Austin, Texas, Here We Come!

It’s a perfect day in Austin, Texas — blue skies, low humidity, about 83°. The Bacon family is in town for a wedding, and we’re going to stick around a couple of extra days to get a feel for one of America’s great cities. We were really hungry when we arrived, so we headed to Sixth Street, Austin’s famous restaurant row, and picked a place more or less at random: the Tamale House. Turned out to be a great choice.

The restaurant had a wonderful outdoor patio, but we decided to stay inside so we could listen to what Austin is really famous for: live music. The three-man band included a guitarist, a bass player and… a trombonist. The musical selection was impossible to classify — sort of old-timey jazz — but it made enjoyable listening while….

…the four of us chowed down on some excellent beef and chicken tacos, and washed them down with margaritas.

So, our first taste of Austin was awesome. Laura says the city reminds her of Richmond. It’s just bigger and has more high-tech industry, more construction, and more billboards in Spanish. And not as many historical neighborhoods. But I get what she means. Austin is a state capital and a big foodie and arts town. Who knows, maybe in another 30 years we’ll be as hip. All we need is a Willie Nelson!

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10 responses to “Austin, Texas, Here We Come!

  1. Been to Austin several times.. and in a lot of respects is similar to a lot of urban centers ringed with exurban counties… lots of workday commuting, lots of roads and “stroads” and now toll roads.

    And the food there is Tex-Mex and good!

    but something keeps sticking in my mind about what DJ has been saying about Virginia, NoVa, Dillion’s Rule and HOme rule.. and here again – we have a “greater” urban area of Austin – which is not one monolithic home-ruled jurisdiction but rather an amalgam of several counties under Texas Dillion Rule. I have no idea how Texas’s version of Dillon compares to Virginia.. if it is wider scope and lesser scope and I do not know if the several counties that make up Greater Austin have one set of rules, regulations, ordinances.. that apply uniformly across Greater Austin or each county has it’s own rules and there are overlaps with other counties and conflicts.

    I know in Virginia, for instance, development rules do vary by county. What Fairfax allows is not what Alexandria allows and vice versa. Fairfax and the other counties, towns, etc that make up NoVa have their own separate school, police, fire and rescue systems rather than one unified Governance.

    You probably don’t have the time nor inclination to do more than cursory observations… but again – what I saw in Austin was more like what I’ve seen in other places across the country – than anything distinctive and unique – although I’m sure people who have actually lived for a while in both Austin and RIchmond can spell out specifics.

  2. Here’s the county level map of Great Austin:

    Oh and I’d be totally remiss if I did not point out that Austin is yet another prosperous Democratic city… and I presume if you listen to folks on the right – yet another example of socialism in action, eh? 😉

  3. Here’s Greater Austin’s road network:

    and it appears that Austin’s development has been influenced by the road network…

  4. and here are the Austin Toll roads:

  5. At least Austin has one county, Travis, embracing its inner urban area (core plus inner suburbs), not three separate and often hostile jurisdictions like Richmond. That gives Austin a huge leg up for coordinated infrastructure and services planning.

  6. Compare Austin to Richmond. In 1970 the two cities had almost identical populations. Since then, one has boomed while another has languished.

    Bacon – show some balls here. Why has your beloved home city been unable to track with Austin, Charlotte, etc.

    Look around. What is different? Both are capitals of their states. One has become a technology juggernaut while the other occasionally attracts meat pie vendors.

    Seriously, Jim. You are in the perfect place to compare southern city (relative) success and failure. Why is Austin doing so well while Richmond remains a permanent disappointment?

    I am trying to be a horse’s ass with these comments but not only a horse’s ass. What’s the difference? Wouldn’t all Virginians be better off if Richmond had followed Austin’s path since 1970 than the path it actually followed?

    What are you actually learning in Austin?

  7. One thing that IS different is the way that school districts are done which do NOT necessarily align with political jurisdictional boundaries thus they are virtually all referred to as “Independent” school districts. Austin has one that seems to be an amalgamation of Austin city then some of Travis and part of other counties. I have not been able to find the rationale for how these independent district boundaries are determined.

