Austin’s booming burbs

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The proposed I-35 expansion.

Interesting story in the Statesman today about the growth of small cities in Texas.

Among the top 15 cities with the highest growth rate, about half were in Texas, including two Austin-area suburbs in Williamson County. Georgetown came in at No. 7, with an annual growth rate of 5.2%, and Round Rock was No. 15 and grew by 4.3%.

Other smaller Central Texas cities grew even faster, though they did not make the list because their populations don’t exceed 50,000 people. Dripping Springs grew by 20.59%, Leander by 12.5% percent and Kyle by 8.1%, all increases similar to those seen in previous years and continuing a boom along the Interstate 35 corridor.

“I think it’s interesting San Antonio really has joined the ranks of high-growth cities in the country,” Austin demographer Ryan Robinson said. “I think that’s interesting because Austin and San Antonio are developing more of a relationship than we have in the past. We are becoming one big urban region. … Starting in Bell County and ending in Bexar County, everything along the Interstate 35 corridor is growing like crazy. It is really beginning to act like one big urban creature.”

Obviously there have been people living in these communities for decades for a variety of reasons. Some people want big houses and don’t like living next-door to hippies. But this tremendous level of population growth –– far outpacing growth in the city of Austin –– is largely a reflection of the city’s affordability and mobility crises.

For what it’s worth, here are a few reasons I can imagine moving to one of the burbs in the coming years.

  1. The city hasn’t allowed enough housing in the city, so housing will become too expensive for us to remain near the city center. So there’s a good chance that while we’ll still be able to afford to live within city limits, we’ll probably have to move further out and sacrifice the car-light lifestyle we enjoy centrally.
  2. Because it hasn’t provided enough housing, the city isn’t dense enough to provide robust public transportation. As a result, living in the city doesn’t offer as much of a transportation discount as it should.
  3. Again, the lack of density and the lack of investment in pedestrian/bike infrastructure means that much of the city is not substantially more walkable than the suburbs, so what’s the point of paying a lot more to stay in town?

Sadly, as growth continues in the burbs, the perceived need to invest in regional highways over urban transit will grow, including the $8 billion expansion of I-35.

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