Barton Springs vs. bayou. Black Pumas vs. Beyonce. Live Music Capital vs. Energy Capital.
As Austin expands into "boomtown" status, it's become subject to a growing rivalry between another storied Texas city: Houston.
While Houston still edges out Austin in population—it's the fourth-largest city in the U.S. and boasts a metro of over 7 million compared to Austin's 2.3 million—Austin has been generating significant buzz as tech CEOs, Californians and migrants nationwide begin to call the Texas capital home.
Most Austinites will tout their Hill Country beauty, world-renowned live music and the proud "weirdness" that has long defined their city. But some say Houston's signature self-deprecating humor and status as the most diverse city in the nation gives them a leg up
It's time for these quarreling siblings to duke it out.
Here's how Austin and Houston compare, mapped out in five categories:
Affordability: Houston 1, Austin 0
Ask anyone in Austin: the city is not what it used to be. That change is no more apparent than in the skyrocketing housing market, which has shot from an average median home price of 189,000 in 2011 to a peak of $482,364 in June 2021, a 255% increase.
The exploding housing market is one of the best examples of Austin's "boomtown" status and is great for current homeowners, but it's a near-death sentence for many with an average income looking to survive. In fact, Austin is expected to become the least affordable metro outside of California by the end of 2021.
According to Salary.com, this translates into the cost of living—it's 11% more expensive to live in Austin than its southeast Texas neighbor.
With both cities nestled in Texas, a state well-known for its bang-for-your-buck housing, both are still attracting ex-pats from expensive metros across the nation. But Houston's reputation as an affordable city lingers.
A study by Property Club in 2019 found that a homebuyer in Houston with $250,000 could purchase 1,204 square feet—six times more than in NYC and more than 49 of 50 global cities studied.
That affordability is conditional, however—the fourth-largest city in the nation differs drastically in price in different neighborhoods. And Houston's housing market is beginning to heat up just as Austin's slightly cools, with home prices up 15.7% in September 2021 as compared to the year before.
"We are witnessing the most energized Houston real estate market in history," Houston Association of Realtors Chairman Richard Miranda said in a June 6 monthly update. "It's difficult to predict how and when this incredible housing run will end."
But with a median home price of $285,000, Houston's housing prices are still just a rumble compared to Austin's boom. Kevin Quist, a Houston urbanist activist, said that comes down to the cities' different zoning policies.
To the chagrin of struggling Austinites everywhere, Houston takes the cake with this one.
Economy: Austin 1, Houston 1
Austin has come a long way from its days as a college town. While a major employer for the city continues to be the University of Texas and the Texas Capitol, the city has been dubbed "Little California" by recent move-in Elon Musk for a reason.
The area's tech boom, headlined by Tesla CEO Musk and his upcoming Giga Texas plant, brought in tech transplants including Oracle, blockchain companies like Blockcap, and 35 others in 2020 alone.
With Fortune 500 companies like Dell and national brands like Indeed and Bumble already in the area, Austin has become the darling of startups looking to relocate to a California-esque utopia with no state income tax.
But the Energy Capital earned its namesake for a reason—the city is home to 24 Fortune 500 companies and over 500 oil and gas firms. With a seven-mile-long Energy Corridor and nine refineries, Houston's opportunities abound.
Still, Austin's job market is projected to expand by 47% in the next decade to Houston's 30%. While both sit under the national average of 5.2% unemployment rate in August 2021, Houston saw a 4.9% unemployment rate compared to Austin's 3.8%. And with many parts of Houston experiencing higher poverty rates than others, Houston's average income is nearly 20,000 less than Austin's $71,579 at $52,558.
Austin may be hard to live in, but its current economic opportunity outpaces Houston.
Janice Omadeke, CEO of startup The Mentor Method, is one of many startup CEOs in Austin. (The Mentor Method/Facebook)
Diversity and Culture: Houston 2, Austin 1
According to Wallethub, Houston was the United States' most diverse city in 2021. By contrast, 38th-place Austin has become more cosmopolitan in recent years but is losing some minority residents—census data shows the city's Black and Hispanic populations decreased from 2010 to 2020.
That's not to say that Austin doesn't have culture—it's a majority-minority city that has seen its Asian-American population skyrocket and diversify. It's not uncommon to find Spanish spoken in Austin, with a quarter of residents speaking Spanish at home and Spanish-language chants like "Dale ATX" chanted at the city's first professional soccer team, Austin FC.
That diversity bleeds into food. The breakfast taco hub is home to Tex-Mex eats of every creed, and residents can grab bites from all the world's cuisines at its ample food truck locales. But with 145 languages spoken in the metro, Houston's dining scene far outpaces Austin's in variety,
While Austin beat Houston in socioeconomic diversity in the same Wallethub study, that may be more due to economic segregation than anything else. According to the city of Austin, an "island of affluence" has emerged to the west even as some means of residential segregation have improved. Houston, on the other hand, often sees "newly poor" neighborhoods right next to their more affluent counterparts.
