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Crossing the chasm in Austin

I can’t open Twitter these days without seeing someone in the tech industry talking about moving or talking about someone who just moved to either Austin or Miami. “What’s the best neighborhood in Miami for startups? My friend just moved to Edgewater. Where did so-and-so move?”

Here’s a recent article from the WSJ talking about how accelerated tech-fueled growth is straining Austin. And below is a set of charts (from the article) comparing home prices in Austin and San Francisco. (Reminder, the California-to-Texas migratory pattern recorded the highest number of “net movers” last year.)

But in reading through the article, I am reminded that the challenges facing Austin are not entirely unique. Growing cities all around the world are being put in a position where they need to decide whether they want to remain car-oriented and relatively low-density, or if they want to make the shift toward more transit-oriented urbanism.

It’s admittedly not easy, both politically and practically speaking. It’s hard to rewrite deeply entrenched built form. But Austin is naturally looking at what happened in San Francisco, where restrictions on new development are thought to be partially (largely?) responsible for the city’s unaffordable housing.

According to the same WSJ article, voters in Austin turned down two previous transit proposals. One was in 2000 and the other was in 2014. There was concern over too much urbanization. There was concern it would induce more people to move to the city. And there was concern that it would threaten the city’s low-rise single-family homes.

But this year a transit plan was approved that includes three new rail lines, one of which will tunnel through downtown. Provided that Austin can effectively pair this with more housing, more uses, and more density — which is generally what you need to make transit work — then it may be well on its way to crossing, if you will, the chasm of urbanity.

Charts: WSJ

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