New Austinites Joe Rogan and Elon Musk recently discussed their new home on an episode of "The Joe Rogan Experience": "I think Austin's going to be the biggest boomtown that America has seen in a half a century," Musk told the podcast host.
We've all heard the statistics. The Texas Demographic Center expects the five-county Austin metro to double in size by 2040, a projection that has spurred concerns about whether the city's infrastructure will be up to the task. But the city of Austin has been growing at a rapid clip since its founding in 1839, nearly doubling its population every 20 years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Seen in this context, the Austin metro's current growth is nothing new. To better understand the city's magnetism, Austonia has looked at the drivers of migration—into Texas and Austin—starting with the 19th century. Stay tuned for more stories on what growth looked like in the 20th century, when World War II and other major historical events were reflected in new patterns, and since the turn of the 21st century.
Growing from the start
Texas' population growth predates its entry into the U.S. in 1845 and makes it an outlier among southern states, according to James Gregory, a professor of history at the University of Washington, where he directs the America's Great Migrations Project.
Migration from Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi helped field the rebellion that led to Texas gaining its independence from Mexico in 1836, Gregory writes. In the wake of that event, southerners, many of them enslaved, continued to move west to expand the cotton belt, a region of the southern U.S. where cotton was the main cash crop from the late 18th through the 20th centuries.
This migration applied not only to Texas but also to Austin, which was purchased to serve as the capital of the Republic of Texas—independent from both Mexico and the United States—in 1839 and later became the capital of the state of Texas in 1846.
East 11th Street in Austin in November 2020. (Isabella Lopes/Austonia)
Austin City Council acknowledged this history earlier this month when its members approved a resolution directing staff to devise a plan to create a "Black Embassy" in East Austin. The resolution also formally apologized for the city's participation in the enslavement of Black people, segregation and other intentionally racist practices and expressed support for a national program of financial reparations for descendants of slaves.
"The first census in 1825 showed Austin with 450 slaves, which was 35% of the population count," Austin Mayor Steve Adler said at the March 4 meeting. "By 1860, the number of slaves were increasing faster than the population as a whole."
Colonization laws that provided settlers with additional land for each slave gave way to other forms of institutionalized and codified racism, from denying Black residents the right to vote in the early 20th century to the city's adoption of the 1928 master plan, which limited public services for Black residents to a "negro district" east of I-35.
After the Civil War, population growth in Texas was spurred by the arrival of residents from nearby southern states. These migrants faced economic problems related to the war and "saw Texas, with its extensive public lands, as a place of opportunity," according to the Texas State Historical Association's Handbook of Texas. Although Southerners "posed no threat to the dominant culture of the state," the Black population continued to face racist policies through the Reconstruction period, free but not accepted as such.
In addition to the influx of domestic migrants, Texas also grew in population due to the immigration of European immigrants, the bulk of whom hailed from Germany.
Starting in the 1830s, German settled in ethnic enclaves stretching from Galveston to the Hill Country following in the footsteps of Johann Friedrich Ernst, who settled in Austin County, west of Houston, in 1831 and wrote letters to his friends back home that inspired a chain of migrants. "He described a land with a winterless climate like that of Sicily," according to the TSHA handbook, with low taxes and fertile soil.
In addition to Ernst's role, the German Revolution in 1848—and the years of discontent leading up to it—also prompted a wave of migrants to seek opportunity in Texas, far from the unconsolidated states that would eventually unite to form Germany. This wave of migrants founded the towns of New Braunfels and Fredericksburg. "I like to consider them entrepreneurs," said Janis Gonser, president of the Austin-based German-Texans Heritage Society.
During this period, German immigrants encountered Texan conflicts. Before its independence, Mexico was looking for settlers to create a kind of buffer zone between its heartland and the Comanche Nation. "This was an area of contested land between multiple groups," GTHS Executive Director Christopher Markley said. When Texas gained its independence and joined the U.S., German immigrants found themselves caught in the middle again. "When the Civil War broke out, that was a big conflict for the Germans," Gonser said. "They had just left a country in conflict."
This migration tapered off toward the end of the 19th century and stopped when the Great Depression hit. Another wave of German immigrants arrived in Texas in the post-WWII period—many of them war brides—but by then their influence had already taken root.
In addition to their brewing skills (the founder of Shiner Bock was born in Bavaria), contributions to Tejano music (a blend of Eastern European folk music, including polka, and traditional Mexican styles), role as barbecue pioneers and beloved events (such as Wurstfest and assorted Christmas markets), German immigrants were key advocates for free public education in Texas.
Missing the free schools they were used to in their homeland, German-Texans built schools open to all children, including the German Free School in downtown Austin, which is the city's third oldest building. "There are records that show full integration," Gonser said, citing co-educational enrollment as well as a mix of religions and ethnic backgrounds. "In the 1860s and '70s that was revolutionary."
