Austin is way past its days as being known soley for live music.
With the unprecedented migration of Californians, city dwellers and more into the U.S's newest "boomtown," the city has quickly transformed and built on its preexisting "weird" reputation to become a city of many identities.
Here are just a few things Austin has become known for this year.
TechSISU claims their C31 cinema robot is the easiest to use and cheapest on the market. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
While Austin is a hub for live music, wanderlust travelers and wacky sports, it’s gained the most attention for its recent rep as the nation’s next Silicon Valley.
Startups and big tech like Dell have long called Austin home, but Elon Musk led a migration from California to Austin when he moved Tesla, SpaceX, Neuralink, The Boring Company and his foundation to the capital city. In October, he officially announced the new Tesla headquarters would be at the site of the new gigafactory that is completing phase 1 of construction this month.
And while Tesla's relocation has dominated EV news in the capital city, another Austin startup is currently working on extracting precious lithium from Bolivia to boost the electric vehicle industry.
Some companies have revolutionized local issues: Austin startup ICON has helped create affordable homes with 3D printing technology in Austin and even teamed up with NASA, while robots have seeped into everyday aspects of Austin life from surgeries to grocery shopping.
The surge in tech has brought in droves of talent and even fueled Austin's hot housing market during the pandemic. A U.K. study recently found the city to be the best place to move to in the world, while a LinkedIn study found that Austin leads the country in tech migration. And tech salaries are following—the city saw that Austin's average tech salaries are nearing that of California despite vastly different costs of living.
Jiu jitsuJiu jitsu greats including Crag Jones (in leopard print) have opened gyms in Austin. (Claire Partain/Austonia)
This summer, Austin became the unlikely site of Brazilian jiu-jitsu beef as Danaher Death Squad, a famed professional crew of grapplers, split into two after a decade of working together. Formerly located in New York and Puerto Rico, the group's two new sects located separately in Austin, a burgeoning "Mecca of jiu jitsu."
Legend Gordon Ryan teamed with coach John Danaher to form a new studio, aptly named "New Wave Jiu Jitsu," in North Austin, while former teammates Craig Jones and even Ryan's brother, Nicky Ryan, opened an elite studio with the tongue-in-cheek title "B-Team Jiu Jitsu."
The B-Team is using their renowned and wacky sense of humor to attract the "Olympians" of the sport from all over the world, while New Wave's Ryan is training for big-name titles as New Wave's studio construction is underway.
While the two gyms haven't announced any rivalry bouts yet, they're both training for the WNO World Championships in 2022. And coupled with dozens of jiu jitsu gyms in the metro and Austin-based jiu jitsu media site Flo Grappling, the fast-growing sport is quickly taking off in Austin.
PokerAustin's poker house scene continues to flourish through a loophole in Texas gambling laws. (Palms Social Club/Facebook)
What happens in Vegas may not always stay in Vegas anymore.
Private poker houses in Austin and Dallas are quickly gaining steam where Texas Hold ‘Em got its name.
Austin is quickly becoming a hub for poker thanks to a loophole in Texas’ gambling law that allows poker games to be played in private residences. Instead of taking a cut from the pot like traditional gambling ventures, private poker houses don't make money from the results of a game; instead, they get their revenue from membership and hourly fees.
One poker house, Texas Card House, used to stand alone in Austin like a small town saloon; now, around 20 are found around town.
Texas Card House was founded in 2015 with just five tables and has since expanded to include a Youtube channel with over 30,000 subscribers and regular visits from big-time poker players like Brad Owen and Doug Pope.
But they no longer hold a “royal flush” on Austin poker culture: The Lodge, based just up the road in Round Rock, is the largest poker house in Texas, and interested Austinites can find anything from poker lessons and beginner pots to $15,000 buy-ins in the Texas capital.
