State of the City part 1: Growth

For those Austinites who weren’t able to get a copy of the premiere issue of The Austinite, here’s a look at our cover feature, State of the City, by Shelley Seale. Covering a range of topics from Austin’s ethnic diversity and gentrification, to political climate and the cost of living, here Shelley discusses Austin’s rapid growth. Check back tomorrow for part two, where Shelley looks at ethnic diversity and gentrification in Austin.

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With our city growing and changing around us, we take a closer look at the issues shaping Austin today.

The speed with which Austin is growing seems to be the hottest topic of conversation around the city these days. An explosion of “Don’t move here” t-shirts and “We hear Houston is nice” bumper stickers proliferate amid the buzz about how many thousands of people move to the city and its surrounding areas each month. In January 2014, Forbes magazine named Austin the number-one fastest growing city in the country—for the fourth year in a row.

“With a 2.5 percent population growth rate (estimated annual) for 2013—the highest of all the geographic regions­—­­and an economy that expanded 5.88 percent last year, it’s hard for other cities to compete these days,” the Forbes report stated.

U.S. Census Bureau numbers show that during 2013, an average 131 people per day moved to the Austin Metropolitan Statistical Area (which includes Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays, Travis and Williamson Counties), bringing the total metropolitan area population to 1.8 million. And that number was down from the previous two years; in 2012, 146 people moved here each day, while 2011 welcomed 148 newcomers daily.

While the growth is bemoaned by many and has certainly created its share of problems—have you tried driving practically anywhere around town lately?—there are some definite pluses as well. For a city getting larger each day, our statistical crime rate remains relatively low. According to CQ Press, Austin’s crime rate is the fourth lowest in the nation among cities with more than 500,000 people. Our health-conscious lifestyle has also been noted by many, and Sharecare named Austin one of the Top 10 Fittest Cities in America in January 2014.

Terri Givens, Associate Professor in the Government Department at the University of Texas at Austin and author of a new book, Legislating Equality, says that growth is a double-edged sword. “On the one hand, it’s great to see the dynamism in the city, lots of young people moving here and a strong job market. On the other hand, there are issues of high housing costs, traffic and environmental issues, particularly since we are in the middle of a severe drought. This is an area where Austin can’t do it alone; we need to work closely with surrounding communities and around the state to work on more sustainable solutions to transportation and housing that can be managed in the context of the current infrastructure and environmental concerns.”

Originally published January 18th, 2015 in The Austinite Magazine.

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