Dear Austin

Dear Austin,

I’ve seen you in the news a lot lately, so I just wanted to check in and say how proud I am of you, little brother. It’s been a while.

You probably saw that “I love you tacos so much” mural goof I did in late 2015. Yeah, a lot of people liked that. God only knows how many have had their picture taken in front of that wall. Like I said, I did it as a goof, but also I meant it as a sign of respect for you and for tacos.Lil Bro

The other day I was trying to remember when the last time was that we really got together on something big. I think it was all the dreaming and planning we did for that commuter rail line that would’ve linked us together. Looking back on it, maybe I wanted it more than you did. But I could tell you wanted it too.

I hope I didn’t annoy you. If I did, I apologize.

Also, in case you heard about one or two news stories where it looked like I was bragging about poaching a couple of your tech companies — just so you know, the reporters took what I said way out of context. I called up them after the stories ran and gave them absolute hell. IT is really just a side hustle of mine. You obviously own that industry. You always had the head for that kind of thing, and the flagship university campus and the rest of the tech infrastructure.

Hey, along those lines, you’ve probably heard about the Adopt-a-City competition that Amazon announced a few weeks ago. Sounds like what they’re talking about is a complete makeover for the winner– a second corporate headquarters and 50,000 new jobs. I was like wow. But still, I didn’t think about it that much until the craziest thing started happening. Friends were coming to me and saying, “Hey, if you and your brother teamed up as a single contestant, you could win!” A couple of them said our pairing up would be “singularly disruptive.” They even came up with a name: San Austin.

Man, I laughed hard. So lame. But it kept coming up again and again and again, until finally I decided I should give it some thought. And you know what? It started making sense to me. Our populations are coming together along I-35 — fastest-growing corridor in the country! And our skills are complementary. I’m a back-office kind of guy — lots of call centers, plenty of high school graduates willing to do the work, lots of bilingual workers. I also have a bunch of server farms — always happy to build more! — and cheap electricity rates. And you — you’d be front-office all the way, the brains of the operation. You’d bring all that flashy IT talent and that cool urban thing you have down. (You know me — just beer and hanging out with friends and family.) The more I think about it, the more I think we’d be unbeatable.

And look, I know you wouldn’t really need me in order to compete. But, honestly, the money and exposure would help me out. You should know, though, I am doing better. I’m working on my weight problem. My high-school and college graduation rates still aren’t great but they’re heading in the right direction. Same with my teen pregnancy rates.  Still don’t really have a mass transit plan or housing policy, but I do have SA Tomorrow, so there’s that. I know what you’re thinking: Make the improvements I need to make, take care of the fundamentals, and the economic growth will come…. Or I could compete for HQ 2 with you now, win it, and let the Amazon magic do its thing. That’s my preference.

If you have time to come visit to talk it over,  I’ll take you to this place I’ve been dying for you to see — the Pearl. I think you’ll love it. Let me know!

In the meantime, keep thinking San Austin, San Austin, San Austin….

 

Love always bro,

San Antonio

 

 

 

Please Shut Up About Austin

 

Two weeks ago, Austinites said “screw you” to Uber. Knowing the rideshare company and its smaller competitor, Lyft, would likely bolt if they rejected a rollback of the City of Austin’s regulations, voters said no anyway.

Uber lost the referendum because voters detested the company’s strong-arm campaign tactics, which brought into sharp focus just how arrogant and strong-armed its business tactics have been.

But I’m going to exercise my blogger’s prerogative and offer up another, deeper reason, without any evidence whatsoever.

Many of the voters who rejected Uber’s ultimatum were fired up by the frustration of living in Austin these days. They are tired of the traffic that’s wasting more of their time and creating more air pollution. Their neighborhoods are being overrun by newcomers with little history in Austin and no sense of the place. As their homes value rise, their property taxes eat up more of their money.

For Austinites on the margins — most musicians and artists, servers and bartenders, hotel workers, and mechanics — the city has become hostile territory.

The reality of Austin is increasingly at odds with natives’ memories of Austin.

What’s changed is that Austin’s one of the big deals in the information economy. Apple, Google, and Facebook operate there. So do Ebay/Paypal, Oracle, Silicon Laboratories, and Applied Materials. San Antonio companies such as Rackspace Hosting and the cybersecurity firm Denim Group have a presence there because they need to access the city’s tech talent — it’s still way harder to come by in SA.

The impact of this growth shows most dramatically in Austin’s housing statistics. The city’s median home value last year was $227,800, according to the U.S. Census. San Antonio’s median? Just a shade more than half that — $114,600.

An aside: we’re hearing that San Antonio is a “city on the rise” much less often these days, for a few reasons. The biggest is that then-Mayor Julian Castro took off to fulfill his real ambition — to make Julian Castro a true national Democrat. Whatever the reasons, I’m glad “city on the rise” as a brand is withering away. I suspected that, to the people who repeated COTR ad nauseam, San Antonio would look an awful lot like Austin when it stopped rising.

Not that that’s even possible. Technological preeminence is not in San Antonio’s DNA.

Invisible in Austin: Life and Labor in an American City, published in September, gives a good historical rundown of Austin’s exceptionalism. It started after the Civil War with Austin leaders keeping tenement housing and other kinds of public housing out of their city. They didn’t want factory workers mucking up the place. Factory owners got the hint, and manufacturing never became a major part of the local economy.

Attempts to exclude the great unwashed didn’t stop there. 

“Historically, there has been a consistent failure on the part of city actors to make affordable housing a necessary part of urban growth in Austin,” wrote the authors of Invisible in Austin, which profiles 11 people struggling to survive their city’s economic boom.

Austin’s development was anchored in the University of Texas and state politics and government. From there, you get the idea — brain power, research capacity, and the rise of “the creative class.” It’s a short jump to tech Mecca.

And to Tesla Model S sedans cruising down Congress Avenue, the best concoctions that mixology has to offer, and glitzy condo highrises overlooking a city whose culture is under new management.

Uber and Lyft were at the heart of it all. They made up the transit system for the new elite.

On May 7, Austinites stuck with more of the downside than upside finally had a chance to act collectively, and they did a William F. Buckley Jr. They stood athwart history yelling “Stop!”