Crypto and NFTs
One crypto-art curator is merging physical pieces by local artists with digital NFTs. (Apollo the Curator)
Everybody who's somebody knows what an NFT is by now—at least, that's what Austin's most crypto-hip population tends to say as the once-mysterious trend grows in popularity in the city.
NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, were a mystery to the general public when self-proclaimed "Crypto Queen" and former girlfriend to Elon Musk Grimes sold $6 million crypto art in early March. The tokens usually take in the form of digital art or collector's items and serve as a "certificate of authentication" that can't be hacked using cryptocurrency Ethereum.
The tokens have since broken into mainstream culture, at least in the tech verse, as anyone from University of Texas athletes to local artists began cashing in on the craze. Draped high above Austin city streets, Sam Feldman, founder of crypto explainer marketcap.guide, created billboards that double as NFTS available for sale with positive mantras like "Bitcoin is a peaceful revolution."
Austin NFT whiz Apollo the Curator has brought local artists into the scene by combining in-person art competitions and physical pieces with a digital copy of art. Meanwhile, late Austin artist Daniel Johnston's iconic "Hi, How Are You" art has been sold as an NFT and local country singer Parker McCollum has created a fan club NFT product.
Popular sports venues, including Formula 1 track Circuit of the Americas and the University of Texas' Campbell-Williams Field, have also joined in on the movement.
And after a name, image and likeness bill was passed this summer to allow collegiate student-athletes to capitalize off of their reputation, UT athletes like football star Bijan Robinson and local business NiftyHorns are selling digital trading cards in the growing NFT market.
SoccerAustin FC matches are just one of many ways to get your party on in Austin. (Austin FC/Twitter)
Austin’s futbol fandom gained national attention when MLS team Austin FC became the city’s first professional sports franchise this year. Despite a season with just nine wins, fans consistently flooded the team’s brand-new Q2 Stadium with a sold-out crowd of over 20,000. Hundreds regularly flocked to away games across the country, and many more stuck to watch parties at home at local bars and restaurants.
But the most steadfast soccer fans will argue that Austin has always been a “soccer city.” In 2019, the city was the world’s No. 1 market for the Women’s World Cup TV ratings, and fans were rewarded with a U.S. Women’s National Team match to christen the Q2 pitch back in June.
Since then, the stadium has seen two appearances from the U.S. Men’s National Team and national teams from Mexico, Chile, Jamaica and Qatar, each in front of sold-out crowds.
And behind the scenes, teams like women’s semipro club FC Austin Elite, the University of Texas’ soccer team and even a Liga Verde Austin FC supporters’ league have kept the soccer spirit alive and well in Austin.
Austin saw its first Major League Pickleball season this November. (Major League Pickleball)
Austin FC may have been the city’s first major league team, but it was Major League Pickleball that became Austin’s first professional sports league as they launched this year.
Founded in the 1960s, pickleball is a racquet sport that resembles life-sized ping pong. Less intense than tennis and easy to learn, the fast-growing sport has quickly spread in Austin for its inclusivity and supposed addictive qualities.
Professional pickleballers, some of whom train in Dreamland’s Dripping Springs full time, went head-to-head at the venue in November in front of enthusiastic fans for the MLP’s first season.
The sport can be seen at 20+ parks and rec centers around Austin, including popular pickleball hangouts like Bouldin Acres. And Austin will soon be host to Texas’ largest pickleball venue as Austin Pickle Ranch opens its 32-court multipurpose venue early next year.
Street skating and roller derby converge in pandemic-era Austin. (Claire Partain/Austonia)
Austin invented a new era of roller derby in the early aughts as the first-ever professional flat-track roller derby league, Texas Rollergirls, was founded in 2003. Channeling the funky nature of Austin and unapologetic girl power, the league transformed into a popular form of wacky entertainment, complete with outlandish names like "Shutem Up Buttercup" and halftime band performances.
The Rollergirls' influence quickly spread beyond Austin, helping create new leagues around the world and inspiring a documentary. And even though the pandemic forced bouts to be canceled, many athletes stayed on their wheels and went "full circle" as they took to outdoor skating.
