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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Jerry Lee, co-founder of professional training company Wonsulting, applied to 300 jobs using three fake resumes to do an experiment.
As he detailed on TikTok, he was trying to see the rate that each resume got ghosted. And while one of the resumes had a 14% interview rate—a result he wasn’t surprised by given that Facebook was listed on the resume—recruiters still ghosted 57% of the time.
“So just remember that being ghosted is part of the process,” Lee said. “And yeah, it does apply to people who work at these prestigious companies.”
🙋♂️ if you’ve ever been ghosted by a recruiter
Ghosting, or abruptly ending communication with someone without explanation, has been the norm for some employers. They’ve typically had the upper hand in the hiring process after all. But lately, they’re starting to get a taste of their own medicine.
Julia Lyons-Ryle, an HR Performance Specialist, said this trend is fairly recent and has cropped up more as a result of the pandemic.
She works with small to medium-sized companies in the Austin, San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley regions, and has considered reasons for why prospective employees disappear without explanation.
One is that it’s harder for companies to form a bond or relationship with a prospective employee over the phone or a Zoom meeting. As a result, job seekers are more comfortable leaving employers on read.
A recent report by HR analytics platform Visier surveyed 1,000 job seekers in the U.K. and 1,000 in the U.S. Of those, a whopping 84% of respondents said they had ghosted an employer or potential employer in the past year and half.
The report noted a few of the top reasons for ghosting, including salary levels that were below expectations, companies had a bad reputation and online reviews, job role descriptions were inaccurate and workers received other, more attractive job offers.
But it’s not just during the interview process that workers are considering ghosting. Just over 30% said they would ghost at the point of the job offer or after their first day on the job.
Who would do that? Well, the survey found that more senior workers are comfortable ghosting. More than 90% of Directors, VPs and C-suite level workers expressed a willingness to ghost on the survey.
Still, there are actions employers can take to avoid getting ghosted. Lyons-Ryle says the company culture begins even before an interview because job seekers can get a feel for a place just from the posting. So, putting a salary range and an accurate job description can be key to hearing back from prospective employees.
There's a lot that companies have to offer, besides just here's a paycheck,” Lyons-Ryle said. “And that's something that a lot of people are looking for, especially after the pandemic, they're starting to look around and say, you know, I can get a paycheck. But can I get something else? A culture or a family, a place to belong?”
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Another Rainey Street bar is closing its doors, marking the strip’s third closure of the year.
Reina, 78 Rainey St., announced that it would close its doors on Sept. 11 via social media on Friday. The city plans to use the lot for construction of a new residential building, The Modern, which will include affordable housing units.
The announcement comes on the heels of both Container Bar and Bungalow closing in March to make way for the development, which will be a 49-story high-rise, with a conditional use permit for a four-story cocktail lounge inside.
“We knew this was coming and that our days were numbered,” the bar said. “It still couldn’t prepare us for the sadness we’re feeling.”
The bar opened just before the pandemic began in January 2020.
“We often think back to when Reina was a place of refuge during COVID,” the post said. “The smiles we saw on people’s faces as they ventured outside of their homes for the first time in months is a memory burned inside our heads forever.”
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