    If you compared to Richmond – it would be like Richmond plus part of Henrico and Chesterfield… and unless I’m reading it wrong it appears the primary central school district in the Greater Austin area is 70% Hispanic and other minority and less than 20% white. hmmm….

    From the Wiki:
    ” In the 1970s white flight to Westlake and other suburbs of Austin that were majority white began. In 1970 the student body of AISD was 65% non-Hispanic (Anglo) white.[14] In the late 1970s the student body was 57% non-Hispanic white, 26% Hispanic and Latino, and 15% African-American.[15] Until 1978 AISD categorized Hispanics and Latinos as “white” so they could integrate them with African-Americans while leaving non-Hispanic whites out of integration. That year it was forced to integrate Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites.[16] In 2000 the student body of AISD was 37% non-Hispanic white.[14]”

    In terms of school population, the Austin District has 90,000 …Richmond has 24,000… Austin is closer to Fairfax at 110,000 …. curious.

  8. I second what djrippert requested. I spent a couple years in Austin and it seemed much more progressive from an economic development standpoint than Virginia, specifically compared to Richmond or Norfolk. It was a comparable city circa 1970 but has really progressed since then. Some of the things I noticed in passing are: 1) The community colleges seemed to be tied in closely with the local employers in curriculum and hiring (e.g. working in fab plant clean rooms) 2) UT Austin seemed to be much more directly engaged and impactful in economic development and nurturing startups in the area than UVA and Virginia Tech. This could have something to do with location, but it seemed there might be more to it than that. 3) Austin, the state, and federal reps seemed to be able to collaborate on ambitious projects. Examples would be growing the microprocessor business in the area and more recently, starting and building a medical school at UT Austin as a state, private (Dell foundation), local, and UT System collaborative effort and 4) Less city / county friction.

  9. I’m still not clear on how the greater Austin region, made up of Travis County and others function as a region different from say the “Greater” NoVa or “Greater” Richmond or “Greater”Hampton Roads regions do ..

    what are those substantiative and functional differences and is it those differences that propel a region like Great Austin to more, better economic prosperity than NoVa, Richmond, Hampton, “independent” cities.

    Austin is not “independent” but rather embedded in Travis County -and if one looks at a map…apparently part of other adjacent counties.

    It’s easier to view cities as “independent” like they are in Virginia… It’s harder (at least for me) to understand how cities are _not_ “independent in the other 49…

    Complicating this further – schools districts in Texas ARE independent and do not correlate with county boundaries. There are about 250 counties in Texas and over 1000 school districts!

    So still not clear to me if Austin is “independent” and has its own “home rule” and even though in Travis – governance is separate and independent from Travis County? Does Austin have a separate police force from Travis?

    when we say “Greater Austin” is that just a term of reference rather than actual political boundaries?

    • Making cities independent of counties presumes a rigidity that doesn’t exist in the real world. When cities are inside counties there is a level of cooperation that just doesn’t exist when they are independent. For example, a city that is growing can annex some of the surrounding county as that part of the county becomes more urbanized. Since the city is in the county anyway the county doesn’t lose land to the city. The county is the same size after annexation as it was before. In Virginia, it’s a taking of the county’s land and tax base. So it spins up a lot of emotion.

      Urban areas have different problems than suburban areas which, in turn, have different problems from rural areas. As a city grows some of the area immediately adjacent to the city becomes urbanized. That urbanization doesn’t necessarily apply to the rest of the county. The zip code of the area where I grew up in Fairfax County has a population density of just under 6,600 people per sq mi. The population density of the zip code in Fairfax County where I live now is 607 people per sq mi. The zip code of where I grew up look a lot more like the City of Alexandria than most of Fairfax County. Why? Because it borders Alexandria and have been urbanized. If Alexandria were a city within Fairfax County then the city limits could be extended without any change to the size or shape of Fairfax County. Instead, Alexandria is Alexandria and Fairfax is left to try to reconcile urban and suburban settlement patterns. Loudoun has even bigger differences with urban, suburban and rural areas.

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