Austin is the capital of the U.S. state of Texas, the county seat of Travis County, and home to the University of Texas at Austin. Situated in Central Texas, Austin is the fourth-largest city in Texas (behind Houston, San Antonio, & Dallas repectively) the 16th largest in the United States, and the 5th largest city in the South. According to the latest release by the Census Bureau, as of July 1, 2006 Austin had a population of 709,893 In recent years, many Austinites have also adopted the unofficial slogan "Keep Austin Weird"; this refers partly to the eclectic and progressive lifestyle of many Austin residents, but is also the slogan for a campaign to preserve smaller local businesses and resist excessive commercialization.
Austin is located at and is approximately 541 ft (165 m) above sea level. According to the 2000 census, the city has a total area of 258.4 mi² (669.3 km²). 251.5 mi² (651.4 km²) of it is land and 6.9 mi² (17.9 km²) (2.67%) is water.
Austin is situated on the Colorado River, with three man-made (artificial) lakes wholly within the city limits: Lady Bird Lake, Lake Austin, and Lake Walter E. Long. Additionally, the foot of Lake Travis, including Mansfield Dam, is located within the city's limits. Lady Bird Lake, Lake Austin, and Lake Travis are each on the Colorado River. The city is also situated on the Balcones Fault, which, in much of Austin, runs roughly the same route as the State Highway Loop 1 (Texas) or Mo-Pac Expressway. The eastern part of the city is relatively flat, whereas the western part and western suburbs consist of scenic rolling hills on the edge of the Texas Hill Country. Because the hills to the west are primarily limestone rock with a thin covering of topsoil, portions of the city are frequently subjected to flash floods from the runoff caused by thunderstorms. To help control this runoff and to generate hydroelectric power, the Lower Colorado River Authority operates a series of dams that form the Texas Highland Lakes. The lakes also provide venues for boating, swimming, and other forms of recreation within several parks located on the lake shores.
A popular point of prominence in Austin is Mount Bonnell. At about 780 feet above sea level, it is a natural limestone formation overlooking Lake Austin on the Colorado River, approximately 200 feet below its summit. From the observation deck, many fine homes are visible.
The soils of Austin range from shallow gravelly clay loams over limestone in the western outskirts to deep fine sandy loams, silty clay loams, silty clays or clays in the city's eastern part. Some of the clays have pronounced shrink-swell properties and are difficult to work under most moisture conditions. Many of Austin's soils, especially the clay-rich types, are slightly to moderately alkaline and have free calcium carbonate.
See also: List of Austin Neighborhoods
Austin has a humid subtropical climate, characterized by hot summers and mild winters.
Government and politics
Austin is administered by a city council of seven members, each of them elected by the entire city, and by an elected mayor under the mayor-council government system of municipal governance. Council and mayoral elections are non-partisan (although most Austin mayors and council members are Democrats, a bi-partisan group with a stated goal of "making the public safer by getting illegal guns off the streets." The Coalition is co-chaired by by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Austin is located in Travis County, Texas.
See also: List of current and former capital cities in the United States
Law and government
The main political actors in Austin city politics are interest groups such as the pro-environmental Save Our Springs Alliance, the Austin Police Association, Austin Toll Party, and the Austin Business Council. Additionally, the Travis County Democratic Party is an active, well-established organization whose get out the vote operations generally make the difference in close elections.
The controversy that dominated Austin politics during the 1990s was the conflict between environmentalists, strong in the city center, and advocates of urban growth, who tend to live in the outlying areas. The city council has in the past tried to mitigate the controversy by advocating smart growth, but growth and environmental protection are still the most divisive issues in city politics. Today conservatives in Austin argue that the city's various highway traffic problems are rooted in the denial of past highway/infrastructure development by political action committees who do not support highway expansion. Progressives counter that environmentalists' efforts contributed to the city's large green spaces, which many Austinites enjoy. Progressives also maintain that unlike several other cities in Texas, Austin's smart growth policies have contributed to a rapidly-increasing population density in and around the downtown area.
