Austin has gotten a lot of national attention recently, and there’s a lot that the national press doesn’t seem to understand. For instance the New York Times ran a piece on how Austin ‘became one of the least affordable cities in the country’. That’s actually not a mystery (they pin it on too many people moving to Austin, and not enough housing supply but never ask why). Like in many cities zoning laws prevent increasing the supply of housing where people want to live and that prices people out.
But the trend of moving to Austin far predates Elon Musk and Tesla, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Samsung and Google joining long-time major employers Dell, Whole Foods, the IRS and UT Austin with major presences here.
Austin is cheaper and administratively easier than heavily taxed and regulated California, and cheaper and warmer than New York. And it’s still a place that Californians and New Yorkers are willing to call home. I grew up in New York and went to school in California.
Shortly after I moved to Austin in 2014 Jon Stewart hosted his show from Austin in a series called “South By South Mess” and they sent a correspondent to the border to investigate the immigration crisis. The reporter was standing on the side of the freeway investigating immigration into Austin.
They interviewed locals and one offered, in effect, ‘Austin is nothing like it was when I moved here six days ago.’
When I moved here for a change and different quality of life after 18 years in the Washington DC area there were (3) things people complained about in Austin, and each one was an improvement for me over the Capital Region.
- High real estate prices. It was expensive for Texas
- Traffic. The city had experienced growth, but no one had ever been at I-495 at the 270 spur at 5 p.m. on a Thursday. (Let alone on the Long Island Expressway Eastbound Friday evening in the summer.)
- Heat in the summer. Central Texas summers are hot but Austin isn’t Houston. It’s nowhere near the water and we don’t get Houston humidity. I left a place literally built on a swamp. I’d gladly take 100 temperatures over 95 degrees and 90% humidity.
And those were the ‘bad things’ about Austin, I hadn’t gotten to what was good yet. I first came here on a barbecue pilgrimage. I’d never visited prior to 2012, and we met up with Summer Hull (Mommy Points from The Points Guy) along with her husband for dinner our first night in town. We knew they did meat exceptionally well here, but had no idea that we’d discover while there were few truly world class dining establishments here nearly every place was above average.
Come here and there’s no shortage of very good food. Get to know Kemuri Testsuya, El Naranjo, Foreign & Domestic, Lenoir, Dai Due, Clark’s, Lambert’s, La Barbecue, Odd Duck and Sour Duck, and Loro.
When Donald Trump supporters warned in 2016 that there’d be ‘taco trucks on every corner’ if Hillary Clinton won, between chains Torchy’s, Tacodeli, and Veracruz All Natural it seemed like I had glimpsed our collective future and it was glorious.
Austin is known for music, there’s live music at the airport, and it’s called “the live music capital of the world.” But we found music was only a small piece of the creative scene here, and enjoyed the experimental theater just as much.
We kept coming back for visits, looking for things we wouldn’t like about Austin. We accelerated and returned monthly. No warning signs developed, and we decided to make the move.
After moving here I spent two weeks trying to figure out how to get a business license. I couldn’t find any information on it. It never occurred to me that’s because I didn’t need one.
When I lived in Arlington, Virginia I needed a business license for my website, because there was advertising revenue. I had to physically go down to the county offices to get it. But first I had to have an approved parking plan. I literally had to draw my car in my parking space in the underground garage of my building and get it stamped before they’d take my form and money and issue me a license.
Austin isn’t just Austin, it’s also Texas. Those two things sometimes have an uneasy coexistence but also benefit from each other. Austin a cosmopolitan city, with a compact downtown, that I often compared to San Francisco when I arrived in 2014. But it has the administrative benefits of being in Texas. No business licenses, no state income tax, high speed limits. Not everything is easy, it has some of the most onerous occupational licensing rules. But overall it was a liberal city in a bit of a laissez faire state.
I’ve been here long enough, going on 8 years, that I’m no longer an interloper. I’m not longer one of the outsiders invading the city the waiting to be documented by Jon Stewart’s cameras. There have been successive rounds of people ‘discovering Austin’. This sped up during the pandemic.
When I moved here Austin was big on tech jobs but there wasn’t much tech money. That’s changed. Now in affluent areas and top restaurants Range Rovers have been replaced by Teslas. I thought I’d missed the window of home affordability as prices rose in the middle of the last decade. I bought my current home four years ago and Refin thinks it’s appreciated 80%.
Austin isn’t perfect. It still lacks good Southeast Asian food like you’ll find in Houston. It congratulations itself on its progressivism as it’s one of the most gentrified places you’ll find. It sees itself as compassionate while voting to kick the homeless out of unsightly camps. And during the pandemic it voted for a new rail system when what it lacks is the density where rail makes sense.
The city was underrated when I first got here. It’s probably no longer underrated, but correctly rated. Although it’s fair to wonder whether, when American Airlines Chief Revenue Officer Vasu Raja starts calling Austin his “love language,” the city might even have jumped the shark a bit.