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Austin is often called a boomtown, but the city's population has been growing at a rapid clip since its founding in 1839, nearly doubling its population every 20 years except for two periods. During the 20th century, major historical events such as World War II gave way to new migration patterns that fueled this growth and set the stage for the birth of Austin's big tech industry.
Austonia has looked at the drivers of migration—into Texas and Austin—starting with the 19th century (view here). Stay tuned for the last installment of this series that explores the growth of the city at the turn of the 21st century.
A migrating border
Texas, and to a certain extent Austin, experienced three distinct waves of Mexican migration over the course of the 20th century, bookended by the advent of liberal policies at the end of the 19th century and neoliberal policies at the end of the 20th.
After the Mexican-American War, which stemmed from the annexation of the Republic of Texas in 1845, many Mexicans were left on the wrong side of the border. "A lot of people say they didn't move," said Paul Hart, a professor of history at Texas State University whose research focuses on modern Mexico. "The border was moved on them."
Starting in the late 19th century, U.S. corporations ventured into Mexico, disrupting the traditional agricultural economy many Mexicans found relief on. The concurrent expansion of the railroad in the U.S. required labor, which drew many Mexican migrants looking for work. The violence and destruction of the Mexican Revolution, which lasted from 1910 to 1920, exacerbated this trend, and Mexican neighborhoods began to emerge in East Austin and South Austin, Hart said. The Great Depression ended this initial wave of migration, as repatriation efforts and deportation drives forced many Mexicans out of the country.
The second wave of migration from Mexico into the U.S. was connected to World War II. As wartime industries claimed U.S. workers, farmers needed a new labor force. In 1942, the U.S. and Mexico created the bracero, or laborer, program. "It was supposed to ensure that U.S. agriculture had the labor necessary to get crops in the from the fields, and the Mexican government agreed to the bracero program because they thought that it provided greater assurance for Mexican laborers—that people wouldn't just be wantonly exploited by individual growers," Hart said.
The bracero program ended in 1964, around which time the economic policy was shifting in Mexico. Throughout much of the 20th century, the Mexican government presided over a land redistribution program, which served rural residents and "kept people at home in Mexico," Hart said. But in the late '80s the program started to fail due to a combination of factors. In conjunction with the North American Free Trade Agreement, which took effect in 1994 and "just devastated Mexican producers," these policies—and the economic devastation they caused—prompted a third wave of migration, Hart said, that lasted until the great recession.
Job opportunities in the booming service and construction industries "brought people to Austin," he added.
The post-war population boom
In addition to spurring international migration, WWII also led to a shift in the state's demographic and economic makeup as industrialization took root.
Wartime demands led to mass domestic migration into Texas as well the migration of state residents to urban areas, where industrial jobs were more plentiful, according to the Texas State Historical Association's handbook. Urbanization became "the dominant migration pattern in postwar Texas," as the state's population drifted from rural areas to major metros, including Austin, per the handbook.
The war also spurred federal investment in defense spending and research universities—including the University of Texas at Austin—followed by the emergence of microchip and then hard- and software companies.
Margaret O'Mara, a history professor at the University of Washington and author of "The Code," a history of Silicon Valley, told Austonia last month that this mirrored what was happening in the Bay Area and at Stanford around the same time. But what drew tech companies to California starting in the 1960s and '70s has now been compromised by the success of those companies. "The Valley used to be attractive because it was relatively affordable," she said. "Now that no longer holds."
Austin, on the other hand, remains relatively affordable for people and companies moving from more expensive cities and states. In the second half of the 20th century, this drew big tech originators such as IBM to the city because it offered lower labor costs. Combined with homegrown companies, such as Dell, and other attractions, such as UT and the Capitol, the city established itself as a destination for domestic migrants looking for job opportunities and lower costs of living.
This trend set the stage for growth into the 21st century, as Texas has maintained a business-friendly climate and relatively low cost of living compared to major cities such as New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. But it has also led to growing pains, particularly when it comes to the infrastructure—from public transportation to basic utilities—needed to support this growing population.
"When rapid growth, multiple people (in Austin) used to say, 'If we don't build it, they won't come,'" State Demographer Lloyd Potter said. "It turns out they were wrong."
Read Part 1 of this series:
- Migration insights of Austin, who is moving to the city and who is ... ›
- Tesla and Space X CEO Elon Musk is moving to Austin, Texas ... ›
- Austin man charged in crash that saw eight migrant deaths - austonia ›
- Zoning laws, long a concern of Austin politics, go national - austonia ›
- The origins of Austin's boomtown status in 19th century - austonia ›
- How Charlotte, North Carolina compares to Austin, Texas - austonia ›
- How 6 Austin big tech companies are returning to the office - austonia ›
- U.S. Sen. Cornyn meets with Austin chip companies amid shortage - austonia ›
After Austin voters passed Proposition B, reinstating a ban on public camping, City Council directed staff to look into possible sanctioned campsites where homeless residents could live legally. Now two members are asking to shelve discussion on the controversial topic.
Staff presented dozens of possible sanctioned campsites across each fo the 10 council districts in late May, following the election. But members mostly pushed back on the proposed locations, citing cost, wildfire risk and lack of transparency as concerns.
