Today, Austin tops numerous state, national, and international “Best Of” lists. This visibility is accelerating our attractiveness and population growth. As we grow and evolve, how can we preserve and amplify the special things we value about Austin? How can we face our more difficult problems, improve the city, and meet our challenges head-on?
Austin today is a model of livability, widely acclaimed as one of the top cities in the country. We are a state and national leader. A city filled with entrepreneurs and innovators. A funky, offbeat destination. A city of compassion and environmental responsibility. A beautiful, accepting community. We have a distinctive and appealing vibe, a resilient economy, a growing national profile, good job and business opportunities, a fun and relaxed way of life, a beautiful natural setting for outdoor living and recreation, a thriving arts and live music scene, and a reasonable cost of living for a big city. In fact, we’re so attractive that we draw more than one million visitors and many thousands of new residents annually.
As a fast-growing city whose population is projected to nearly double over the next three decades, we are becoming more urban and diverse each year. Our attractiveness brings a central challenge: how to accommodate more people, in a considered and sustainable fashion, while preserving what we value so that we get better not just bigger.
Advantages of Living in Austin
Growth in recent decades has brought more employers and varied job opportunities; more interesting people with whom to meet and connect; a broader population base to support the visual, performing, media, and interactive arts, as well as our many nonprofits; a revitalized downtown; new transportation options; and greater tolerance and diversity. We have gained public parkland, a wealth of entertainment and dining choices, and many other amenities to enjoy with family and friends.
We now suffer from serious traffic congestion, loss of natural and open space to urban sprawl, Central Austin housing that is increasingly unaffordable for individuals and families, a sense of loss about a simpler Austin of the past, and too many low-wage jobs that lag behind Austin’s cost of living. Most troubling, at least 20 percent of our children live in poverty, go to bed hungry, go without health insurance and adequate healthcare, and fail to graduate from high school.
6 Key Challenges And Opportunities
Preserving Our Livability
How can we preserve our character and history, remembering the many different experiences and cultures that have made Austin what it is today? How will we increase housing and transportation choices for different types of individuals and families throughout Austin? How will we keep Austin healthy, safe, beautiful, and affordable?
Expanding Transportation Choices
How can we offer more transportation choices? How can we encourage Austinites to walk, bike and take transit? How can we build the kind of transportation network we’ll need for sustainable development?
Tackling the Ethnic Divide
Overall, Austinites living east of Interstate 35 are poorer, less healthy, lag academically, and share less equally in Austin’s celebrated quality of life. How can we improve their lives while also protecting longtime Eastside residents from displacement? As a city, we want to tackle this divide and close the opportunity gaps. How can we help all Austinites have a voice, material comforts, and a reason to believe in a brighter future?
Protecting Our Natural Resources
How can we protect our waterways and watersheds, other natural resources, and agricultural lands? How can we better connect our community with healthy, natural open spaces? How can we ensure an ample water supply for the Austin of 2050 and beyond?
Promoting Prosperity for All
How do we help all Austinites find good jobs in our high-skill economy? How do we ensure that musicians, young families, and hourly workers aren’t priced out of Austin? How can we help wage growth catch up to the rising costs of living, closing the affordability gap? How can we expand job opportunities and enhance the skills of our labor force?
Issues such as transportation, water resources, growth and development, environmental protection, climate change, and economic prosperity are regional in scale and scope. We need a platform for regional governance and coordinated comprehensive planning for our collective future. How can Austin lead the way to forge a productive dialogue and set of agreements?
Core Principles For Action
Grow as a compact, connected city
Creating a more compact and efficient city is critical to our ability to connect people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities to homes, jobs, schools, arts and cultural amenities, and other destinations with a more complete transportation system that is affordable to build, operate, and maintain.
Integrate nature into the city
As we grow into a more compact city, we will also have an increased need for parks and open spaces distributed across these new urban places. By strengthening our “green infrastructure”— parks, the urban forest, urban trails, greenways, rivers, creeks, lakes, gardens, urban agriculture, open spaces, and wildlife habitat and the relationships between them and the rest of the city— Austin can protect the natural environment and enhance recreational opportunities.