While neither topped the charts in religious diversity, Houston is the third-most religious area by percentage of population in the U.S., slightly edging out Austin when it comes to places of worship.
It looks like being a truly global city does have its perks. Houston is once again up, 2-1.
Himalaya Houston pairs fried chicken with Pakistani flair for a truly Houston dish. (Himalaya/Instagram)
Identity: Houston 2, Austin 2
Whether it be the Live Music Capital or Keep Austin Weird, Austin has always known what it is. Legends including Willie Nelson and Janis Joplin helped join a massive musical movement in the 1970s that saw hippies, outlaws and cutting-edge artists flock to the Live Music Capital of the World in the mid-to-late- 1900s. By 1991, the city discovered it had the most live music per capital, and an iconic name was born.
Houston, however, has seen a few failed slogans—see an "Austin City Limits" knockoff, "The City With No Limits," or even worse, "Houston's Hot." The city's new unofficial slogan, "Houston. It's Worth It," embraces its imperfections as what makes it special, a name that is aptly fitting for the city's signature self-deprecating humor.
While Houston has finally found its niche as an imperfect place for imperfect people, Austin has known its identity for years-even if some say it's beginning to blur.
The tech boom has seen some of that laid-back Austin swagger morph into a more corporate feel, accentuated by new developments such as The Domain. Every year, new move-ins and natives alike lament about the legendary "old Austin" and its wacky eccentricities.
But the world-renowned music festival Austin City Limits still exists. Weirdness is still accepted in this city like no other-from The Austin World Naked Bike Ride to playing bingo with "chicken shit."
That historic identity shines through, albeit less bright, in every corner of the Texas Capitol. Austin ties it up 2-2.(Charles Reagan/ACL)
Lifestyle: Austin 3, Houston 2
In June, Texas Monthly instigated a war when they wrote an article imploring Austinites to move to "an affordable, weird city: Houston."
"Those Austin amenities that people swear they could never do without—the live music! The outdoors! The progressive attitude!—exist in every other major metropolis in one form or another," writer Evan Mintz said.
But as stated before, that weirdness is not quite matched even in global cities like Houston. In fact, Houston's big-city status may be what hinders it from certain Austin-y amenities.
Even as things change, remnants of Austin's small-town charm still shine through in pockets of seemingly millions of local cafes, wacky mom-and-pop shops and character-filled neighborhoods. Festival culture abounds, from the Moontower Comedy Festival to SXSW, to give residents a fiesta feel all year long.
While Houston has Austin beat in sports ventures—think Astros and Texans—Austin professional soccer team Austin FC has made Q2 Stadium "the biggest party in Austin," and University of Texas tailgates are unmatched. Not a fan of watching? Join sports teams from Quidditch to pickleball.
The Hill Country beats the bayou, as well—a Texas beach isn't too far from Houston's interior, but a river cuts through downtown Austin, improving residents' quality of life with its acres of hiking trails, swimming holes and more.
Houston defeats Austin in sheer numbers of things to do, but Austin takes it home in the lifestyle category to beat its fellow Texan sibling once and for all.
Austin FC matches are just one of many ways to get your party on in Austin. (Austin FC/Twitter)
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Austin's Delta 8 industry has been turned on its head after Texas health officials clarified that the cannabinoid is on the state list of illegal substances, though it was previously believed to be legal by most retailers, consumers and manufacturers.
House Bill 1325, which was signed in June 2019 by Gov. Greg Abbott, and the Farm Bill, signed into law by former President Donald Trump in 2018, legalized any hemp product containing less than .3% THC. The same bills were thought to have made Delta 8 legal, though the Texas Department of State Health Services added a notice on its website saying it was still a controlled substance as of Friday, Oct. 15.
Both the federal and state governments keep separate lists on what is considered a controlled substance. Marijuana is considered Schedule I, a category reserved for substances with "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," both statewide and federally.
Austin-based CBD retailer Grassroots Harvest CEO Kemal Whyte, like many CBD shop retailers, was blindsided by the announcement. Many small businesses rely on Delta 8 for their sales—Green Herbal Care CBD said about 90% of its sales come from Delta 8—and Whyte said he is frustrated by the inconsistencies in the drug scheduling system.
Since 87% of Texans support the legalization of marijuana, at least for medical use, per a recent poll, Whyte said he wonders who this legislation is for.
"It's gonna have a massive impact on small businesses—there's just no way around it," Whyte said. "The reality is, we don't want to push out anything bad for our customers, we want this to benefit our customers and to help them. If we can make money while doing it, that's the American dream. What are we doing, whose benefit is this for?"
