It's All Political

By AFM Team – November 1, 2016

What do your local grocer, your favorite music venue, and the MoPac tollway have in common? Aside from being Austin staples, they are all impacted by your city government.  The people, events, and landmarks that influence Austin’s vibe are rooted in major political shifts and initiatives.

Region: South

At a glance: Let’s start with the easy one. Anyone who is new to Austin or comes to visit typically hits this area first beacuse it’s full of “Austiny” things to do, including Barton Springs Pool, Zilker Park, and South Congress Avenue. It’s got the most glitz—and for good reason—but there’s far more going on around these parts than just tourist hotspots and tapas.

Food & culture: The northernmost sector of South Austin sees plenty of hustle and bustle due to downtown overflow and popular restaurants like Odd Duck, Perla’s, and Uchi. Thanks to its wide-open parks and proximity to Central Austin, this region attracts music festivals like Austin City Limits and Fun Fun Fun Fest. Other artsy attractions include the UMLAUF Sculpture Garden, LBJ Wildflower Center, and the Austin Art Garage.

Fitness & outdoors: Some of the best places to break a sweat in all of Austin are here, such as McKinney Falls State Park (on the southeast side), Barton Creek Greenbelt, and the Lady Bird Lake hike-and-bike trail. Escapes to Hill Country attractions like Hamilton Pool, Krause Springs, and Reimers Ranch are just around the bend, too.   

Cost of living and demographics: Due to their proximity and ever-increasing amenities, the cost of living in neighborhoods like Travis Heights, Bouldin Creek, and Barton Hills has skyrocketed over the past decade and won’t be going down anytime soon. Although its most up-and-coming areas are overwhelmingly white, South Austin is home to a deeply rooted and rich Hispanic culture, especially in the southeastern part of the city.

Region: Central

At a glance: Despite the beliefs of many South Austinites, the city actually does extend beyond the downtown area. Central Austin is home to state institutions like The University of Texas and the Texas Capitol, as well as staples such as Hut’s Hamburgers and Texas Chili Parlor.

Food & culture: Whether you’re in search of street art like the Graffiti Wall at Castle Hill or more traditional museums like the Blanton Museum of Art, Central Austin’s got it all. It’s also home to Cap City Comedy Club, Coldtowne Theater, and the New Movement—the city’s best comedy spots—if performance art is more your speed. The place is teeming with new restaurants and foodie stretches, especially around Burnet Road north of 45th Street or Airport Boulevard around 51st Street.

Fitness & outdoors: Since it’s surrounded by the cityscape, the name of the game here is neighborhood parks. When Central Austinites aren’t taking their dogs to Auditorium Shores or the Yard Bar on Burnet, they can also hop on their bikes and cruise along Shoal Creek Greenbelt’s wide bike lanes and gentle gradients.

Cost of living and demographics: This area’s another poster child of Austin’s rapidly rising cost of living. Established neighborhoods like Bryker Woods and Hyde Park have always been expensive, but Crestview and Allandale—located about five miles north of the UT campus—have also seen their home values explode and are popular neighborhoods for young families. This influx of newcomers and rising home prices has decreased the region’s diversity, especially in regards to its Hispanic population.

Keep reading for more information on regions in Austin!


Region: East

At a glance: If you’re looking for the focal point of Austin’s major demographic changes, you’ve found it. Often referred to as “The East Side,” this area is at the forefront of the city’s hipster wave and shifting landscape. For the time being, it’s arguably the most diverse and multicultural region of Austin. 

Food & culture: There’s awesome selection when it comes to trendy restaurants, but they’re overwhelmingly constrained to the neighborhoods closest to IH-35. Top restaurants include Contigo (ranch-style New American), Nasha (Indian), and Nubian Queen Lola’s, a Cajun and soul food café that works to keep Austin’s homeless population fed. Saloons and dive bars like The Skylark Lounge and Sahara Lounge are great places to hear funky tunes, and the Salvage Vanguard Theater is always a safe bet for plays and performance art.

Fitness & outdoors: East Austin’s outdoor options are a blend of their neighbors’. Like Central Austin, there are a lot of neighborhood parks with pools. Like South Austin, there are larger parks and preserves available —such as Walter E. Long Metropolitan and the Walnut Creek Nature Preserve. And like West Austin, the river cuts through and is available for boating and fishing. In Northeast Austin, the Mueller development has approximately 140 acres of parks, trails and open space, as well as a 5-mile hike-and-bike trail loop at completion.