Provide paths to prosperity for all
Developing new economic sectors through partnerships between the business community, city
government, and institutions will help employ a diverse workforce and expand opportunities for
young and old. To ensure our economic strength, it is critical to preserve Austin’s mix of large
and small businesses, local entrepreneurs, major employers, clean industries, educational
institutions, and government jobs. Growing our economic base should provide jobs and career
paths for workers of all education and skill levels. Prosperity for all means reducing the number
of people living in poverty by providing workforce training and services to help residents attain
living-wage jobs. It also means capitalizing on the city’s creative industries, cultural heritage, and
diverse population to position the city as a national and international center for innovation and
knowledge-based industries. We can maintain economic resiliency by staying attuned to global
trends and emerging technologies and by preparing our children academically and socially to
lead Austin’s future.
Develop as an affordable and healthy community
As development and change occurs, we must strive to contain Austin’s cost of living, while increasing wages and the number of good jobs. We must provide high public value with tax dollars to deliver quality, affordable amenities that all Austinites can enjoy. An affordable community can only exist if we make sure that the people who work in Austin — at all income levels — can afford to live here. Through incentives and partnerships, the City of Austin can encourage more affordable housing to be distributed throughout the city. Healthy communities depend on easy, safe access to walking, biking, and recreation, healthy and nutritious food, quality healthcare, schools, police, and other community services.
Sustainably manage water, energy and other environmental resources
We have a responsibility to future generations to go even greener, encourage energy independence, reduce individual, household, and commercial water use, and protect clean air and water. By respecting our natural resources, we can build a sustainable foundation for Austin’s enduring prosperity.
Think creatively and work together
Resilience — the ability to adapt to challenges and change — will be a hallmark of successful communities in the 21st century. Innovation is one of the key attributes of resiliency. Sustaining our culture of creativity and harnessing the collective energy of our people are essential to realizing the future envisioned by Imagine Austin.
Before it was Austin, the future capital of the State of Texas was a small settlement named Waterloo, located on a bluff overlooking the Colorado River. In 1839, it became the capital of the Republic of Texas and was renamed in honor of the “Father of Texas,” Stephen F. Austin. Austin was selected as the capital city due to its steady water supply, hills, pleasant surroundings, and central location within the state. Already the seat of state government, Austin became an educational center in the 1880s with the establishment of the University of Texas. The government and educational sectors became mainstays of the local economy and began attracting people from across the state.
In the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s, Austin experienced a population boom, growing more than 35 percent each decade. However, the city’s economy did not grow at the same pace. To address this disparity, Austin’s leaders strategized on how to expand the economy. This resulted in new directions that leveraged the city’s role as an educational center to attract high-tech employers such as IBM. Our new economic identity was a progressive one, dependent upon innovation and a highly-skilled and educated workforce.
Rapid population growth during the 1970s also created new transportation and environmental pressures as Austin struggled with the stresses of a growing city. We emerged from the decade with a new environmental focus and economic direction that form the cornerstones of our current sustainability principles. Well before most Texas cities recognized connections between livability and sustainability, we were at the vanguard of the “green” movement.
Celebrating our creativity (by branding Austin as “The Live Music Capital of the World,” for
example) has attracted talented, artistic, and entrepreneurial individuals, contributing to our
eclectic small business community and the growth of the creative and technology sectors. We
have confronted difficult issues and taken risks that have set us apart. Austin is also a place where the funky and offbeat are accepted and celebrated. These qualities attract people from across the country who are looking for a place where they feel comfortable and one that provides opportunities not readily available in most other cities. The spirit of acceptance extends across the spectrum to include people of all faiths, ethnicities and races, sexual orientations, political leanings, and personal interests. The spirit of creativity and acceptance has created a place where people want to be and has set the stage for our current and future economic success.