Austin is well known as a center for liberal politics in a generally conservative state, leading some Texas conservatives to deride the city as "The People's Republic of Austin" or "the blueberry in the tomato soup." Suburban neighborhoods in Austin, especially to the west and north, and several satellite municipalities, however, tend toward political conservatism.
As a result of the major party realignment that began in the 1970s, central Austin became a stronghold of the Democratic Party while the suburbs tend to vote Republican. One consequence of this is that in the most recent redistricting plan, formulated by former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay and enacted by the Republican-majority legislature, the central city has been split among multiple, sprawling districts. Opponents characterized the resulting districting layout as excessively partisan gerrymandering, and the plan was challenged in court on this basis by Democratic and minority activists; of note, the Supreme Court of the United States has never struck down a redistricting plan for being excessively partisan. The plan was subsequently upheld by a three-judge federal panel in late 2003, and on June 28, 2006, the matter was largely settled when the Supreme Court in a 7-2 decision upheld the entire congressional redistricting plan with the exception of a Hispanic-majority district in southwest Texas. This may later affect Austin's districting, as U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett's district was found not to be sufficiently compact to compensate for the reduced minority influence in the southwest district.
Overall, the city is a blend of downtown liberalism and suburb conservatism, but leans strongly to the political left. In the 2004 presidential election, Senator John Kerry won a substantial majority of the votes in Travis County as illustrated in this pictorial of votes by-county. Of Austin's six state legislative districts, three are strongly Democratic and three are swing districts all of which are held by Democrats. However, two of its three congressional districts are presently held by Republicans; this is largely due to the 2003 redistricting, which left downtown Austin without an exclusive congressional seat of its own. Travis County was also the only county in Texas to reject Texas Constitutional Amendment Proposition 2 — effectively outlawing gay marriage and status equal or similar to it — and did so by a wide margin (40% for, 60% against).
Austin is also an active area for the Libertarian Party. Although the Libertarians remain a third party, they occasionally garner substantial votes when running against an otherwise unopposed Republican, and one of the past Libertarian presidential candidates, Michael Badnarik comes from Austin, while another, Ron Paul represented a congressional district that includes part of the greater Austin area.
Two of the candidates for President in the 2004 race call Austin home. Michael Badnarik, mentioned above as the Libertarian Party candidate, and David Cobb of the Green Party both have lived in Austin. During the runup to the election in November, a presidential debate was held at the University of Texas student union involving the two minor party candidates. While the Commission on Presidential Debates only invites Democrats and Republicans to participate in televised debates, the debate at UT was open to all presidential candidates.
Austin is often referred to as "Blue in a Sea of Red" with regards to the 2004 presidential race
List of sister cities of Austin, Texas, designated by Sister Cities International.
Cities whose claims to sister city status are not recognized officially by the City of Austin
Adelaide, Australia - since 1983
Koblenz, Germany- since 1991
Lima, Peru- since 1981
Maseru, Lesotho- since 1978
Ōita, Japan - since 1990
Saltillo, Mexico - since 1968
Taichung, Taiwan - since 1986
Old Orlu, Nigeria - since 2000
Gwangmyeong, South Korea
Xishuangbanna, China - since 1997
Toronto, Ontario- since 1991
Brazil Belo Horizonte - since 1965 Sister cities
Thousands of graduates each year from the engineering and computer science programs at The University of Texas at Austin provide a steady source of young, talented, and driven employees that help to fuel Austin's technology and defense industry sectors. The metro Austin area has much lower housing costs than Silicon Valley, but much higher housing costs than many parts of rural Texas. As a result of the relatively high concentration of high-tech companies in the region, Austin was strongly affected by the dot-com boom in the late 1990s and subsequent bust. The general consensus is that high-tech recovery is proceeding rapidly. Austin's biggest employers include the State of Texas, The University of Texas, the SETON Healthcare Network, Dell, IBM and Freescale Semiconductor (spun off from Motorola in 2004). Other high-tech companies in Austin include Apple Inc., Hewlett-Packard, Vignette, AMD, Applied Materials, Cirrus Logic, Hoover's, Inc., Intel, Motive Inc, National Instruments, Samsung, Silicon Laboratories, Sun Microsystems, United Devices, and Textron. The proliferation of technology companies has led to the region's nickname, "the Silicon Hills," (Austin was originally "Silicon Gulch", but San Jose, California already had that distinction) and has spurred rapid development that has greatly expanded the city to the north, south, east, and west.
