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SXSW Transplants: Coming for the Tech, Staying for the Weird

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Another South by Southwest has come and gone – and in its wake comes the inevitable cry from some local natives: “Don’t move here.”

Pulling up the drawbridge on SXSW visitors isn’t anything new: back in 1997, one local band minted t-shirts telling folks they could go back home when the music’s over. But as SXSW Interactive continues its explosive growth – with a 25 percent surge this year and over 30,000 attendees – it attracts a different set of attendees than music-loving spring breakers. And some of those attendees may not be going back.

One clear sign: a SXSW Interactive contest to move your startup to Austin, offering $100,000 in prizes and benefits. As more and more people move to Austin – thanks in large part to a burgeoning tech sector – the ire of the SXSW backlash may be moving from interloping music fans to new tech transplants.

Joshua Long is a professor at Southwestern University who specializes in urban planning and environmental studies. He’s literally written the book on Austin weirdness, and worries that Austin is slowly, but surely, losing its weird.

“It is a sort of fight to preserve that identity in the face of the new ‘international’ city of Austin, which is an identity that Austin is gaining,” says Long.

The new arrivals aren’t a bad thing, he says, but they’re part of a wave of young professionals that have changed the face of Austin.

The expansion of Austin, says Austin city demographer Ryan Robinson, is a product of Austin’s mini tech-boom.

Austin’s long-term, sustainedrapid population growth continues to be driven by the two fundamental factors of strong job growth and a very high quality of life,” Robinson says. “Metropolitan Austin’s overall appeal … is its urban core, the city of Austin itself.”  

Long eschews the idea of persecuting those from out of town. He encourages the inevitable newcomers to remember the eccentric, environmentally friendly, live-music-loving, neighbor-loving “myth of Austin,” but adds that he was once just “[another one] of those people clogging up traffic on 35.”

As for the city’s future growth, Robinson says that the challenge of urban development is not a new one.

“I think that the new data just verify that we’re moving on a trajectory of very rapid growth,” Robinson says.  “We’ve been moving along a trajectory of massive growth for a long time.”

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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