was validated by Forbes in late April in their article titled The Best Cities for Jobs 2014.
First, let’s review how Forbes has chosen the frontrunners in their analysis, by way of the excerpt below:
Our rankings are based on short-, medium- and long-term job creation, going back to 2002, and factor in momentum — whether growth is slowing or accelerating.
So in other words, this isn’t just a measure of how “hot” the market is today. The low unemployment rate covers that measure. It looks at how we have done in the past 12 years, reaching all the way back before the huge recession hit us a few years ago.
It also takes into account momentum. Cities with negative job growth would have a downward drag on their ranking in this system, even if they’ve seen massive job creation in the past.
Here is the list of the top 10 metro areas they called out, in rank order.
- San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California (aka Silicon Valley)
- San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, California
- Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos, Texas
- Raleigh-Cary North Carolina
- Houston, Texas
- Nashville-Franklin-Murfreesboro, Tennessee
- New York City
- Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, Florida
- Dallas-Plano-Irving, Texas
- Denver-Aurora-Broomfield, CO
Texas Shining Across the Board
In looking at this list, what jumps out at me immediately is that Texas sports three of the top 10 metro areas for jobs. While there are a variety of reasons why these cities are so successful, we can attribute the success at least in part by the business friendly climate in the state of Texas as a whole.
Considering how the Bay area has rebounded so aggressively to land in the top two spots after floundering for several years during the downturn, it is quite impressive to see Austin holding strong at #3 overall.
So on behalf of the locals, “Awesome, but shhhhh…don’t tell anyone how great it is. The traffic is already stacked up enough.”
If you’re stuck for a job and don’t mind relocating, though, Austin is one of the best places without having to pay Bay Area prices for cost of living that you can consider. And if you have experience fixing major traffic problems in a city growing at amazing rates, we’ll welcome you with open arms.
Thanks for reading!
Last week, money.cnn.com released their list of the 10 fastest growing cities in the country. We were not surprised to learn that Austin, TX ranked as the #1 city in terms of population growth. That explains the burst of traffic on our commutes!
According to their numbers, the city now sits at a population of 1.9 million, which supports the previously stated notion that we’ll be a 2 million person metro within the next year or two (statistic originally found on Austinist.com).
After residing here for over 20 years, I’ve watched the city grown leaps and bounds. It always felt like we were growing quickly, and the CNN Money ranking showed that we added nearly 48,000 new residents as of mid-2013. That is a heck of an impressive number given that it measures “net new” residents, meaning there are more people actually moving here, but some of that volume is offset by departures from Austin. You can see exactly how much we’ve grown just by comparing the skyline today vs. old pictures.
Just to put that “net new” number in perspective, it adds up to a 2.6% annualized growth rate. That means we probably have around 4% of the total population moving here each year, minus the folks who move on for new pastures (a complete guess on my part, so don’t quote these numbers for anything more than casual conversation).
Why Are All of These People Moving to Austin?
Great question! The article speculates that our “cultural vibrancy” (whatever that is) contributes heavily to the appeal. I’d wager that this relates to our outstanding art / music / creative-friendly scene, dedication to holistic healing like acupuncture and chiropractic care (among others), and our general weirdness as a metropolitan area.
Of course, it also calls out the big motivator: J-O-B-S. As mentioned on the piece, we have an unemployment rate of 4.7%, which is the lowest such rate among cities of 1M residents or more. Pretty impressive, even to someone who lives and breathes Austin like myself.
There are a few more reasons. Check out our last post Why People Are Moving to Austin for a more in depth review of the Austin allure.
What brought you to Austin? What keeps you here? Please share below!