Is Austin a great city?

Austin is a great place to live, we say, but is it a great city like New York, San Francisco, Seattle, et al? Derek Woodgate and I have been discussing this off and on for the last year or two, and I think we agree that Austin falls short despite all the buzz about the city’s creative talent and our links to music, film, and online media industries. True, we have creative people, but are they invested in the community, and does the community invest in them? And as far as music, film, and media industries go, Austin is more of a farm community, as Alex Cavalli of the Central Texas Digital Convergence Initiative often points out. Which is to say, major studios may make films here and leverage our talent, but how many of them are located here?

But rather than try to make the case, I’d like to hear comments, and there’s a whole range of possible responses – Austin is great, and here’s why. Or Austin doesn’t need to be great. Or Austin could be great, here’s what we have to do. Thoughts?

5 Comments so far

  1. Charlie (unregistered) on November 10th, 2005 @ 7:12 pm

    Austin is a great ‘small city’ and I think it tries too hard sometimes to compete with the big city. We are certainly no NYC or SF. Funny, if you go to SF and say how awesome Paris is it will piss them off. They think they are the ‘Paris’. So, every city has a little bit of a chip on its shoulder.

    Austin is doing just fine. We need some infrastructure and mass transit downtown and I’d love a more urban feel as opposed to the suburban sprawl of a Dallas, but all in all (and I’ve lived in 4 top 10 markets) Austin is my kinda place.

  2. Kristina B (unregistered) on November 10th, 2005 @ 8:22 pm

    I agree. Austin is a great ‘small city’. It’s really small. I also despise sprawl. I think there are some good people out there making an effort to make the city grow up instead of out… we’ll see how that turns out. I do long for a more urban life. I am about 7 minutes from 6th and Congress by car, but somehow I feel like I live in the ‘burbs.

  3. native (unregistered) on November 10th, 2005 @ 11:49 pm

    Austin is a city that has two mechanisms driving its core: government and the university. extrapolate what that means for investing: government means that the city attracts reps from whatever texas industries are concerned with government regulation (can you think of any?). these industries are not those related to any creative output.

    the university means that there is an ephemeral and cyclical supply of liberal and creative thought, which takes dallas and houston oil-babies for a fun ride on the hippie train before they buck up like dad said they’d have to and get a real job. this fact trickles into the music scene, which bubbles with people interested in making music, but loses those when the kids graduate and have to move back home with the folks. hence, when you get here it seems like there’s a lot happening, but it’s mainly just a bunch of suburban kids writing crappy songs and getting drunk to loud music.

    mass transit, seemingly requisite for smart growth, will never work here, for a few reasons. only poor people ride the bus because the city was designed after the automobile and before good urban planning. also, the urban/suburban split didn’t occur here the same way it did in larger, industrial cities because austin has never had heavy blue collar industry. in cities that were centered around heavier industries, suburbs sprang up because urbanization brought blue collars to the inner city from the boondock farmlands. this sent higher-income residents running for the burbs. thus neighborhoods like travis heights, clarksville, tarrytown and hyde park are minutes away from downtown, instead of miles away so as to require mass transit.

    Austin will never see true big city/ great city status, because its roots are in the wrong place.

  4. Rantor (unregistered) on November 11th, 2005 @ 7:31 am

    Austin is a creature of the early 19th century in its planning and layout, long before the automobile was dreamed of. Most of its original plan still exists, although lately the City has been vacating alleys and building over more than one entire block at a time.

    Because of its institutions of higher learning and being the seat of state government, Austin was a perfect small city up until 25 or 30 years ago. Only two major mistakes had been made: dividing Austin by IH-35 and beginning MoPac.

    Not that long ago, Oltorf was Austin city limits to the south. Hyde Park (19th century) and Travis Heights (early 20th century) were (and of course are)dense enough to support mass transit (and they do); they were built as streetcar suburbs. The lots are small and most do not accommodate motor vehicles. That is why, when the City removes on-street parking for the greater speed and convenience of traffic speeding through, the people who live there suffer. People who lived in them and who live there now predominately work downtown or at UT and either walk or ride the bus or a bicycle or emplloy some combination thereof. Austin has never been abandoned by its movers and shakers; they never went to the suburbes; they stay out of the paper.

    Every service was available downtown 30 and even 25 years ago. There was little homelessness. The Alamo offered cheap rooms; people were not discouraged from long-term camping at various county parks; all the motels on the old Dallas and San Antonio highways still existed and offered cheap weekly rates; rents in general were cheap.

    Austin was a beautiful small pre-WWII city; it is now a mediocre medium-sized city with less and less to distinguish it from other places as more and more of its core is destroyed. One sign of its provinciality is that it’s not an around-the-clock place. We can all name all the 24-hour outfits. Austin will never be a New York or a Chicago, and that’s fine.

    At least it’s not a whitebread town. Those of usw who love it will always do so.

  5. Jon Lebkowsky (unregistered) on November 11th, 2005 @ 8:45 pm

    Thanks for those thoughtful responses! I suspect I’ll bring this up again…

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