Tale of Two Cities

  • October 26, 2012
  • Scott

It looks like San Francisco is having conflicting feelings about the tech boom.  San Francisco Magazine has a long read entitled “How Much Tech Can One City Take?” With the ominous subtitle: “Shaken by the latest digital gold rush, San Francisco struggles for its soul.”

Who knew that San Francisco’s very soul was at stake.  The tone of the article contrasts sharply with how Austin feels about the growth of Tech here.  Tech in Austin has resulted in an affluence that has benefited everyone:

  • A resurgent downtown – thanks in large part to tech startups and employees choosing to live there in increasing numbers
  • A thriving culinary scene – from food trucks to Top Chef winners, the choices for food in Austin have never been more numerous, varied, and excellent.
  • Support for the arts – including the new ACL Moody Theater, the Long Center for the performing arts, and myriad other causes
  • Financial support for live music has never been stronger
  • Mixed use developments are spreading from the core downtown area to other under-utilized or run-down parts of town.

Have there been costs? Of course there have.  One of the last trailer parks near downtown closed a couple years ago to make room for condos.  Conservationists are trying to save historic trees from the construction in various parts of town.  Affordable housing is now further away from the downtown core, in an uneven radius.  And that’s a concern.  But it is also why Austin city leaders are focused on in-fill development, mass transit, bus routes, and other means of affordably getting people from where they live to where they work. Mixed results on that front so far, but the effort and energy expended on the subjects is clear.

I’d like to see property tax increases limited on long-time residents so that the tax bill isn’t forcing them to prematurely move out of prime real-estate (property appraisals in Austin can increase as much as 10% per year).  The “progress” isn’t bad, but there’s no reason all the change has to happen so quickly that longtime residents of affordable areas don’t get to experience the benefits at a time of their choosing, rather than being forced out by tax increases.

But overall I’ve been very impressed with how Austin has balanced its economic and social interests – maintaining strong economic influences from the government and high tech, and blending those with great social assets in music and art.  It all sort of goes into the mix with the slogan: “Keep Austin Weird”.

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  • Scott, this is a great post. Replace San Francisco with Bangalore and your post will still be very relevant. On that note, it will make sense even if you replace it with Hyderabad or Chennai in India. The impact all this has had on India and the cities can be analyzed at many levels – good and bad, but at the core is the cultural impact – the very Soul that you refer to that makes each city unique for what it is. Or isn’t.

    For the sake of discussion, I’d say SF or Bangalore will have had that same phase you suggest Austin is going through now.

    But whether it is SF or Bangalore, the question is always “was it a worthy trade-off?”

    • I think the point for Austin is that it hasn’t really been a trade-off in my mind. I think Austin hasn’t lost its soul at all. But I think the downturn after 2001 helped reinforce the mutual benefits… Certainly if you were not in tech, you could feel the effects of having less money in the economy here. I think that dampened the “anti-tech” feelings. As well, those of us that stuck around in Austin through that downturn (and were in tech) stayed in part because we really appreciate what makes Austin special (music, art, food, culture)…

      I remember Frost Tower being built right during the heart of the recession here, and the guy running the project said that it was important for him to do something special for Austin – to build something truly great. Watching that building go up week after week was a reminder that Austin was going to get better. And it was kind of inspiring to me that someone else had that kind of faith in Austin.

    • Maybe the easiest way to address the imbalance is to encourage techies to embrace and invest in the local culture and arts…

  • benkuo

    Scott, would you be open to republishing this on our site, texastechpulse.com (which posts news and information about Texas and its startup/technology activity)?

    • Sure thing – be happy to –