File this, of course, under "Silly Listicles."
Last week, Thrillist published one of its many (many) not-at-all-scientific reports, "The Most Obnoxiously Rich Suburb[s] of America’s 35 Biggest Cities," and West Lake, Texas, is most definitely on it. And, though West-Lake/Westlake-bashing can provide a sort of barrel-shooting fun, the website’s case is a little shaky.
It’s true that the place has a bit of a reputation for, if nothing else, hogging all the (now central-city) hills southwest of the river and filling them with oversized homes—some aesthetically iffy, some gorgeous. It’s true that there was once a band, or something, called the Westlake Bitches. It’s true that West Lake High School frequently makes it into national lists of top public high schools. It’s true that everything its football field touches turns to gold, or at least NFL players, Super Bowl XLIV MVP and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees being the most high-profile to date.
On the other hand: Thrillist’s Ciera Velarde describes the area as "secluded from the rest of Austin by way of the Colorado River," which, yeah, might have been the case when it was a small town of hippies and river rats, but now it’s hardly "secluded," easily accessible via MoPac or Redbud Trail, and essentially part of central Austin.
We won’t weigh in on Velarde’s assessment of West Lake High School students’ obnoxiousness, except to note that it starts with a quotation from a 2005 Texas Monthly article.
Then there’s a matter of how rich West Lake really is. Since it’s a lot harder to determine the average or median wealth of an area, that descriptor is often based on incomes, with maybe a property-value back. Like many small towns that became suburbs, even rich suburbs, West Lake still has a fair number of modest homes and longtime residents; due to its now-convenient location, it’s also home to some not particularly luxurious apartments, condos, and townhouses and a healthy number of renters. According to Texas Hometown Locator, which bases its numbers on U.S. Census data, its median household income as of this month is $153,582, and average is $218,088. Granted, that’s between two and three times those of the Austin area, which is vast, and contains multitudes: $55,174 median, $81,998 average.
But, as Texas Monthly’s Dan Solomon recently put it, "income inequality among the rich is a real thing!" noting that West Lake comes in last on a recent Houston Chronicle list of Texas’ 10 wealthiest ZIP codes. (Houston’s West University, with a median income of $240,000/year, was first.) West University and Dallas’ Highland Park also made a 2014 Business Insider list of the country’s wealthiest suburbs. That list was topped by Chevy Chase, Maryland, which almost two years ago had a median family income of $250,000.
It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for the relatively down-to-earth West Lake. Almost.
• The Ten Wealthiest Zip Codes in Texas Are Pretty Much Where You’d Expect [Texas Monthly]
• West Lake Hills, TX Profile: Facts, Maps, & Data [Texas Hometown Locator/Gazeteer]
• 24 Wealthiest Suburbs in America [Business Insider]