Opinion: Population Growth Isn't All Bad
Throughout the history of the United States, new arrivals to this country have told everyone arriving one minute after they did to stop coming. The collective attitude seems to be, “It was great that I could come here, but now everyone else stay away.” You’d think in a city supposedly as liberal as Austin, this mentality wouldn’t prevail. But it does.
I recently read a student opinion piece on the increasing popularity and rising cost of living in Austin, published in UT's Daily Texan, in which the author writes, “….we, the concerned, semipermanent residents of Austin, have a simple request for the thousands of people who flock to this city every year: Please, we beg of you, move elsewhere.”
I guffawed over my coffee. The “semipermanent residents” are begging others who move here to contribute to the economy, the housing market, the creative industry and the culture of this city to stay away? I can’t blame the young writer for her opinion when it’s the same one uttered from the mouths of plenty of others every day. She’s just repeating what has come to be the cry of the “original” Austinites – everything was better before “all of you” showed up; don’t move here.
Here’s the thing though. Almost nobody is from Austin. You might have moved here in 1990, but you still moved here. Whether you moved here to go to the University of Texas or to get out of Houston or to escape El Paso or you moved from as close as Johnson City or Llano, the vast majority of you still moved here.
In 1970, Austin’s population was about 250,000. In 1990, Austin’s population had nearly doubled to about 470,000. Now, another 20 years later, Austin’s population has again nearly doubled to about 820,000. See the trend here? Since the hippies flocked to this small utopia in the middle of big bad Texas in the 1970s, people of like minds have continued to migrate here.
There’s an amazing thing in that fact – through all of this growth, for the most part, the city continues to attract forward-thinking, progressive citizens who care about not only their health and happiness but also that of their neighbor and their environment. Rather than telling new people, “Don’t you move here to my territory,” like a bunch of provincial rednecks, why don’t we say, “What can you contribute to continue to improve our city?”
For example, Austin’s growth over the years is what supports our admirable and nationally known slow food movement. Would a population half this size or less be able to support the dozens of local farms, farmers markets, specialty grocery stores and locally sourced restaurants? Wheatsville, for example, was founded in 1978, but it was only in the past five years that the local co-op grocer’s membership doubled. Now, they are opening a second store that will serve South Austin neighborhoods and provide more than 100 new, fair wage jobs. You have growth to thank for that.
The challenge isn’t to figure out how to get people to stop moving here; it’s to figure out how to continue to attract the best and the brightest who will help us continue to be a an example of what a great American city can look like. There are growing pains to deal with here, like there are in every other desirable place to live. The reason it’s more expensive to live in Austin than it is to live in the middle of Arkansas should be self-explanatory. But, as a person who has lived in several American cities, I can assure you that what you’re paying here for what you get is far greater than it is anywhere else.
I live in a two-bedroom standalone house with a yard in a desirable neighborhood, and I pay $925 a month for rent. Not only is a housing option like that (the amount of space and green space) literally not possible in cities like Boston, New York or San Francisco, but in most of those cities, $925 will get you nothing. It will get you a 200-square-foot room with no oven; I know from experience. And sure, we could be paying even less in rent if we headed out to Round Rock or further, but you make sacrifices to be near what’s important to you.
Austin is known as a fit city, so fit people move here, perpetuating that fit lifestyle. Austin is known as a city with a vibrant nightlife and restaurant community, so people in those industries move here, take part in that community and continue to improve it. Austin is known as a city full of fantastically creative people – musicians, artists, artisans, craftspeople – so more people move here to become a part of that scene, helping to diversify it. This isn’t bad.
Aside from the increasing-cost-of-living argument, I think the main reason people who live in Austin (regardless of their tenure) don’t want more people to move to here is because they fear irrelevance. They were once the new, exciting creative class that was making this city interesting, and now it’s someone new. To those folks, I simply urge you, stay relevant. Get involved in something new, take part in changing areas of the city, make friends with recent transplants and see their value. And for crying out loud, stop telling everyone to stop moving here. We’re all in this together, so we might as well make it work.
Cover photo credit: Lars Plougmann on Flickr.