More than 160 years later, the school remains in use and is now home to GTHS and its ongoing German language classes. In addition to serving long-time Texans with German heritage, the society also attracts people like Gonser, who have moved to the Austin area from Germany in recent years, drawn by the growing tech industry and other opportunities. "Now today I see another wave of Germans coming in the last 10 years," Markley said. "I call them the New Germans."
Check back tomorrow when Austonia will look at migration and population growth in the Austin area during the 20th century.
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Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty on three charges—second- and third-degree murder as well as manslaughter—in the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man whose final moments were recorded by onlookers, sparking a global protest movement over police violence and racial injustice. He faces up to 40 years in prison.
Jurors deliberated for 10 hours over two days after an intense, three-week trial before reaching a verdict Tuesday afternoon, four days shy of the first anniversary of the Austin police killing of Mike Ramos, an unarmed, 42-year-old Black and Hispanic man whose name became a rallying cry—along with Floyd's—for Austin protestors, who marched en masse last summer, prompting some police reforms.
Austin Police Department Officer Christopher Taylor was charged with first-degree murder—an unprecedented charge in Travis County—in the case of Ramos' death on March 10. But Warren Burkley, community outreach director for the Austin Justice Coalition, was measured in his response to the Chauvin verdict. "It's highly visible accountability, so it will give people hope in the system," he told Austonia. "But it's just one innocent life taken. And even in this city, this happens regularly, and it doesn't make national news."
Local elected officials, community leaders and residents also responded to the news as APD officers spent their second day on tactical alert, prepared to respond to any protests or demonstrations, and City Council heard recommendations from a task force on how to reimagine public safety.
Chauvin guilty on three charges!!!!
— Chas Moore (@iGiveYouMoore) April 20, 2021
Full justice would mean that George Floyd was still with us. But today's guilty verdict represents a historic step toward justice and for his family. So important now for the Senate to approve the House George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.https://t.co/9zUOgZYg4L
— Lloyd Doggett (@RepLloydDoggett) April 20, 2021
For the first time we saw accountability in the courts for the murder of an innocent Black person.
Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd on camera.
This prosecution is historic. People are feeling temporary relief. This is more than Justice, this is #AccountabilityforGeorgeFloyd. https://t.co/HlBqW7sScx
— Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (@EddieforTexas) April 20, 2021
Many of us have been afraid for days that Derek Chauvin would be found not guilty, despite what the video so clearly showed in broad daylight. The guilty verdict today provides important accountability, but it does not provide real justice. (1/5) ⬇️
— Gregorio Casar (@GregCasar) April 20, 2021
George Floyd's murder led to national protests and calls for the enactment of policing and social justice reforms, including here in Austin. We have made a commitment here to holding police officers accountable and to implementing social justice and policing reforms.
— Mayor Adler | 😷wear a mask. (@MayorAdler) April 20, 2021
Derek Chauvin's conviction is only one step towards providing healing/justice for George Floyd's family + for our nation as a whole. It's up to us to honor Mr. Floyd + the many others lost to police violence by transforming public safety and making our communities safe for all. https://t.co/RVgQmcAf6I pic.twitter.com/hCHLibYjoy
— Council Member Alison Alter (@ALTERforATX) April 20, 2021
No person should be above the law. If you transgress the law you should be held accountability.
Derek Chauvin- GUILTY
— Emmanuel Acho (@EmmanuelAcho) April 20, 2021
George Floyd's murder heightened the long-overdue national conversation on systemic racism. Derek Chauvin has been found guilty, but this is just one step on a long road towards racial equity. We must enact significant systemic changes in order to achieve justice.
— Every Texan (@EveryTxn) April 20, 2021
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Californians love Texas, and Austin—with its liberal politics, relatively affordable housing and job opportunities—is particularly adored. In fact, the Lone Star State was the main recipient of departing Californians in 2019, according to the latest available U.S. Census Bureau data.
But other states, including Florida, are seeing increased interest. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has made a name for himself on Twitter recruiting techies and hyping up his city, which has a lot in common with Austin—with the added benefit of a beach and sans the "Don't California my Texas" attitude.
California expats and industry experts say Austin remains the bigger draw for Californians, especially those in the tech sector, but warn that this advantage could shift to Miami if the city doesn't address the policy challenges that prompted the migration in the first place: housing affordability.
"If Austin doesn't accommodate this influx, I think all the talent will come to Miami," said Peter Yared, a tech entrepreneur who moved to Miami from San Francisco in September. "I think Miami's going to be the one that sucks it all up."
Both Texas and Florida promise business-friendly state tax policies, and their governors tout the relocations of companies such as Tesla and Oracle from California. But Darien Shanske, a law professor at the University of California Davis whose specialties include taxation, said this is a red herring because corporate taxes are based on where sales occur rather than headquarter locations.
This is not to say other state policies are irrelevant. "The area in which California regulatory policy has been, in my opinion, not a complete failure but problematic … is housing policy," Shanske said. Austin and Miami can offer "not cheap, just cheaper" housing than what is available in Silicon Valley. Plus, both cities are developing a critical mass of talent, which further draws Californians in. "If you're a software engineer, you want to live near other software engineers," he added.