Cost of living and demographics: Home prices and the cost of living have gone through the roof for this region—a product of the area’s rapid gentrification and location within Austin’s urban core. Consequently, many longtime black and Hispanic residents have been forced to move farther and farther from the inner city and into suburbs. The ZIP code that has been especially impacted by this changing population and living conditions is 78702, the region nestled between IH-35, Lady Bird Lake, Airport Boulevard, and E. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. 

Region: North

At a glance: As Billy Ocean once put it, “Get out of my dreams, get into my car.” North Austin’s a long, long way from the city’s core, especially with mounting traffic stagnation that has left interstates swollen. Its huge selection of restaurants and access to entertainment venues will make you forget all about that drive, though.

Food & culture: Austin has amazing food everywhere, but no other region does it like the north. Boasting a bevy of authentic Asian and Hispanic cuisine from dim sum to empanadas to Indian curry to street tacos, you can (and should) have it all here. If you haven’t hit up a taco stand or taken a trip to the Chinatown Center on North Lamar, you’re doing it wrong. Don’t forget about The Domain and the booming Rock Rose area if you need to hit the mall or want to grab a drink—they’ve started to accrue a serious bar selection up there.

Fitness & outdoors: There’s no denying that North Austinites have less access to outdoor attractions than other corners of the city. By far its largest public park is Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park, which is a great place to go hiking, running, and biking. Other regional options include Copperfield Park and the North Austin Rock Gym, but outside of that there are too few affordable and accessible avenues for fitness and exercise.

Cost of living and demographics: Austin’s Asian population has more than doubled since the 1990s, seeing especially large boosts in its Indian, Korean, Vietnamese, and Chinese communities—the majority of whom reside in North Austin. However, this region in particular has seen a huge increase in its already sizeable Hispanic population, largely a product of rising home prices and the growing number of white people moving into Austin’s urban core. This trend will likely continue as property values and costs continue to creep up and up.

Region: West

At a glance: West Austin’s not considered the most hip or cutting edge part of the city, but it more than makes up for these shortcomings with scenic drives, rolling hills, and sunsets over the lake. Always head west on a hot summer day.

Food & culture: Few things beat a burger on the water, so it’s no surprise that Hula Hut, The Oasis, and Abel’s on the Lake regularly draw big crowds. And if you want barbecue, look no further—The County Line is always a solid choice for sweet meats and savory sauces. Some of the most beautiful grounds in the city belong to Laguna Gloria, The Contemporary Austin’s sculpture garden that encircles an Italian villa built in 1916.

Fitness & outdoors: West Austin is home to both Lake Travis and Lake Austin, so there’s no shortage of options in case one gets old. Whether you’re looking for an intense workout—the area’s winding, hilly roads make it a popular destination for bikers and runners—or are interested in a round of golf on the region’s several courses, they’ve got you covered. Don’t forget: Austin classics Deep Eddy pool and Mount Bonnell are also westsiders.

Cost of living and demographics: Considering their resources and beautiful surrounds, it comes as no surprise that neighborhoods spanning from Tarrytown and Clarksville to areas near Rollingwood and Westlake are among Austin’s wealthiest. Although there has historically been little diversity in the area, the West Austin region has seen a significant increase in its Asian population since 2000. That being said, it has been the territory least altered by the city’s booming population and economy.

Keep Reading for Where we Rank!



Us Vs. Them

Fittest Cities

Austin has over 220 parklands in the area—one of the highest in the country—which promotes healthy lifestyle through outdoor activity.

Austin, TX
According to the American Fitness Index, Austin once again ranks in the top 20 Fittest Cities in America, coming in at No. 15. The report, which compares the 50 most populous metro cities in the nation, scores cities on areas of excellence and areas of necessary improvement. Austin’s ranking can be credited to a low percentage of smokers, low death rates for diabetes and cardiovascular disease, a high concentration of parks and swimming pools per capita, and the prevalence of residents with dogs in the area. Austin’s improvements lie in the low percentage of public transportation users, and the lack of baseball fields, golf courses, and recreation areas in general.

Role Model

Washington, D.C.
D.C. is the fittest city in the nation, three years running, according to the Index. People here tend to walk more due to the high use of public transportation, a nod to the transit’s efficiency and organization. Additionally, D.C.’s landscape allows for great access to parks, recreational areas, swimming pools, and tennis courts. Many of the lower ranking cities fall in the South, whose flaws partially lie in regional food preferences; while other low-ranking cities flaws could be credited to climates that are not conducive to outdoor activity.

Women-Owned Businesses

Women own 26 percent of all privately held firms in the Greater Austin area. Nationally, Texas ranks SECOND in the number and economic impact of women-owned firms.