Skate parks, once reserved for mostly-male skateboarders, saw an influx of roller derby athletes, trick skaters and newbies around the city as quarantine raged on. Spurred on by viral TikToks, the sport grew across the country—but especially in Austin, where roller roots run deep.
Texas Rollergirls has been postponed from in-person events since February 2020 but is hoping to resume operations in early 2022 if COVID conditions allow it.
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A theory that’s been swirling around lately is that the web as we know it is on its way out and something called Web3 will take over.
It’s hard to know what Web3 is without first understanding the original versions. The first web is the 90s Internet where people had their own random websites that didn’t link together, making it decentralized. In Web2, we saw the rise of Google, Facebook and other major players who configured standard ways for people to share and receive information.
Ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood and other blockchain developers say a decentralized version of the Internet, Web3, is on the way. Web3 can be thought of as synonymous with cryptocurrency, meaning it is based on the blockchain. Platforms and apps built on Web3 won’t be owned by a central gatekeeper, but rather by users. Those in the Austin crypto community believe to see a growing presence of Web3 in Austin.
Pujaa Rajan, an engineer at financial software company Stripe and adviser for startups, describes herself as a “digital nomad.” She has traveled all over from Hawaii to New York and San Francisco, looking for the crypto community in each place.
Having been in Austin for the past month, Rajan organized a Web3 meetup this week at Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden in South Austin open to folks working in crypto or the crypto-curious. About 30 people showed up. "Compared to a lot of other cities that I went to, it is a lot more open and community-oriented here, which is what Web3 is all about,” she said.
Pujaa Rajan, an engineer at financial software company Stripe, organized a Web3 meetup in Austin during a visit. (Andrea Guzman/Austonia)
ATX DAO member Roberto Talamas, who stopped by the event, talked about the crypto group’s expansion. Web3, in Talamas’ view, expands on the previous versions which allowed people to read, then read and write. Now, he says, people can read, write and own. To Talamas, blockchain technology has powered that ownership aspect, and it can be utilized through groups like a DAO, a group that pools together capital and goes on to make investments or take on blockchain-based projects.
“The ecosystem of work with (Web3) companies here in Austin is still relatively small,” Talamas said. “And that’s one of those things that we’re trying to deal with at ATX DAO is to do all the advocacy work needed to make Austin the best Web3 city.”
Part of that community, however, has gotten a bad rep for being “crypto bros.” Rajan acknowledged that Web3 involves both finance and technology, which are fields women have historically been excluded from. But, she says the decentralization aspect creates a clean slate and a new means to form groups. “I feel like we can kind of take back the power or create a world for ourselves,” Rajan said.
The meetup at Cosmic brought together crypto users to talk about the prospects of Web3. (Andrea Guzmán/Austonia)
Meetup attendee Jonathan Hillis also talked about the idea that Web3 creates an opportunity to start over and how this could be something that grows in Austin. Born and raised in the capital city, Hills has left his Bay Area Web2 Instacart job behind to live in a cabin outside Dripping Springs last year. He and his wife, along with a group of internet friends formed a DAO called Cabin, and he's now writing on the Web3 version of Medium, known as Mirror.
When it comes to the state of Web3, four cities stand out. “The dam broke in Covid,” Hillis said. “Everybody no longer had to live in the Bay Area for tech.”
San Francisco is still rooted in Web2 traits with Big Tech and software as a service venture. New York is financial technology. Miami is another major player. But with Austin, Hillis sees a lot of potential.
“Austin is great at being a place for independent online creators of many types—musicians, but also artists,” Hillis said. “What excites me about Web3 is the opportunities for putting creators at more of the center of the value capture.”
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Once a bargain-hunter's paradise, Austin's reputation as a cheaper California seems to be dissipating. But does money have more value in Austin when compared to other U.S. metros?
For Carson Stanch, who moved to Austin from Brooklyn, New York, to be near family, Austin's lower cost of living was just an added bonus. According to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, a $100 bill is worth $98.20 in Austin when compared to the national average in 2020, while it's worth just $84.53 in New York.
Houston native Carson Stanch moved from Brooklyn, New York to Austin just before the pandemic. (Carson Stanch)
Stanch soon realized she was a trendsetter—or perhaps a fortune teller—as the pandemic hit a few months after her move. No longer willing to spend extra money on their more expensive apartments, Stanch said many of her friends and other New Yorkers left the city amid COVID lockdowns.
"It's so expensive to live there (and) all of the reasons why you live in New York, you couldn't really do anymore," Stanch said.
Garrett Watson, a senior policy analyst with the Tax Foundation who wrote a 2018 report on the value of $100 in U.S. metros, told Austonia the report factors in the costs of goods and services with residents' incomes and compares them to the national average. The result is price parity, a number that varies drastically across the country—for instance, a $100 bill won't get you near as far in Austin as it would in more rural parts of the Hill Country.
While a Ben Franklin note was worth $4 more in New York in 2020 when compared to 2018, a $100 bill decreased by $1.60 in value in Austin. Austin's cost of living also saw the 12th-highest increase among U.S. metros from the 2010 to 2020 census.
And as the pandemic's nationwide housing boom gained extra momentum in Austin, peaking at a median home price of $575,000 in June 2021, Watson said the value of $100 could have dropped even further.
"There's just been a chronic hunger for building houses on the coasts and in certain cities in the heartland," Watson said. "Especially this year, we're seeing more and more discussion about that in Austin, and so that is a big, big factor."
Price parity bleeds into other factors as well—in San Francisco, where the value of $100 sits at $82.63, residents are nearly 18% poorer than their higher incomes suggest. But with higher incomes than the U.S. average, they may find themselves more flush with cash when moving to a cheaper city like Austin.
Many out-of-towners have used that extra change to make housing offers much higher than the asking price, Redfin chief economist Daryl Fairweather told Fox7 Austin.
"All those migrants are bringing with them high-paying jobs who are used to much more expensive housing and they’re willing to pull out all the stops to win these homes and move to Austin," Fairweather said.
But Austin is catching up to those traditional hotspots: the area was predicted to be the most expensive metro outside of the Golden State by the end of 2021.
In just two years, Stanch said she's seen some signs.
"I feel like I look around certain areas of Austin (and) they do feel more similar to downtown Brooklyn," Stanch said. "Some businesses I see might tend to cater to folks who have a little more income."
I cannot believe there’s a Hermès (an Hermès?) store opening around the corner from where I live. Oy vey. The scrappy, cheap, charmingly dusty locals-only South Congress of yore is receding into the past so very quickly. 😭 pic.twitter.com/sUHxI4pX8F
— Cari Marshall (@CariMarshallTX) August 3, 2021
So why not move to, say, Florence, Alabama, where money is almost 20% more valuable?
Watson said the difference comes down to the value of amenities—something the study can't track.
"Part of the value in New York City is all the amenities that you're near, the value of Broadway, the value of being able to get food delivered to your door," Watson said. "So that may be reflected in people's willingness to pay higher prices... there's a lot of really great reasons why people may want to be in Austin from an identity perspective that you can't get in other parts of Texas."
In Austin, tech salaries rose 5% from 2020-2021 as big-name corporations like Oracle and Tesla—alongside Tesla's billionaire owner Elon Musk—flocked to the nation's new "boomtown." With an ever-increasing job market, eclectic culture and reputation as one of the world's best cities for move-ins, Austin's appeal might still offset its price.
But for Stanch and many others, there may still come a time when price wins over location.
"If I was to the point where homebuying was more important than being near friends and family, then I would move to get the home," Stanch said. "I think that's kind of part of my plan."