But not every Californian is motivated to move. "San Francisco is a fantastic place to live if you can afford it," said Brandy Aven, a professor of entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business. As a result, it's more common for what she called the labor—engineers, programmers and even company founders—to relocate to cities such as Austin and Miami than the monied venture capitalists. Burgeoning tech cities may find that they need to develop homegrown investor networks to support local ventures in the absence of Californian transplants, but she believes this is doable.
Paul O'Brien, CEO of the Austin-based MediaTech Ventures and a startup veteran, moved to Austin from California in 2009, during the Great Recession. "I'm a firm believer that the world has been seeking an alternative to Silicon Valley for a long time," he said, pointing to Austin as the natural heir for myriad reasons.
Austin has regional appeal as the epicenter of three of the country's largest cities—Houston, Dallas and San Antonio—and their respective industry niches. Tech entrepreneurs could cater to the local consumer goods industry or Houston's oil and gas sector. Plus the city has cultural appeal, thanks to the Red River District and South by Southwest, which made it attractive to job seekers. "The whole reason everyone moved to Silicon Valley is opportunity," O'Brien said. "The whole reason people are now looking beyond Silicon Valley to somewhere else is opportunity."
It's less clear what Miami's key industries are, O'Brien said, but the city offers other selling points, including the mayor's buy-in and "a tremendous depth of wealth" to support a technology and startup ecosystem.
Although Yared didn't consider moving to Austin, he is aware of its appeal to engineers, especially now that their hero, Elon Musk, has moved there, shunning California. "Austin has a lock on tech," he said, but Miami draws a different crowd, including financiers from New York. This parallel migration, coupled with the city's more outwardly pro-growth building policies, gives him hope that Miami could supplant Austin in the coming years. "In the end, communities get to choose what they want," he said.
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In the days after Austin FC's inaugural match against LAFC on Saturday, Head Coach Josh Wolff says he's watched the game "a number of times, to say the least."
In the match, Wolff and over 500,000 other viewers looked on as Austin FC took to the pitch for the first time, held their own in the first half against LAFC and eventually fell 2-0 to a team that's sometimes regarded as the best in the league.
Austin FC had the largest television audience of any soccer match in the U.S. over the weekend, surpassing even the USWNT. In a showcase of the club's dedicated fan base, dozens of Los Verdes fans were spotted in green and black around the stadium—even with the match limited to 20% capacity.
Salute the support. 👏
It's only the beginning for @AustinFC. pic.twitter.com/TduorqYr2y
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 18, 2021
While the team lost their first-ever match, they didn't make it as easy as some expected.
Wolff said that the team did relatively well offensively, holding possession for 48% of the match and keeping a solid passing game. Once they got to the box, however, Wolff said they could use some work on creating scoring opportunities.
"We saw a lot of good connections, good spacing (and) good speed of passing," Wolff said. "I think we can obviously have more presence centrally to have more numbers in between lines. I just want us to create more chances. There's a lot on both sides of the ball that we still need to work on."
LA pulled some dramatics and slowly gained more possession throughout the half, but ATXFC's defense wasn't initially as shaky as it seemed in preseason. Later on, however, the team gave up some goals and seemed to struggle with endurance. Wolff said the backline did "okay" and that the club, including young center back Jhohan Romana, are still getting conditioned to play a full match.
"It's a lot of information for a young player," Wolff said. "I think as he fatigues then the decision making, as with most players, becomes a little bit more cloudy and then thus the execution becomes cloudy."
An honor to represent this city and y'all. We're just getting started. 💚🖤 pic.twitter.com/tmOqCfbXvs
— Austin FC (@AustinFC) April 18, 2021
Goalkeeper Brad Stuver had his work cut out for him, fending off 24 shot attempts, 11 of which were on goal.
Going into the match, Stuver and fellow goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell were neck-and-neck, with both labeled potential starters. However, it was Stuver, who many thought signed as a backup, that wore the goalkeeper's jersey on the field for the first time.
"I think both Andrew and Brad did relatively well in preseason, but we decided with Brad just based on how we felt preseason went," Wolff said. "I thought he performed pretty well to be honest. I think he and Andrew are similar in some aspects... it's being mindful of where their strengths and weaknesses are."
Five starters made their MLS debut in the match, including midfielder Daniel Pereira and forward Rodney Redes. While Wolff said Pereira held his own in the match, he saw a weak spot in the team's right side, making it difficult for Redes to make offensive plays.
"For Pereira, I think it was a solid day for a young kid coming in his first MLS game against that opponent," Wolff said. "Obviously there's there's a different physicality to MLS and I think those are things that all these guys are going to acclimatize to.
Now, the club looks to put the ball in the back of the net for the first time as they head to Colorado. Austin FC will face the Colorado Rapids at 8 p.m.on Saturday. The match will stream on the Austin FC app and be broadcast on the CW Austin. Austonia will keep an eye out for potential weekend watch parties.
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