Austin, TX
With an Austin city department aimed specifically toward promoting women to participate in business opportunities and encouraging female entrepreneurial spirit, it’s no wonder the local women here feel included and supported by the work culture. In fact, locally women-owned businesses generated $5.3 billion in sales and employed over 43,000 workers last year. Nationally, women play a self-employed role in all industries, yet most are found in health care and social assistance career roles. The next most female-populated industry is education. Locally, Firefly Consulting, a boutique consulting firm that specializes in everything from oil and gas to financial services, has been recognized as Austin’s Top Woman-Owned Business three years running.

Role Model

Santa Fe, NM
Nationally, there are more than 9 million businesses owned by women. In total, these companies pull in about $1.5 trillion annually. According to Forbes, Santa Fe is a standout city with more than 33 percent of local businesses owned by women. The city’s affordable cost of living allows for high revenues, and this is translated into big bucks for companies. Further, Santa Fe is home to Wildflower International, New Mexico’s largest woman-owned business and an information provider to the federal government.


Public Transportation

As of 2015, the Austin area has a population of about 2 million people, while Capital Metro annually serves a population of only 1,079,995.

Austin, TX
The Capital Metro is Austin’s local public transportation provider, operating a bus system, a commuter rail, and special transit services for the disabled. With 398 buses serving 79 different routes and six electric trains, Austin’s public transportation is seemingly functional. However, not many Austinites take advantage of the city’s public transportation. Each year, Capital Metro only 31.6 million rides. Riders’ constant complaints include frequency and convenience. Hearing these woes, Capital Metro is awaiting approval this November of Connections 2025, a 10-year service improvement plan. They hope to grow ridership through changes such as boosting frequency on certain routes, eliminating unnecessary overlapping routes, consolidating the fare system, and adding more express route options. However, not all riders are dissatisfied with the current transit system. Loyal riders appreciate the option to avoid driving through traffic, the onboard Wi-Fi, and the commitment of Capital Metro to provide affordable ways to navigate the city.

Role Model

Washington, D.C.
Boasting a below ground Metrorail and an intricate bus system, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority handles more than 330 million trips per year and has been named the best city in the country for public transportation. Even more impressive is the average commute time, 10 minutes below the national average. Those who choose to drive the commute, and avoid public transportation altogether only save eight minutes on average, something to consider when weighing your options. We would call D.C. a commuter’s paradise—but the transportation fares are some of the highest in the entire country. So while you may save time and energy, you’ll certainly feel it in your pocket!

Food Accessibility

Almost a third of people residing in Austin live more than a mile from healthy food options.

Austin, TX
Whole Foods, Wheatsville, Fresh Plus, Trader Joe’s… the options for healthy and fresh groceries seem endless in Austin. Yet, this is not the status quo. Austin is lucky enough to steadily maintain its farmland and provide people with locally grown and sustainable options in major grocery stores. That, of course, is not to say that the city fully protects its local farm producers. In fact, each day, 9.3 local acres of farmland are lost. However, this is nothing compared to Houston, our Texas neighbor who suffers a loss of nearly 50 farmed acres a day. 

Fortunately, farms are not the only fresh provider in Austin, which boasts the highest number of community gardens in the nation, with 52 within city limits. These gardens then have opportunities to sell their produce at the eight local farmers markets offered each week. Many people take advantage of these outdoor markets and revel in the fact that they are playing a role in the organic and sustainable movement in the city. 

However, there is an overwhelming number of people who cannot afford and do not have access to health food options. Nearly one-third of people within the city live more than a mile from health-conscious establishments. While that distance may not seem problematic to most, those without a car would beg to differ—and their health is a clear reflection of this. Some residents of the city-zoned Del Valle area must travel more than 13 miles to the nearest grocery store. These people are living in what is known as a food desert, an area in which it is difficult, if not impossible, to buy affordable and high-quality fresh food. These deserts heavily influence the outskirts of Austin, and city leaders are beginning to take action. Following the approval of a resolution, improved access has become a priority for city officials. The 2017 budget reflects; officials have added more than $1 million to increase access to healthy food. This money will help one in four local residents who are classified as “food insecure.”


Cost of Living

Austin, TX
Austin recently ranked on CareerCast’s “Best Places to Live and Work” list, which recognizes cities where salaries are high and the cost of living is low. The average cost of living in Austin was recorded at 6 percent less than the national average. This, combined with a median household income of $63,600, highlighted Austin as one of the best cities in the country to live. And the proof is in the numbers: More than 100 people move to the city every single day. Although it’s fair to complain about the overvalued housing market, we’re generally better off compared to many other metropolitan areas.

