Not a week goes by without an impassioned letter from a reader asking Curbed to launch a new edition, from Minneapolis to Charlotte. And before December, when we announced the hunt for a founding editor for Curbed Austin, not a week went by without at least one pitch extolling the virtues of the capital city of Texas. Between a building boom, an influx of young workers—particularly in the tech and film sectors—a major university, and a population that’s generally in tune with the ideals of urbanism and public policy, Austin is the poster child for all that Curbed represents.
Not that we have to explain to you why Austin merits its own Curbed. In fact, Austinites are not the only ones feeling the allure of ATX. You’ve heard the stats: The city’s population grew 37 percent in the first decade of the 21st century, and, according to recent census figures, between 50 and 100 people are moving to Austin every day. Nearly 8 percent of all Austin residents were brand-new to the city in 2013, the highest rate of newcomers among the top 50 metro areas in the United States. Home sales and home prices in Austin hit an all-time high in September 2015, with a whopping 8 percent uptick in those prices year-over-year. And despite localized horror at the competitive housing market ("We're seeing four, five, six, seven offers on some homes"), Austin stills ranks strongly enough in the affordability and economic environment categories to land it on the 2015 list for Healthiest Housing Markets.
Not to mention the houses! A couple of years ago I drove around south and east Austin with a local architect who filled me in on all manner of regional midcentury modernism, the educational ethos at UT Austin architecture school, and the history of John Saunders Chase.* We’ve covered the rich and varied housing stock on Curbed, as well, from the upscale minimalism of Alterstudio to a renovated Greek Revival to a Hyde Park craftsman to a contemporary timber number. And as for the recent tech emigres**? We’ve talked to them, too.
Competition for this gig*** was stiff, and I’m very pleased to introduce journalist and longtime East Austin resident Cindy Widner, a former managing editor for The Austin Chronicle, as Curbed Austin’s founding editor. —Kelsey Keith
Welcome to Curbed Austin! It's impossible to exaggerate how thrilled I am to help usher it into the world.
Like so many Austinites, I moved here from somewhere else in Texas (Fort Worth, to be exact; in 1979, to be painfully exact) to attend UT. Having grown up in Fort Worth, with its ambitious and established museums, I was already familiar with and drawn to the sort of Manhattan-esque art and architecture (and film and music) that shaped the cultural taste of many a nerdy suburban kid in the 1970s.
Austin, though, had a different, more lasting appeal. It was much easier to appreciate the big oaks and the river and the swimming holes that abound here. Many speak of post-1960s Austin as a sleepy hippie town, but that's not how I experienced it. When I first saw Slacker, it was like watching a home movie. People might have moved and spoken slowly, but they were wicked-smart and wildly creative, and that bled into the physical environment in a million ways: band-flyer-covered telephone poles, murals and graffiti, stores full of silkscreened posters, comic books, and all kinds of general strangeness. Most of the places I loved then—the clubs, the eccentric bookstores, the odd and makeshift performances spaces—are gone now, and for the most part, I don't miss them (okay, maybe Liberty Lunch). Because the creative energy here continues to buzz and flicker, and people will always find ways to forge underground spaces and places, I worry very little about that. And as much as people might lament all the mixed-use building here now, I can attest that downtown Austin in the 1980s was mostly a dreary office park that closed around 5 p.m.
On the other hand, the part of me that geeks out over the transformation of places big and small can't wait to see what's in store for Austin. I plan to spend some major time building the narratives of major projects from the ground up, so to speak. I'll keep an eye on small-scale mavericks and folks like the Austin tiny house community (yes, there is one), but I'm also pumped about delving into the other end of local architecture, which reaches new levels of artful sophistication at a blinding pace. Austin needs a place to find comprehensive and helpful information about the housing market, both renting and owning; people here also passionately want to understand and know how to address affordability and mobility, and Curbed Austin can help them do that. Rest assured, too, that the scope of our coverage won’t be limited to the central city. With some area places growing even faster than Austin (hey, Pflugerville!), you can’t tell our story without keeping an eye on Round Rock, Georgetown, or Buda. Some expatriates are doing some interesting things with shelter and business spaces in places like San Marcos, Elgin, Webberville, Dripping Springs, and even further into the Hill Country, and we’ll check in on them regularly, too.
Finally, I’ll do all I can to engage in a lively, ongoing dialogue with Curbed Austin readers. Austinites are more informed and passionate about their city than anyone else I've met, and they taught me everything I know. —Cindy Widner