With updated criteria, staff recommended two sites—one in District 1 and the other in District 8—for further review last week. After being briefed on the options during Tuesday's work session, Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison, who represents District 1, and Council Member Paige Ellis, who represents District 8, issued a joint statement proposing "a pause" on further discussion of temporary sanctioned encampments.
"We are not convinced that these sites would be a cost-effective solution, but rather a band-aid tactic when we need to be supporting the long-term strategy to get folks off the street permanent," they said. "It is our responsibility to look at the situation holistically and objectively, and to spend out city's limited resources on solutions we know can work."
Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey noted that the two locations were imperfect and would require a lot of time and money to outfit as sanctioned campsites during the briefing.
City staff and homeless experts have previously raised concerns about sanctioned encampments, saying they are expensive to maintain, challenging to manage and hard to close, even when intended to to be temporary.
In 2019, staff declined to make recommendations for such sites despite being directed by council to do so, citing 2018 guidance from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. "Neither authorized encampments nor parking areas provide housing for people experiencing homelessness," staff wrote in a memo. "Rather, each option detracts from the staff resources assigned to addressing this moral imperative."
But with Prop B being enforced and too few shelter beds and affordable units for the estimate unsheltered homeless population in Austin, the city is facing the same predicament that prompted District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo to pursue possible sanctioned campsites in the first place: "When individuals in encampments ask where they should go, we need to have places to suggest," she said at a May 6 council meeting.
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Don't lose your mask just yet—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it is now recommending masks in areas that are surging as cases rise nationwide and the Delta variant looms.
The CDC announced Tuesday that even fully vaccinated individuals should mask up indoors if their community is experiencing substantial transmission—defined as areas with more than 50 cases per 100,000 people. Travis County is sitting at an average of 94.59 cases per 100,000 over the past seven days, falling into the highest risk category, according to the CDC.
#DeltaVariant surging in U.S. New data show Delta much more contagious than previous versions of #COVID19. Unvaccinated people: get vaccinated & mask until you do. Everyone in areas of substantial/high transmission should wear a mask, even if vaccinated. https://t.co/tt49zOEC8N
— CDC (@CDCgov) July 27, 2021
After two COVID-19 recommendation stage jumps in the last two weeks, from Stage 2 to Stage 4, Austin-area cases are the highest they have been since February. The seven-day average for cases is on an upward trend, reaching 226 on Tuesday.
The CDC is also recommending that all students K-12 wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. A May executive order by Gov. Greg Abbott prohibits schools from requiring masks, regardless of vaccination status. Austin ISD is "strongly" encouraging students to wear masks.
Although vaccinated individuals are still protected against the most severe symptoms of the variant, infections are spreading rapidly and now make up 83% of confirmed cases in the U.S. At least a dozen cases of the delta variant have been confirmed in the Austin area, though there are likely more since testing for it is limited.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said that hospital admissions are "almost exclusively" coming from people who are unvaccinated but those who are vaccinated can still catch and spread the virus.
"Unlike the alpha variant that we had back in May, where we didn't believe that if you were vaccinated you could transmit further, this is different now with the Delta variant," Walensky said. "That leads us to believe that the breakthrough infections, rare that they are, have the potential to pool and transmit at the same with the same capacity as an unvaccinated person."
Research suggests those who become infected carry 1,000 times more of the virus than other variants and could stay contagious for longer.The announcement comes on the heels of the Biden administration ramping up cautionary measures in the face of the Delta variant. Just last week, the CDC said it had no plans to change its May guidance of vaccinated not having to wear masks unless there was a significant change in the data. Officials met on Sunday night to review new evidence, according to reports.
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- Should Texans be concerned about the delta variant? - austonia ›
- Delta variant, unvaccinated fuel rise of Austin COVID cases - austonia ›
The Moody Center, a $338 million, 530,000-square-foot multipurpose arena at the University of Texas at Austin, celebrated its topping out on Tuesday.
With the final beam placed, the arena's steel-frame structural phase—which involved more than 5.3 million pounds of steel—is complete.
"This past year has been full of unprecedented events, not to mention weather challenges, and yet the women and men working on this project continue to deliver," Moody Center General Manager and Senior Vice President Jeff Nickler said in a press release.
To celebrate the topping out Oak View Group, the development and investment firm behind the Moody Center will affix a tree to the final beam in keeping with the time-honored tradition.
The practice dates back to ancient Scandinavian religious rites, which involved placing a tree atop new buildings to appease tree-dwelling spirits displaced during the construction process, according to the International Association of Bridge, Structural and Ornamental Ironworkers in Washington D.C.
After the steel-frame structure phase, the development will move on to enclosing and finishing the interior of the Moody Center.
The arena is set to open next April and already has some major acts scheduled for its inaugural year, including The Weeknd, Justin Bieber, John Mayer and The Killers. It will replace the 43-year-old Frank C. Erwin Jr. Center and serve as the home of UT's men's and women's basketball games, among other sports and community events.
- New Moody Center secures The Weeknd for grand opening in 2022 ... ›
- Dell becomes founding partner of Austin's new Moody Center ... ›
- A peek inside UT's new $338 million Moody Center - austonia ›