Danger Zone

San Francisco, CA 
If you’re considering a move to the City by the Bay, you might want to think again. The cost of living in San Francisco is so high that it’s ranked No. 2 on the nation’s Cost of Living Index, only behind New York City. The total cost of living is 62.6 percent higher than the national average. This crazy cost of living is saturated by through-the-roof home prices and a competitive rental market. Of course there are upsides to moving to San Fran—like the amazing food. Well, that’ll cost you…a lot. A mid-range meal for two, on average, will cost you about $80, nearly double the national average. As if these costs were not already enough to have you checking your couch cushions for spare change, the cost of health care is 17 percent more than the same care in Austin. To say the least, make sure you’ve got some money in the bank before you’re having visions of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Keep reading for the State of the Union!



By David Leffler

Over the past 15 years, Austin has earned a reputation across the country for its music festivals, bar crawls, tech startups, and fitness groups. But as the city has ballooned—estimates now put the greater Austin area at a whopping 2 million people—local government officials have made it a priority to ensure the city’s ever-increasing population is given the proper tools to lead healthy lifestyles. But that’s easier said than done.   

To identify ways to improve Austinites’ quality of life, the city has partnered with a variety of community actors and health providers, including the St. David’s Foundation, the Seton Healthcare Family, and Capital Metro. Together, they’ve targeted obesity, access to healthy foods, and transportation as some of the largest areas for improvement, backing a variety of initiatives to tackle these broad issues. One of this coalition’s most notable endeavors is the Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP), which serves as a blueprint to prioritize and address the most pressing needs of local communities. With this plan in hand, these organizations made it their mission to improve Austin’s wellness and overall quality of life. 

To better understand this massive undertaking, we turned to Dr. Philip Huang, the medical director and health authority for the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department. He also serves on the executive committee of the Mayor’s Health & Fitness Council, an assembly of the city’s top health and policy officials created to make Austin more active, healthy, and tobacco-free. The first thing he established during our interview together is the scope and magnitude of the public health problems the city is confronting. “As a doctor, you’re addressing issues as they arrive at your doorstep and prescribing treatments in an isolated environment. With public health, your patients are the entire community,” he said. “When you make a diagnosis, you’re looking at data and trends spanning across every sector of our society.”

In public health, identifying issues is much simpler than coming up with solutions. After all, determining that Travis County adults struggle with obesity requires surveying the local population and statistical analysis—but implementing programs and coming up with solutions takes time and patience. “We can throw different initiatives at those problems and contribute to changes in their significance within Austin, but attributing the push factors behind improvements is far more complex,” Huang said.

It makes sense exercise and diet are affected by education, social norms, personal habits, proximity to healthy and affordable foods, and transportation—just to name a few. And, as this issue’s “Roadmap of Austin” shows, accessibility and opportunity aren’t evenly distributed throughout the city. Unsurprisingly, neither are obesity, disease, and overall health. For instance, statistics show that black residents in Austin are twice as likely to die from cancer than their white neighbors. They’re also more than three times as likely to suffer from diabetes. One component of this is that Austin areas lacking easy access to affordable, nutritious foods—a phenomenon known as food insecurity—are predominantly home to people of color.   

Changing people’s environment has to be the goal, Dr. Huang said. By building healthy options into residents’ daily lives and making healthier choices the easy choices—like removing soda vending machines and replacing them with less sugary drinks—you can start making unhealthy habits inconvenient. Of course, that’s just one example of a small fix for a massive problem. To keep things in perspective, Dr. Huang drew on one of the city’s biggest successes: reducing tobacco usage in Austin.

More than 20 years ago, Austin took its first major step towards this goal when it banned smoking in restaurants. City leaders expanded on this in 2005, making it illegal to smoke inside bars. In both instances, local businesses reacted defiantly, labeling these laws political overreaches that would do more harm than good. And now? “It’s like smoking was never allowed in these establishments in the first place. Imagine how shocked you be if you saw someone smoking at the table next to you these days,” Dr. Huang said with a smile. “Everything seems crazy the first time around, but the shock wears off, and people continue with their day-to-day routine—just in a safer, healthier environment.”