In addition to global companies, Austin features a strong network of independent, locally-owned firms and organizations such as the Austin Independent Business Alliance. The success of these businesses reflects the high level of commitment by the citizens of Austin to preserving the unique spirit of the city, and has been tied to the "Keep Austin Weird" campaign. Small businesses in Austin enjoy a lively existence gained by direct competition with large national and global rivals.
See also: List of foreign consulates in Austin
As of the census
As Austin's official slogan is The Live Music Capital of the World, the city has a vibrant live music scene with more music venues per capita than any other U.S. city. Austin's music revolves around the many nightclubs on 6th Street and an annual film/music/multimedia festival known as South by Southwest. The city also has a burgeoning circle of live performance theater venues such as: Zachary Scott Theatre Center, Vortex Repertory Company, Salvage Vanguard Theater, Arts on Real, Scottish Rite Children's Theater, Hyde Park Theatre, and the Esther's Follies comedy & magic show which has been operating for over 3 decades now. The longest-running concert music program on American television, Austin City Limits, is videotaped on the University of Texas at Austin campus. Austin City Limits and Capital Sports & Entertainment run the Austin City Limits Music Festival, an annual music and art festival held at Zilker Park in Austin. The long-running outdoor musical, the Zilker Park Summer Musical expects to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2008. The Urban Music Festival is held during the Texas Relays weekend every April. Other annual events include Eeyore's Birthday Party and the Austin Reggae Festival (previously named Bob Marley Festival) in April and Carnaval in February. Halloween, St Patrick's Day, Mardi Gras, July 4th, and Juneteenth (Emancipation Day) are all celebrated.
Austinites take pride in eccentricities and celebrate the differences between themselves and other U.S. cities. "Keep Austin Weird" has become a local motto in recent years, featured on innumerable bumper stickers and t-shirts. This motto has not only been used in promoting Austin's eccentricity and diversity, but is also meant to bolster support of local and independent businesses. This motto has been parodied on bumper stickers making fun of conservative suburbs: "Keep Round Rock mildly unusual" and "Keep Georgetown normal."
Austin is also home to a lot of artists. They can be seen selling their art at the Renaissance Market on Guadalupe, across the street from the University. Every first Thursday of the month, during what is known as First Thursdays, the eclectic shops on South Congress stay open late, artists sell their works on the sidewalks, and musicians play in the streets. This is truly a spectacle of Austin, and exemplifies its cultural side.
Ballet Austin is the fourth largest ballet academy in the country with a $4.5 million annual budget. Each year Ballet Austin's twenty member professional company preforms ballets from a wide variety of choreographers, including their international award winning artistic director, Stephen Mills. Ballet Austin has traveled around the world performing in Europe, twice at the Kennedy Center (Washington D.C.), and in New York City's famous Joyce Theatre.
Nationally known Austinites include Willie Nelson, Lance Armstrong, Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock , Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez, Andy Roddick and Michael Dell. Other well-known Austinites can be found in the List of Austinites.
Austin has been the location for a number of motion pictures, partly due to the influence of The University of Texas at Austin's Department of Radio-Television-Film. Films produced in Austin include Man of the House, Secondhand Lions, Waking Life, Spy Kids, Dazed and Confused, Office Space, The Life of David Gale, Miss Congeniality, Doubting Thomas, Slacker, Idiocracy, A Scanner Darkly,The Wendall Baker Story and most recently, Grindhouse and How To Eat Fried Worms . In order to draw future film projects to the area, the Austin Film Society has converted several airplane hangars from the former Mueller Airport into filmmaking center Austin Studios. Projects that have used facilities at Austin Studios include music videos by The Flaming Lips and feature films such as 25th Hour and Sin City. Austin also hosted the MTV series, The Real World: Austin in 2005.
