Last year, we examined how Austin has an unlikely lookalike in Boise, Idaho, a fast-growing metro that, like Austin, has earned both praise and ire as thousands flock to the city.
But while Boise and its suburb, Nampa, were named the two best-run cities in America by WalletHub, Austin ranked 85th—below fellow hubs Phoenix and Miami and six fellow Texas cities.
The study, which measures 150 US cities across 38 metrics, compared each metro's quality of city services to its city budget per capita. While Boise ranked third in both categories, Austin's 12th-best quality of services was offset by a city budget that ranked 112th per resident.
Here's a look at how the Sun Belt's former pride and joy fell so far below its tinier "twin":
Booming economies—both cities
Both Boise and Austin ranked in the top 5 for their economies, with Austin taking the cake.
Bolstered by a mass pandemic migration and tech influx, both metros are caught "mid-metamorphosis" as they quickly transform into major cities. While Austin suburbs Georgetown and Leander both saw the fastest growth of any metros from July 2020-2021 with double-digit growth, three Boise suburbs—Meridian (5.2%), Caldwell (5.2%) and Nampa (5.0%) rounded out the top 10.
Tech giants like Tesla and Oracle, alongside other developments in tech and business, helped Austin produce one of the fastest-growing economies in 2021. And with employers like Albertson's, Hewlett-Packard and Micron Technology, Boise's unemployment rate sat at 2.4% in April—well below the national average of 3.6%.
City budget, safety—Boise
Austin's city budget for 2022 was around $1.2 billion. (Hensel Phelps)
Boise's City Hall offers 42% of its budget to general funds. (Boise City Council/Facebook)
With a $661.8 million budget and a projected population of just over 235,000, Boise has the third-best city budget per capita.
As the city experiences rapid change, city leaders said their budget priority was community-oriented, including "housing, transportation, environment, and more," and that 42% of the budget went to general funds.
And while Austin had a $4.5 billion budget this year, the city had to stretch that among its nearly 1 million residents. 1.2 billion—or 26%—of the budget was placed in general allocation, with two-thirds of that slotted toward public safety.
Austin remains one of Texas' safest cities, according to Police Chief Joseph Chacon, but pales in comparison to Boise. While Austin ranked 71st in safety, Boise clocked in at eighth. Boise's crime rate per 1,000 citizens was 35.5 in 2020, a 2.4% decrease from the year prior, while Austin's was 40.98 in the same time period.
Austin has become known as a "brain drain" in part thanks to the University of Texas. (University of Texas at Austin/Facebook)
Boise's biggest university is Boise State University. (Boise State University/Facebook)
Aside from its top economy ranking, Austin also shone in its high school graduation rate, which clocked in at 1st in the US. Known as a "brain drain" city, Austin's college-town status and wealth of job opportunities have created one of the most educated populations in the U.S.
Three of the top 25 public high schools in Texas are located in Austin, and the city's education system ranked 16th. And while four of the top 10 high schools in Idaho are located in Boise, the city's overall education earned just 41st place.
Both cities are known as fitness and health havens thanks to robust outdoor amenities and health-conscious residents. But Austin still edged out its Idahoan lookalike, ranking 7th overall to Boise's 10th.
Affordability and infrastructure issues—both cities
Housing has become a scarce commodity in Austin.
Both Boise and Austin are experiencing affordability issues thanks to an overpriced housing market. (Boise New Construction/Facebook)
Still, the effects of high-speed growth have done some major damage to both formerly sleepy cities.
Both cities pose higher than average incomes relative to their state. But thanks to a rapidly diminishing number of available homes for both new and old residents, both Boise and Austin ranked as the top two most overvalued housing markets in the country, according to a Florida Atlantic study.
With more and more residents priced out of homeownership and burdened with a higher cost of living, both Boise and Austin ranked below the top 30 in the financial stability index.
Both cities have seen even more development in neighboring suburbs—like Boise's Nampa, which was named the US's best-run city for the sixth year in a row—while its inner-city infrastructure often struggles to keep up with the times. While Boise's infrastructure and pollution ranked 32nd overall (Nampa ranked 77th), Austin's car-centric infrastructure ranked 45th.
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We’ve all heard it before, ‘Austin isn’t what it used to be,’ despite residents complaining about their beloved city morphing since the 1880s. However, that’s not to say Austin hasn’t changed.
With expansive population growth, new businesses steadily flowing in, celebrities snapping up local property and constant new development, Austin is making its way through some growing pains.