Delta 8 surged in popularity after the perceived legalization—consumers enjoyed its lower psychotropic potency, decreased anxiety while using it and the peace of mind as a legal way to get high. So in order to protect their products and livelihoods, both Grassroots Harvest and Austin-based manufacturer Hometown Heroes are taking legal action.
Whyte said Grassroots Harvest is suing DSHS, saying their action is creating negative effects in the market. Meanwhile, a Hometown Heroes spokesperson said the company is in the process of filing a temporary restraining order that would pause the ban on Delta-8 in the state of Texas.
Threats against Delta 8 are not new—DSHS lost a lawsuit trying to make "smokable hemp products" illegal last year and Texas lawmakers had been considering a bill that would make Delta 8 illegal, though it was dropped after the clarification was made.
Hometown Heroes released a formal statement in response to the DSHS rule.
"I need to be clear—we love Texas, we're just choosing to fight for the will of the people in regards to cannabis in Texas," Hometown Hero CEO Lukas Gilkey said in a statement. "(Texas DSHS) are using backhanded ways to create legislation and go against the will of the people."
Whyte laments the fact that it would be easier legally to "open up a strip club that also sells guns," and said he can't post customer testimonials that mention the benefits of Delta 8 without getting hit with a cease and desist from the Food and Drug Administration. Whyte said he isn't opposed to regulation—far from it—he just wants to see it go through the correct channels.
"The fact that they're stunting our ability to communicate with our clients that want to learn about this, you're preventing us from communicating with them and teaching them, or spreading information that we know," Whyte said. "I think that that in and of itself opens up a lot of questions."
Grassroots Harvest still has Delta 8 products on its shelves for the time being but for how long, Whyte doesn't know.
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Rounding out the last-quarter corner of October, we are thrust toward the season of "the little death"—the sign of Scorpio—both inevitably transformational and potentially orgasmic.
This dying is simply a very natural and necessary process, as the year begins its closing. In Scorpio season, we are invited to look directly into our shadow and that of the world around us. This marks a significant end-of-a-cycle that began six months ago. This is the month of embracing the cycles of life, of looking death in the eyes, of embracing the very powerful process of transmutation and as we dive into it, remembering that rebirth is always imminent.
(*Note: When reading your monthly horoscope, it is always good to read not only your "SunSign" but also your "Ascendant"— referred to as your "Rising Sign".)
Aries: March 21-April 19
Arians, you may have felt like you have been on the stand the last months, and you have in many ways with so many planets in opposition to your Sun! Alas, you may feel emancipated from the resistance and this month return to your preferred state of passion and enthusiasm spurring new horizons of creative endeavors. Your flame may be burning so hot in fact, that you may well ignite a romantic interlude, however the dynamic may well end up requiring more than you are interested in investing. Your bigger picture continues to be on personal achievement, however this year you are learning that 'it takes a village'. The Nov. 19 full moon eclipse teaches you to let go of attachment, and the need to control all the strands of the web.
Taurus: April 20-May 20
Pleasure-seeking Taurus, Scorpio season is the double-edged sword for you. The Soul's 'urge to merge' entices you, while also eliciting apprehension as this level of union may open up the cellar doors. The Nov. 4 Scorpio new moon falls in your relationship sector this month, so just surrender to the pleasure principle as it allows and 'trust the process' that follows. Remember you are being activated this year to evolve, and getting our hands and hearts dirty is sometimes required. The Solar eclipse on Nov. 19 falls in your sign, which ignites a very karmic path that will unfold over the next year and a half in your favor. Your calm, steady, and creative demeanor and your gifts will be called to the front lines to bring a necessary balance to the world.
Gemini: May 21-June 20
Geminis, we love you for always 'keeping it light'. However, Scorpio season may require you to face some issues that have been boiling beneath the surface, especially in the workplace. Remember 'Twins', you are learning about duality this go-round, and that you can't have the 'light,' without also embracing the 'dark'. Freedom comes from this natural and necessary process of healing so sit back and learn something this month. The Taurus Solar eclipse Nov. 19 that falls in your 'house of The Mystic,' will reward you with a leap in your spiritual consciousness.
Cancer: June 21-July 22
Delicate Cancers, you have been forced out of your shell over and over, in the last year. The current evolutionary shift has so needed your gifts of love and compassion. Scorpio season for you may bring a wave of emotionality but nothing a good cry cannot navigate. This year your motherly gifts are called out of the house and into the larger community. At the Taurus solar eclipse, you may find yourself at the end or the beginning of the very significant community role. Remember that when one door closes, another opens, and that truly, 'home is where the heart is'.