Austin's main daily newspaper is the Austin American-Statesman. The Austin Chronicle is Austin's alternative weekly, while The Daily Texan is the student newspaper of the University of Texas. Austin also has smaller newspapers such as the Oak Hill Gazette, Austin Business Journal, Texas Family Magazine, and Texas Monthly.
Austin hosts the annual Austin Film Festival, as well as South by Southwest, which draw films of many different types from all over the world. In 2004 the city was first in Moviemaker Magazine's annual top ten cities to live and make movies. The 2007 South by Southwest festival included Pete Townshend, Iggy Pop, Tom Morello, and Rickie Lee Jones.
Austin also hosts the annual Austin City Limits Music Festival, based on its own Austin City Limits television show, which has been produced for over 30 years at their resident PBS affiliate KLRU. The festival and television show alike attracts musical artists from around the world.
Austin also has a strong theater culture, with dozens of itinerant and resident companies producing a wide variety of work. From Esther's Follies on E. 6th Street to Zachary Scott on S. Lamar, live entertainment can be found around the city.
In January 2007, Austin Lyric Opera hosted the American Premiere of the Philip Glass opera, Waiting for the Barbarians. Waiting for the Barbarians is an allegory of oppressor and oppressed based on the novel by John Maxwell Coetzee of South Africa. Coetzee, the Nobel Prize Winner for Literature in 2003, is a University of Texas at Austin graduate and former UT professor.
Austin is one of the largest cities in the country without a franchise in any of the four major sports leagues. Instead, Austinites enthusiastically support the University of Texas Longhorns' sports programs. The University of Texas football and baseball teams each won their respective 2005 national championships. Minor-league professional sports came to Austin in 1996, when the Austin Ice Bats began playing at the Travis County Expo Center. Since then, they have been joined by many other teams.
Minor-League Professional Sports Teams
In addition to team sports, the combined draws of the bicycle-friendly Texas Hill Country that begins in Northwest Austin, the centrally-located Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail, and local pools like Barton Springs make Austin the home of several endurance and multi-sport races and communities. The venerable Capitol 10,000 is the largest 10 K race in Texas, and approximately fifth largest in the nation. The Austin Marathon has been run in the city every year since 1992. The Austin-founded American Swimming Association hosts the open water swimming event, the Academy Capital 2K, and other closed-course, open water, and cable swim races around town. Austin is also the hometown of several cycling groups and the champion cyclist Lance Armstrong. Combining these three disciplines is a growing crop of triathlons, including the Capital of Texas Triathlon held every Memorial Day on and around Lady Bird Lake, Auditorium Shores, and downtown Austin, even crossing 6th Street on several legs of the race.
Other attractions in Austin include the Texas Memorial Museum, the Blanton Museum of Art (opened in 2006), the galleries at the Harry Ransom Center, and the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum across the street, opened in 2000. The Texas State Capitol itself is also a major tourist attraction. The Driskill Hotel built in 1886, located at 6th and Brazos, was finished just before the construction the Capitol building. Sixth Street is a musical hub for the city but also includes annual festivals such as the Pecan Street Festival and Halloween night.
The Congress Avenue Bridge houses the world's largest urban population of Mexican free-tailed bats. Starting in late February, up to 1.5 million bats take up residence inside the bridge's expansion and contraction zones as well as in long horizontal grooves running the length of the bridge's underside, an environment ideally suited for raising their young. Every evening around sunset, the bats emerge in search of insects, an exit visible on weather radar. Watching the bat emergence is an event that is popular with locals and tourists, with more than 100,000 viewers per year. The bats migrate to Mexico each winter.