Here are some of the parts of the city longtime Austinites gripe about and newcomers don't notice.
From its origins as a pseudo-red light in the 1990s to its emerging identity as a luxury shopping center and tourist destination, South Congress has been the epicenter of change in Austin. While many legacy businesses—think Prima Dora, Güero's Taco Bar and The Continental Club—are still operating, it has also seen its fair share of closures since the pandemic: Most recently, Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds announced it would closing.
the south congress area is raising my blood pressure— woman (@fiorellino__1) August 6, 2022
For each closure, there has been a handful of new openings, namely along Music Lane, which was completed in spring 2020. The new strip has brought crowds to luxury stores and restaurants that are typically reserved for the likes of The Domain, like designer brand Hermès, social club Soho House and luxury perfumery Le Labo. One person's sadness about the change is anothers excitement.
Since 2019, Austin has added 32 new buildings to its skyline, with another 28 under construction and yet another 25 in the proposal stage according to a June Downtown Austin Alliance report. In the words of the antique Austin-American Statesman in 1936, “Rip Van Winkle would have rubbed his eyes in amazement,” upon seeing the difference just 10 years can bring to the skyline.
While newcomers, especially tech executives, look forward to moving into the newest high rises, they mean big changes for long-time Austinites. The new towers mean the closure of Rainey Street favorites, as well as the 4th Street Warehouse District.
Making restaurant reservations
One of the most universal complaints about the ‘new’ Austin, from locals and visitors alike, is the need to make a reservation at most restaurants in town. This is a big change for locals that have lived here most of their life—you rarely had to make reservations pre-pandemic. And while this isn't loved by newer Austinites, it's the norm they know.
While you can still find walk-in options—think Lou’s, Taquero Mucho, Magnolia Cafe and Terry Black’s Barbecue—most restaurants with two or more dollar signs on reservation sites like Resy are likely to require a reservation… likely a month or more in advance.According to Open Table, some of the hardest places to get a reservation are celebrity hotspot Aba, James Beard Foundation Award-winning restaurant El Naranjo, Lady Bird Lake rooftop bar P6, sushi restaurant Uchi and farm-to-table restaurant Emmer & Rye. You’ll need to break out your calendar for those.
This massive development in North Austin is the go-to stop for luxury brands like Gucci, Anthropologie, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co. and Restoration Hardware. Split into two sides: The Domain and Domain NORTHSIDE. Originally opened in 2007, The Domain has changed drastically in its 15 years of business and is often called Austin’s “second downtown” but that still doesn’t change the fact that it still feels like a new area to longtime residents.Smart City apartment locator Maddie Hastings said she doesn’t often lease locals at The Domain, mostly people from out of town, and when she does, they don’t typically stay more than a year. Still, for newcomers, it's a fun development to work, eat and play.
Austin FC vs. UT
Verde has yet to stamp out that burnt orange cult following in town. Austin FC has gained a steady following despite only being on its second MLS season, but the University of Austin has strength in numbers from the hundreds of thousands of Longhorns who have graduated from the famous school living both in and outside of Austin.
Longhorns fans are often older Austnites or those that have graduated from the school. But for newer Austnites, they don't have a connection to the school and are instantly welcomed into the diverse and fresh MLS team.
That said, Austin FC and Longhorn fans seem to be peacefully coexisting, with part-owner and UT alum Matthew McConaughey saying "the more, the merrier."
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The stars aligned for a breakthrough discovery.
A collaborative team led by researchers from the University of Texas at Austin has found that star formation is a self-regulatory process. This understanding could lead to more information on star formation within our own and far away galaxies.
Every population of stars in our galaxy, and in the dwarf galaxies surrounding us, has the same balance for the mass distribution of stars, or what astronomers call the initial mass function. This has confused astronomers for decades since the stars in other galaxies were born under different conditions over billions of years.
So the researchers carried out simulations that were the first of their kind. Essentially, they follow the formation of individual stars in a collapsing giant cloud while also capturing how these newly formed stars interact with their surroundings by giving off light and shedding mass in a phenomenon known as “stellar feedback.”
“For a long time, we have been asking why,” said Dávid Guszejnov, a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Astronomy at UT. “Our simulations followed stars from birth to the natural endpoint of their formation to solve this mystery.”
The research was completed on two of the most powerful supercomputers in the world and was part of an initiative known as the STARFORGE Project, which is co-lead by UT Austin and the Carnegie Observatories.
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