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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Chupie the Lykoi cat isn't as feral as he may look—unless, of course, it comes to getting his paws on some precious baguettes.
The unusual kitty has recently gone viral on social media, garnering over 30 million views on TikTok and cheering up cat fans globally during the difficulties of the pandemic.
But according to owner and Austin resident Michelle, who asked not to disclose her full name for privacy reasons, this wasn't what she expected at all when she first made Chupie's Instagram and TikTok in January.
Chupie's claim to fame—aside from his overwhelming cuteness and love for all foods (except salsa and carrots)—is his unique genetics. Lykoi cats, named after the Greek word for "wolves" and often aptly dubbed "wolf cats," are the result of a mutation originally found in feral cat populations that have since become a pedigree cat breed.
He's gotten plenty of love—and plenty of bullying—for his wolf-like appearance. Michelle has been told he looks like anything from the weasel of "Suicide Squad" to Clint Eastwood as a cat.
"I think that a lot of people think that he looks like an ugly cat because he looks mangy," Michelle said. "But that's kind of what makes him special."
But Chupie doesn't have the disposition of a werewolf. In fact, the friendly cat can be seen kayaking, hiking and lounging around locales around Austin, from historic bar Nickel City to his favorite spot at South Austin's Little Darlin'.
He's almost always well-behaved, too—that is, until food enters the picture.
Just a few days after making his Internet debut, Chupie first went viral for viciously gripping onto a bag of H-E-B buns. The post gained 1.3 million views.
Since then, similar videos of Chupie gripping baguettes, treats and other goodies have gained up to 11 million views apiece.
Michelle and her husband have beencreating content nearly every weekend and are now busier than ever. Still, it's been a rewarding, if unexpected, life change, especially as she hears from fans worldwide who view Chupie as a bright spot in their life.
Michelle said that she's received countless positive messages from fans, many of whom struggled during the pandemic.
"I joke that he's a 'meowtivational speaker' because I really think that we sometimes live in really dark places, especially during COVID," Michelle said. "So if we can give them even a little part of their day, even if it's 10 seconds where they feel joy, then it's worth it."
That popularity has translated into real life. Chupie is celebrated by fans and newcomers alike nearly everywhere he goes. In an interview with Austonia, Chupie was almost immediately greeted by a fascinated stranger who was quick to scratch his head and take pictures, something Michelle said is a normal occurrence.
"Everybody knows him when I go places now," Michelle said. "People are like, 'Oh my God, is that Chupie? Can I feed him the crust of my pizza?'"
Chupie before getting a treat. (Claire Partain/Austonia)
Chupie after he gets a treat. (Claire Partain/Austonia)
"He's living better than me probably," Michelle joked. "We live our lives well together. But I've never done so many things in one weekend until I started making these videos."
So what's next for Chupie? Michelle hopes one day she can take her kitty on global adventures where he can meet fans. For now, she's busy making Chupie merch, sending out care packages and is looking forward to taking her pet to animal events like the POP Cats festival on Saturday.
"This has gone way further than I ever imagined, and it's about Chupie, but it's also about the 'I don't give a meow' attitude," Michelle said. "I think people need to take life less seriously, so it's nice to be an outlet for that."
What has booming population growth, a bustling outdoorsy scene and new trendy hangouts at every corner?
Turns out that's more of a trick question than many Austinites might think.
Month-by-month, Austin seems to be at the helm of Texas' California migration and has seen itself cast as the United States' next Silicon Valley. But despite less attention, Boise, Idaho has much of the same talk—and they're growing at an even faster rate.
With a similar outdoor and music scene, competing population statistics and more odd coincidences—their original newspaper is even called the Idaho Statesman—the two cities share more similarities than they might at face value.
Here's a look at how both cities are welcoming their unprecedented growth while grappling with not-so-unique growing pains.
"Don't California My-"
Idaho may still be thought of as a quiet farming state by faraway onlookers, but the state was the second-fastest growing in the nation with 17.3% growth in the past decade, according to the 2020 Census. The growth has mostly been fueled by migration to Boise from priced-out West Coasters and city dwellers looking for a slightly quieter life. Texas was just behind as the third-fastest growing state with 15.91% growth.