Yet, most of the tourists that visit Austin come for its vibrant nightlife scene downtown.
Central Austin is bracketed by Interstate 35 to the east and the Mopac Expressway to the west. U.S. Highway 183 runs from northwest to southeast, and State Highway 71 crosses southern part of the city from east to west, completing a rough "box" around the central and north-central city. Austin is the largest major city to be served by only one Interstate Highway.
U.S. Highway 290 enters Austin from the east and merges into I-35. Its highway designation continues south on I-35 and then becomes part of Highway 71, continuing on to the west. Highway 290 becomes its own road again southwest of the city, when it splits from highway 71 in a busy interchange in Oak Hill known as "The Y." Highway 71 continues as far west as Brady, TX, and Highway 290 continues west to intersect Interstate 10 near Junction. Interstate 35 continues south through San Antonio, TX, and continues to its culmination at Laredo, TX, which is on the Texas-Mexico border. Interstate 35 is the highway link to the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex in the northern Texas. There are two links to Houston, TX (Highway 290 and State Highway 71/Interstate 10).
In the mid-1980s, Austin completed construction on State Highway Loop 360, a scenic highway that curves through the hill country from near the 71/Mopac interchange in the south to near the 183/Mopac interchange in the north.
In November 2006, Austin opened the first segments of its first-ever tollway system: State Highway 130 runs from Georgetown, Hutto, Round Rock, Pflugerville, where it connects with 45, and terminates at US 290, just between the city limits of Austin and Manor. The remaining segments will loop outside Austin to the east and will connected up with Interstate 10 south of Creedmor.
State Highway 45 runs east-west from just west of 183 in Cedar Park to 130 inside Pflugerville (just south of Round Rock). From there it becomes 45 North/South and is cosigned with 130, ending currently where 130 ends.
A toll extension to Mopac that allows direct access to I-35 (via 45) was also constructed as part of the project.
The 183A Toll Road opened as of March 2007, providing a tolled alternative to 183 through the congested cities of Leander and Cedar Park.
Remaining segments of 45 and 130 are scheduled for completion in 2007. A separate segment of 45 still under development (Texas 45 SE) will eventually connect U.S. 183/Texas 130 to I-35, in south Austin.
Austin's airport is Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (IATA code AUS), located 5 miles (8 km) southeast of the city.
Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Capital Metro) provides public transportation to the city, primarily by bus. Capital Metro is building a commuter rail system that is scheduled for completion in 2008. The system will be built on existing freight rail lines and will serve downtown Austin, East Austin, Northwest Austin, and Leander in its first phase. An Amtrak Texas Eagle station is located west of downtown. Segments of the Amtrak route between Austin and San Antonio are under evaluation for a future passenger rail corridor as an alternative to the traffic congestion of Interstate 35.
Being given the title of America's #1 College Town by the Travel Channel, Austin is home to The University of Texas at Austin, one of the largest universities in the country. It is also the flagship institution of The University of Texas System — the largest state system of higher education in Texas. Other institutions of higher learning include Austin Community College, Concordia University, Huston-Tillotson University, St. Edward's University, the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, the Acton School of Business, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and a branch of LeTourneau University.
Most of the city is covered by the Austin Independent School District. Parts of Austin are served by other districts, including Round Rock Independent School District, Pflugerville Independent School District, Leander Independent School District, Manor Independent School District, Del Valle Independent School District, and Eanes Independent School District. Researchers at Central Connecticut State University ranked Austin the 16th most literate city in America for 2005.
List of Austinites
Music of Austin
List of radio stations in Austin
List of mayors of Austin, Texas See also
Media and entertainment
Hornsby Bend Bird Observatory
Bat Conservation International page on the Congress Avenue Bats
Austin chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas
Maps and aerial photos for Coordinates:
- Maps from WikiMapia, Google Maps, Live Search Maps, Yahoo! Maps, or MapQuest
Topographic maps from TopoZone or TerraServer-USA
The Austin Map Project
Current Austin weather
Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve