When Steve Davis, 34, moved to Austin from Indianapolis on July 5, it was two months later than planned—and to a much different city than the one he'd visited months earlier.
"My main purpose was to get out of my Indy bubble and meet new people," he told Austonia. "I haven't been able to do that."
Davis, who works for a mortgage company, began charting his move early this year. He planned to transfer from his employer's Indiana headquarters to a satellite office in Austin. When he visited the city in February, friends organized a party bus to drive their group from Salt Lick to a distillery and the Oasis on Lake Travis.
When the pandemic hit, Davis was unsure if a move would even be possible. "I kind of got over it and was like, 'OK, I'm just going to be stuck in Indy and not get to move,'" he said.
When Indiana and Texas began to loosen restrictions in late May, Davis visited Austin again. He signed a lease and confirmed an early July move-in. "I was like, 'I want to get down there before the second wave hits, so I can at least meet people and make friends,'" he said. "Well, it seems like that second wave hit when I was moving."
Now in Austin, Davis chose to work out of his new office even though it means wearing a mask all day. "I'm single, I live alone, and I didn't want to be stuck at home and not see anybody," he said.
Despite the challenges, Davis is glad he made the move—and hopeful that the city will open up in the coming weeks.
He is not alone.
Although the impact of the pandemic on moving trends is not yet known, people continue to arrive in Austin, which U.S. News and World Report named the best place to live—for the third year running—in May.
The adjustment can be hard when gathering places—such as parks, pools and bars—are closed and social gatherings are taboo.
Matthew Winters created a Facebook group for 20- and 30-somethings new to Austin in 2013. It now has 9,411 members, many of whom post about wanting to meet people.
But the utility of such groups changes in a pandemic. "The longer that it goes on, what I've noticed is events are just generally dying," Winters said.
Before COVID-19, members would post about gathering for discos or to network. When local stay-home orders took effect in late March, some members who work in tech organized creative virtual events—a game night or playing music as a group—but they have since tapered off.
There is also more trolling and negative commentary. "I've just noticed that kind of animosity a lot more during COVID than before," Winters said.
Some people are still connecting with others.
Katie Bennett, 28, moved to the Riverside neighborhood from Denver in mid-June for a job in finance. She quickly found a group of friends after joining a Facebook group for women new to Austin.
After organizing a socially distanced meetup at a dog park, she and some of the other members rented a boat for a lake day and went out to brunch. One woman brought along someone she had met on Bumble BFF, expanding the circle.
Finding new friends has eased Bennett's transition to a new city. "We understand where each other is coming from," she said. "I don't want to say that any of us have too many complaints, but we can commiserate with each other and the situation that we're all in."
One topic of conversation: dating.
"My experience on dating apps has been different, whether that be Austin or the pandemic," she said. "And I wouldn't say that's a positive difference."
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Live Music Capital of the World. Mecca of all things "weird." City of hippies, slackers and honky tonks—Austin's reputation was once synonymous with all things "cool."
But after three years as the top city to live in the U.S., Austin fell to No. 13 in the U.S. News & World Report's ranking this year.
For over a hundred years, Austinites have lamented that their city's charm is gone, and some continue to worry that the city has swapped too many of its grittier live music venues for gleaming corporate towers.
Has Austin's coolness taken a fall from grace? Here's a look at what could be affecting Austin's reputation.
Migration and affordability—not so cool
3. The median priced home costs $635K, while the median Austin resident can only afford a $438K home.— Nik Shah 🏡 (@NikhaarShah) June 16, 2022
This affordability gap of $187K is 3x higher than at the national level! pic.twitter.com/CH036nj8Nn
There can always be too much of a good thing–including dating profiles bragging about packing up and moving to Austin.
Austin saw a higher growth rate than any other U.S. city from 2010-2020 as the metro attracted 171,465 newcomers in a decade.
With highly publicized move-ins including billionaire Elon Musk, podcaster Joe Rogan and tech HQs, came a gaggle of Californians eager to eke out a living in the burgeoning "boomtown" paradise.
An affordability crisis ensued.
Young people, who often serve as the drumbeat of a city's "coolness," are quickly being priced out amid skyrocketing rent. While a Rent.com study ranked Austin as one of the best cities for young professionals in 2022, the city's share of 20-24-year-old residents was 7.5% of the population in 2019—down from 8.6% in 2010.
And the so-called "slackers" that helped make Austin famous are now struggling to survive in a city where the median price for a home is now $550,000, especially as many in the city's creative class make well below a living wage.
Live music and things to do—still cool
The outside, Zilker, Towne Lake, Barton Springs, dozens of decent hiking within the area. This is the advantage, do the free outside stuff (Austin has wonderful patio restaurants, etc but then the 💵 goes) More time inside less advantage to living here.— Trust_w/o_Journey_Is_Compliance (@runningman902) June 7, 2022
Austin was famously dubbed the "Live Music Capital of the World" in 1991 when officials discovered that the city had more live music venues per capita than anywhere else in the U.S. And with 46.4 venues per 100,000 residents in 2018, that mantra remained largely true for years.
After the worst of the COVID pandemic, which was estimated to shutter up to 70% of music venues in the Red River Cultural District alone, the city's live music scene has worked hard to bounce back. The city now has the fifth-highest number of small music venues per capita in the nation and comes in at No. 4 among the best live music cities in the U.S., per a 2022 Clever.com study.
And many of Austin's unique attractions remain timeless. While paddle boarding on Town Lake has become overcrowded and even caused swimmer's itch for some, outdoor attractions like Barton Springs Pool, the Barton Creek Greenbelt and other Hill Country swimming holes remain a popular pastime.
And while the coolness of Sixth Street has become riddled with violence and safety concerns, the city still boasts plenty of nightlife districts.
Instead of the Armadillo Den of Austin yore, the new Austin boasts bachelorette party entertainment on West Sixth Street, intimate concerts in East Austin and a refuge for tech professionals on booming Rainey Street.
Keeping Austin Weird—barely hanging on
If you know...you know pic.twitter.com/auDQyVurUy— Evil MoPac (@EvilMopacATX) September 3, 2021
Leslie Cochran, the high-heel-wearing homeless man who personified the "Keep Austin Weird" movement, is long gone. In his place are controversial attempts at keeping that mindset alive, including an Instagrammable sculpture of the mantra approved by the city's Historic Landmark Commission in February.
But pockets of that signature Austin feel still exist. It's not uncommon to see Sam Greyhorse riding on his horse on South Congress.
And while South Congress is losing longtime businesses and gaining luxury retailers in its new Music Lane development, other areas—like Barton Springs—still retain their carefree, old Austin feel.
New "weird" strongholds have cropped up as well, like Austin FC's Q2 Stadium, where 20,500 soccer fans gather to chant Austin's mantras, lift up inflatable chickens and celebrate their community.
"Cooler" alternatives emerge
Moving out of Austin is so good for your mental health.— 𝒟𝑜𝓁𝓁𝓎 𝒷𝒶𝒷𝓎 🥂 (@adeeoxox) July 30, 2021
Still, Austin's residents are facing the second-most overvalued housing market in the nation, and many are looking for greener—and cooler—pastures.
Instead of cross-continent moves, some new move-ins are now relocating to nearby cities, according to a Placer.ai study. The study found that Austin's "boomtown" status could already be overshadowed by new tech markets like Philadelphia, Phoenix and Raleigh, North Carolina.
And even within the state, Austin fell behind Dallas, Houston and San Antonio as Texas' most sought-after city.
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Fact: It’s insanely hot in Texas.
So far, there have been 14 100-degree days in Austin this year, and that's been before the official start of summer is this week. Texas usually ranks as one of the hottest states in the U.S., outside of Arizona’s dry heat, while Austin easily ranks as one of the top 10 hottest cities.
Austin hit its all-time high temperature, 112 degrees, in September 2000 and again in August 2011, but if you think it’s hot here, try spending some time in these cities.
Death Valley, CA | Record temp: 134°
Less than 600 people live in Death Valley and for good reason—its long basin and elevation of 282 feet below sea level make it the record-holding hottest place on Earth. The aptly-named Death Valley had 154 days above 100 degrees in the summer of 2001 and rarely has more than two inches of rain per year. It’s typical for Death Valley to have 120-degree days or higher in the summer, which has never happened in Austin and is the highest temperature ever recorded in Texas.
Kairouan, Tunisia | Record temp: 122°
The capital city of Tunisia set a new record high temperature in December 2021 when it hit 122 degrees, smashing the previous record of 118 set in 1982. On average, the hottest months tend to fall between June-September and with 60% humidity or above, it makes it feel much hotter.
Phoenix, AZ | Record temp: 122°
Few places on Earth are hotter than Phoenix, which consistently tops the chart as the hottest city in the U.S. According to Accuweather, Phoenix reaches triple-digit temperatures on a near-daily basis from late May to mid September, which is well over 100 days out of the year. The city usually hits 90 degrees or higher for half of the year. Anyone living on the border of Arizona and California, like the Yuma or Lake Havasu area, is liable to see similarly sweltering heat.
Austin has much more temperature variability year over year—the city hit 100 degrees 12 times in 2021, 49 times in 2020 and 57 times in 2019. Like Austin though, Phoenix is known for extremely mild winters that rarely dip below 60 degrees.
Las Vegas, NV | Record temp: 118°
The fabulous Las Vegas shares a record temperature with Tucson, Arizona, and sits just over 100 miles from California’s Death Valley, so it shares some of its heat waves. Residents of Las Vegas spend over a third of the year, around 135 days, weathering heat that is above 90 degrees, though Austinites fall right behind with 123 days above the same threshold. Just an hour and a half south in Laughlin, the record high temperature reached 125 degrees.
Athens, Greece | Record temp: 116°
Athens leads the charge on Europe’s hottest country but you’ll still find that Austin is hotter on average: Athens has an average high temperature of 85 degrees in June, while Austin’s average is 92. However, Athens broke Austin’s record high-temperature last August when it reached 116 degrees, making the city so hot they had to start shutting archaeological sites down.