Interesting Austin

We’re down in Austin for a visit, and our first day here reaffirms what I’ve believed for a while: Austin is one of the most interesting cities in America.

For one thing, it’s booming. Many tech companies have moved into the Austin area, and the skyline is dotted with construction cranes putting up some very interesting new buildings, like the one in the photo above. Many transplants from other states, particularly California, have followed the tech companies to Austin, resulting in Texas’ capital city dealing with an unprecedented influx of recent arrivals that has created perhaps the hottest–some might say completely overheated–housing market in the United States. If you’re trying to buy a house in Austin, coming from a place like Columbus, prepare yourself for egregious sticker shock and the frustration and disappointment of being routinely outbid by people paying far above the asking price because they also are desperate to buy a home of their own.

From our walk around downtown last night, it’s pretty clear that Austin has a very active population of youngish professionals and tech workers who are looking to have a raucous good on Sixth Street or Rainey Street on a Friday night. There’s an active nightlife, and we had dinner at a really good restaurant that was so busy we couldn’t get in until 9:30 Central Time. That’s like dining in New York City.

But the booming growth and sizzling housing market and partying is going on cheek by jowl with an obvious homelessness problem. Many intersections, highway underpasses, roadway sidebeds, and downtown sidewalks are the site of homeless encampments. The Austin homeless live in tents or under tarps, like the person in the photo above, with their possessions defining their own personal space. It’s hot here now, and it’s hard to imagine how the homeless survive broiling days when the temperature hits the upper 90s. The choice between being out in the blazing sun all day, or sitting in a suffocating tent, isn’t a good one. It can’t be healthy for these unfortunate people, and the encampments raise e, public health, basic sanitation, crime, and personal security issues. But how do you begin to tackle such a huge problem?

The photo below shows a homeless encampment right in front of the Austin City Hall building, at one of the major intersections bringing you into the downtown area. It’s not exactly the kind of image that a city would want to project to visitors, but there’s a lot of things on Austin’s plate right now. The city is trying to deal with the homelessness challenges, an obvious housing shortage, bursting at the seams growth that looks like it will continue indefinitely, a changing political dynamic, and assimilation of a bunch of newcomers into the proudly weird Austin way of life.

As I said: Austin is an interesting city.