The Boise City metro was ranked the fastest-growing in the nation by Forbes in 2018 and has hardly changed pace. Austin and Boise often share top spots on national lists; according to Business Insider, the Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown, TX metro grew 33% in the past decade with a population of 2,283,371, while the Boise metro grew 24% to 764,718 residents.
Californians accounted for 10,073 new moves to the Boise metro in 2020, up 27% from the year before. Meanwhile, move-ins to the Lone Star State literally changed national politics as California lost a Congressional seat and Texas earned two in 2021, with many of those making their way to Austin. Each state even sports popular "Don't California My Texas" and "Don't California My Idaho" slogans for disgruntled natives.
They both even had one errant political candidate who suggested a wild idea to keep the Californians out. In 2020, a Boise mayoral candidate suggested building a wall to keep out Californians, according to a City Journal article. Sound familiar? In a similar vein, an Austin City Council candidate suggested the city put up a dome around the city to do the same in 2018.
Many disgruntled natives criticize California migration with "Don't California My Texas" slogans. (Don't California My Texas/Facebook)
Similar flags are flown proudly in both Texas and Idaho. (Don't California My Idaho/Facebook)
Music, Greenbelts and river tubing
With its Barton Creek Greenbelt, picturesque Hill Country views and river tubing, Austin may think it has the Northwest city beat in the outdoors department. But Boise has eerily similar attractions; the Boise River Greenbelt, for instance, provides over 25 miles of hiking, biking and swimming through the city, while those wanting to take a signature Texas river tubing trip can take to the Boise River. The region swaps Hill Country attractions for Bogus Basin, a mountain resort that serves as a skiing hub in winter and hiking oasis come summer.
The Live Music Capital can even be compared to Treasure Valley's music scene; while not as reputable as the world-renowned Austin City Limits Festival, the city's annual Treefort Music Fest is growing quickly since its founding in 2012 and has been called "the west's best SXSW alternative."
ACL is Austin's biggest festival of the year and features artists from around the world. (Greg Noire/ACL)
Treefort Festival is an emerging artist music fest set in downtown Boise. (Treefort Music Fest/Facebook)
Each metro is pushing outward as well. Meridian, Idaho, the state's third-largest city that sits just minutes west of Boise, was the sixth-fastest growing large city in the nation by percent change from 2010-19, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. While Meridian grew by 48.3% in the past decade, Northwest Austin suburb Cedar Park was just behind with 44.2% growth in the same time span, while Round Rock was the 13th fastest-growing with 33% growth overall.
Austin, sometimes known as "Silicon Hills," has experienced a wealth of new tech HQs as tech giants and startups flock to the hub. With Tesla and Oracle making waves in the Texas Capitol, it might be tough for a smaller city like Boise to compete. But a few firms, including payroll provider Paylocity, have made the move to Boise, with significant investments from fintech company Clearwater Analytics as well.
But everything isn't always peachy in these trendy new hotspots.
Affordability crises and infrastructure issues have racked both Boise and Austin. A 2019 report by the state of Idaho predicted that the region would add more than 100,000 residents by 2025, and the result of straining growth has been rapidly increasing rent.
A Forbes article ranked the city as the No. 1 housing market to watch in 2021, but current residents are feeling its effects. According to Apartment List, the city's rent increased more than any other city from March 2020-21 with a 39% rent jump. On Tuesday, the city said it would need 27,000 more housing units in the next 10 years to solve its housing crisis. The average one-bedroom rental in Boise costs about $1,500 monthly, $700 more than what the average Boise renter can afford.
Meanwhile, a new Zillow report says Austin could become the most expensive city outside of California as soon as the end of 2021. Austin's average one-bedroom rent is now just behind Boise at $1,442 a month, $367 more than what the average Austinite can comfortably afford. The median home price in the city of Austin hit an all-time high of $566,500 in May, rising more than $142,450 year-over-year, according to the Austin Board of Realtors.
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