Austin, Texas is Becoming More Like Los Angeles, and That's Not a Good Thing

Carol Lennox
Austin, Texas view of downtown and the capitol building.Photo by Mitchell Kmetz on Unsplash

Driving on vacation in Los Angeles in the early 2010s was nerve wracking. I drove a borrowed standard transmission car and stalling was a given. Not that it mattered, because there was very little movement anyway. As I sat on the freeway, I could see the filmy, sooty smog blurring downtown L.A. When I visit there now to see my son, botth traffic and smog are getting back to pre-COVID levels. I've since experienced the same things in Austin, Texas.

In 2013 I moved to Austin,Texas. Austin is the capital of Texas and home to our legistature. For most of my life Austin, Texas was a laid-back, liberal, funky, medium-sized university town. It's home to the University of Texas, Huston-Tillotson University, St. Edwards University, and several Austin Community College campuses so it's the epitome of a college town. Or it was.

Sometime in the late 1990s, more people began moving to Austin, Texas. California, especailly the coastal cities, was pricing people out of the housing market there. Selling a house in California could net someone enough money to relocate and buy much more house in Austin for much less money. Traffic began building up in Austin as more people migrated here.

Austin also began attracting its share of "snow birds," people from the north who bought condos in Austin, Texas to spend winters here where the weather is generally milder. With the exception of this past February freeze, winters are usually mild.

After Hurricane Harvey in Houston a couple of years ago, people who lost homes there began moving into Austin. While Austin is still half the population of Houston, we are now inheriting Houston traffic and that demand has raised housing prices even more.

All these migrations have raised housing prices in Austin to the point middle class families can no longer afford to buy here. If they own a home in Austin, they can sell at a considerable profit, but then can't afford to buy somewhere else in Austin. Austin, Texas is now having the same housing crisis California had which brought Californians to Austin in the first place.

Austin, Texas is currently the 11th largest city in the United States. At 978,908 population and counting, it's still half the size of Houston and approximately a fourth the size of Los Angeles. However, it grew 45.6% from 2000 to 2020 , and is growing faster than 91% of cities of similar size in the United States.

Though Covid drastically slowed both traffic and pollution here in Austin this past year, now that people are getting out of their homes again, the traffic on certain days and at certain times is as congested as it was pre-COVID. As a result, downtown Austin is shimmering behind a similar smog blanket as all the other big cities in the United States.

Both high end stores and homeless camps line the sidewalks in Austin these days, just as they do in L.A. Tent camps which have been staples in L.A. are now ubiquitous in Austin, Texas. On my visit to L.A. in September, I walked past homeless tents crammed together on the sidewalks of Venice Beach. Here in Austin I drive by them under every underpass, and in grassy medians of busy streets.
Homeless tent downtown Austin, Texasphoto by Adam Thomas on Unsplash

While the homeless population burgeons, high end boutiques and chains from California and New York are taking over the iconic, medium priced, family owned stores and restaurants on S.Congress Avenue in Austin. At a time when more people order merchandise online, Austin is booming with brick and mortar stores, and erasing the culture of the city.
Locally owned Heritage Boots off S. CongressPhoto by Christina Boemio on Unsplash

Keeping Austin Weird has long been the battle cry of Austinites. Unfortunatley, as Austin becomes more homogenized, our weirdness is getting harder and harder to find. And that's a huge cultural loss.

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My purpose is to inspire and inform. You can read more by me on, and on the Good Men Project. I've had a lifetime of valuable experiences, and I want to share the lessons I've learned readily, or been forced to learn. I'm a psychotherapist, a hypnotherapist, a mother to my amazing son, Blake Scott, whom I write about often. I also write about race, equality, social justice, sex, government, and Mindfulness, not in that order.

Austin, TX

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