Leo: July 23-Aug. 22
Bright-light-Leo's, Scorpio may not be your favorite season (except perhaps the costume party!) as the emerging shadows appear to be in contrast to your ever-lasting light! But relax and remember that 'dark', merely means 'hidden', and once revealed, gains access to more light! Hey Lions, the transformation for you this month, is with home and work. Change, healing, and progress are keywords, which may require fast decisions. The Nov. 19 Taurus lunar eclipse lands in your career sector, so the question to ask is…"is this really what I want to be doing?" Your exuberant playfulness, joy and creativity are your greatest gifts. Be sure they are intricately woven into your path.
Virgo: Aug. 23-Sept. 21
Creating order out of chaos is your specialty, vigilant Virgos. You welcome Scorpio season to clear out the cobwebs and get on with things. Do be careful not to become too focused on the distortions, remembering that 'what we focus on expands'. You are a pinnacle of this time of 'the Great Shift' and are upgrading quickly to meet the collective needs. The Scorpio new moon, and the Taurus lunar eclipse fall in your axis of 'information, knowledge, communication, and beliefs'. You are upgrading your mental circuitry. Don't hold onto anything, and trust that you will end up where you belong.
Libra: Sept. 22-Oct. 23
Love-hungry Libras, we know you always love Scorpio season because it means going deeper into the intimate realms and you are absolutely fine with whatever it takes! However, this month's Scorpio new moon invites a rebirth to your relationship with yourself, which is a reward after a long journey of introspection and growth. This journey brings you to a place of balance with self and others. This is your deepest work in this lifetime, so celebrate with an extra dose of self-care! There could be some financial upgrades this month. Consider partnering up, as a way of combining resources. Your gift of diplomacy may be called upon surrounding the Nov. 19 Taurus lunar eclipse.
Scorpio: Oct. 24-Nov. 21
This is your big month all-powerful Scorpios… Happiest Re-Birth-Day to you! This is your moment to push the 'reset' button, shed last year's skin, and embody the fullness of your passion and purpose! The Nov. 4 new moon, also in your sign, is the invitation to surrender any old emotional pain and story, and get clear about your higher mission—as your strength and depth are greatly needed at this evolutionary threshold. The Nov. 19 lunar eclipse may trigger relationship shifts, though exciting, may be fleeting, but remember every romantic soiree serves your evolution in some manner. Home and family continue to be a bit in flux, so live from the heart... while learning to let go and trust.
Sagittarius: Nov. 22-Dec. 21
Sagittarians, you are the leaders of great thought. You have been tested the last year to open your mind-horizons into areas that have brought discomfort. Sometimes you find it easier to hold onto old learned beliefs because the emerging new truths feel too destabilizing. The Nov. 4 New Moon awards you the opportunity to 'let go and trust' that all is going to be ok. You will continue to be tested in your capacity to 'listen' and communicate compassionately with others. The Nov. 19 lunar eclipse may trigger some chaos at the job site but observe it with a higher mind, relax into the process; this restructuring is necessary and of the highest order. A renewed self-care regime could be the missing component to the balance you seek.
Capricorn: Dec. 22-Jan. 19
Wise and focused Capricorns, this month you may find great fulfillment putting your hard work to good use within the community. Though not your initial intention, your industrial focus may also come with unexpected healing of a past hurt around the Nov. 4 new moon. This year has put focus on refining your character, and to reassess what you truly value. Finances have also been serious business with the need to balance your spending with saving. But the Nov. 19 lunar eclipse is begging for you to lighten up a bit and play. Do something spontaneous and be open to a little romance, expected or unexpected!
Aquarius: Jan. 20-Feb. 18
Revolutionary Aquarians! You were born for these times and find yourself on the front lines of this fast-moving evolutionary train! Though you might have hoped humanity would be further along by now, you must not lose heart and continue to fine-tune your mental channels in order to guide us into the future. The Nov. 4 new moon may offer a new direction in your career, while the Nov. 19 lunar eclipse may bring unexpected change in the home-front. You of all the signs understand that it is 'the storm' that precedes the greatest shifts... Keep holding the light and guiding with the certainty of your soul's light.
Pisces: Feb. 19-March 20
It's been rough waters for you this past year Pisces, as your empathic nature feels all the collective alchemical turmoil deep within. You are closing out some massive cycles requiring deep inquiry, surrender and trust. The Nov. 4 New Moon invites you to stretch your comfort zone and peer into the less pleasant aspects of life, in order to avoid bypassing and embody a balanced approach. You will be rewarded by the Lunar Eclipse Nov. 19 with an invitation to speak, write, teach, or perhaps just soul-enriching connections with others. Remember that your endless well of compassion is your greatest gift, and so needed on the planet at this time.
Shannon Gill is an Evolutionary Astrologer, Jungian Counselor, and the co-founder of 'The Shift Foundation' at Samadhi Retreat Center. To learn more about her work, or to schedule a personal session, you may contact her at shannonleigill.com.