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What Draws People to Austin (And What Drives Them Away)

Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

It’s no surprise that Austin ranks highly on many lists: fastest growing cities, best cities, even “hipster” cities.

But a more personal conversation has been unfolding on the Austin page of popular social website Reddit, simply asking “Why did you choose Austin?”

A native Austinite posed the question, noting many friendships made with people who decided to move to here. “So, my question to you Austin Redittors, why do you love Austin? Why is this where you want to live over other places? I'd love to see from another perspective why you think this city is so awesome.”

The question garnered 70 responses. Several answers dwell upon Austin’s traditional draws, but others are more attached to what makes Austin weird:

  • People come for school – then stick around: “I moved here to finish school at UT about 20 years ago after traveling like a nomad for quite a bit,” writes Redditor MonsterBronson. “Of all the cities I've seen, Austin is the best (for multiple reasons) so I never left.”
  • Visitors fall in love with Austin: “2005 SXSW (interactive) brought me down here from MO.,” says Redditor ZombiGoats. “Austin sucked me in (as it does to many) and I moved down here in '06.”
  • The tech industry is a big draw: Zxypoo says “I grew up in New England for most of my life. I left to start a career in Austin at one of the large tech companies in town. I enjoyed life here for ten years and then moved to the bay area after getting an amazing opportunity. After two years in the bay area, I'm heading back to Austin... it's just a better city by far.”
  • We’re the Live Music Capital: A few responders came to try and break into the scene as performers, but many come to watch. “I am a huge music junkie and love going to concerts,” says nathanfairchild. “Austin is just about the perfect place for someone with a passion for music. It seemed like a no brainer after college to move here.”
  • The blue dot in the red sea: Redditors refer not only to Austin’s democratic reputation politically, especially in comparison to the rest of Texas, but also to its inclusion of the LGBT community. Redditor icecreamburns says he was “Raised outside of Waco (Crawford, TX) I moved to San Marcos for school. I'm also a gay dude, and staying where I grew up was not for me b/c of the ultra conservative atmosphere. … Thank you Austin. I've never felt more ‘me’ than anywhere else.”
  • A (relatively) low cost of living: Some posters note that you can live in Austin with a high standard of living for less than in many other major cities. “There are lots of places I could live, and my favorite city is Chicago,” writes Evilution84. “However, the quality of life one can have on my income is very different here than it is in the other places I would live (Seattle, Portland, NYC, and Chicago).”
  • But the natives are restless: Naturally, some native Austinites also voiced their concerns about the city. “Austin was so much better 10 years ago, even 5,” bigdumbman writes. “You outsiders ruined my city. definitely moving outta here. Yes, i am being THAT guy."

Some longtime residents displayed similar attitudes. ZombiGoats, quoted above, qualified their response by adding “While a fitting place for my career, now I want to GTFO more and more each day.”
Joshua Long is an assistant professor at Southwestern University in Georgetown. He’s also something of an expert in Austin culture, having written the first scholarly tome on the topic, “Weird City: Sense of Place and Creative Resistance in Austin, Texas.” He tells KUT News these answers track closely with what he’s heard over the years.

“I've asked an awful lot of people why they move to Austin, and as you might imagine, a lot of people give the standard answers (job offers, personal relationships, etc.),” Long says via email. “The thing is, the ‘job’ or the ‘girlfriend’ is almost never what people talk much about. Instead it usually goes something like this, as Long imagines a hypothetical conversation going:

Long: So why did you decide to move to Austin? Transplant: Well, I got a job at AMD, but I moved here because this city is so cool. I kept hearing all these things about Austin and had to check it out. And it is true. The music, the hike-and-bike trail, the's everything I want in a city. Now that I live here, I can tell you that there is just something about this city.

Long says an "Austin exceptionalism" defines many residents’ idea of the city – both recent converts and grumbling old-timers alike.

“Some time ago, Austinites borrowed the time-honored state tradition of ‘Texas exceptionalism’ and distilled it down into a municipal-sized batch of Kool-Aid," Long says. "And we all drank it. It was cold, cheap, blue, and there was plenty of it. It brainwashed everyone into believing that they lived in a vortex of perpetual cool. Consequently, people started acting like they lived in a vortex of perpetual cool. This was a time when rent was cheap, music permeated the air, and the Drag still smelled like a mix of migas and cheap Mexican pot. It was easier back then, it seems, to follow the self-fulfilling prophecy of Austin exceptionalism without getting drowned in your own sense of self-cool.”                                                              

“Today, Austinites still hold on to that sense of exceptionalism. But we are becoming very aware of our own contradictions. We have created a love/hate relationship with the new growth, the new residents, the new buildings, and even some of the new bands. … You hear a lot of people criticizing what Austin has become. But a lot of those people still live in Austin. Those that leave – well – they miss it. “

We want to hear what drew you to Austin – or what you feel may be driving you away. Leave us a comment and let us know: Why Austin? Or why not? 

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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