But it’s not just about policy. Addressing ubiquitous social issues requires a radical cultural shift in the workplace. To encourage healthy practices around the office, the Mayor’s Health & Fitness Council created the Partner Certification Program, a workplace wellness program businesses can participate in if they uphold the council’s healthy practice principles. The list of certified companies include the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, The University of Texas at Austin, Dell, and National Instruments, all of which have seen the percentage of their employees who smoke drop significantly since implementing the program’s tobacco-free campus restriction. Dr. Huang pointed to this as a clear example of what happens when you change an environment to make unhealthy choices less convenient. “You can give somebody a brochure saying, ‘Smoking’s bad for you,’ but what truly alters behavior are social norms and the physical structure around you,” he said. “Smoking becomes a lot more difficult when you have to cross the street to light up.” 

Reducing obesity and improving nutritional food options is a bit trickier. Over the past few years, the city has implemented programs to increase the number of healthy corner stores and is exploring ideas like mobile farmers’ markets to make buying nutritional foods more convenient to all Austin residents. The Mayor’s Health & Fitness Council is also close to introducing a “Healthiest Workplace Competition” to encourage businesses of all sizes to improve their health-related workplace practices. But as mentioned earlier, health and nutrition isn’t just a geographical or personal choice issue—it’s directly tied to socioeconomic status. To truly combat these underlying factors, Dr. Huang believes Austin will need to make a more concerted effort to break the cycle of poverty and raise the standard of living for its most disadvantaged residents. Only when more programs are in place to provide better workforce development and opportunities for social mobility will the city be truly equipped to address its residents’ largest problems. 

Despite the challenges ahead, Dr. Huang is confident Austin’s policy makers have a winning plan in place. Rather than trying to treat each individual ailment our city faces—like a doctor in a one-on-one consultation with a patient—he and his colleagues are focused on raising the quality of life for all citizens by creating environments that foster healthy social norms in school, at work, in transit, and at home. If history has taught us anything, he argues, it’s that nothing is impossible. “Whether it’s smoking legislation or the Civil Rights Act, there’s always a way to clear the hurdles in front of you, regardless of their height. You can change the world, but you have to be persistent and believe in what you’re doing.”

Keep reading for Keep Austin ____?



Keep Austin Rockin’ 

After losing 1,200 jobs in the local music industry over the past four years, Mayor Steve Adler felt obligated to propose a solution for the crisis in the Austin music scene. 

“We won’t be the Live Music Capital of the World for much longer if we keep losing musicians and music venues,” Jason Stanford, the city’s communications director, said. 

This solution came in an unexpected way: the mayor’s winning submission to the Neighborly Bond Challenge, an innovative challenge sponsored by a financial startup, in which the winner receives free bond financing. Upon winning, Austin received the opportunity to sell special  bonds, which will be put towards purchasing and preserving venues, acquiring new venues, and ensuring musicians have the necessary space to perform and grow. 

There are still components of the bond system that need to be worked out. 

“What rate of return will we get on the bonds? Will we put the music clubs in land trusts, co-invest, or something else? Which music venues are iconic?—but winning the Neighborly Bond Challenge gets Austin $100,000 worth of expertise and talent to help us figure it out,” Stanford said.

Included in this budget is one-stop shopping for code enforcement and permitting for music and arts venues, as well as $200,000 in emergency help for arts venues, and money for job training for musicians. Stanford recognizes that there is still work to be done, but winning the challenge opened doors and will provide the means to ensure Austin remains one of the country’s most musical cities.

Keep Austin Dog-Friendly

With dog-centered yoga studios, puppy food trucks, and bakeries dedicated solely to man’s best friend, Austin truly is a pawesome place to live. Just this year it ranked No. 6 on America’s Most Dog Friendly Cities. This isn’t surprising considering the city’s lenient dog policies and the prevalence of pups in restaurants and patios daily.

The pet-friendliness of Austin, however, is dictated by legislation. Legally, dogs have been allowed on patios for years, yet they are not allowed on the tables, and servers are prohibited from petting them (this part often goes ignored). Neighboring towns have taken a hint and in recent months have started their own conversations on dog-friendly policies. In September, the Round Rock city council passed a vote to allow dogs on restaurant patios. The businesses will be required to post a sign and have an outside entrance to the patio for the dogs to use. Georgetown was not so lucky. In July, its City Council members voted against a proposed ordinance that would allow dogs to dine with their owners.

More than just allowing a doggy dining experience, Austin has emerged as a leader in the no-kill movement. In March of 2010, City Council members unanimously passed a plan to make the city a no-kill community. Within a year of implementation, Austin had become the largest no-kill city in the country. A no-kill community saves 90 percent of animals that enter a shelter.

A standout in the shelter community, Austin Pets Alive! has worked hard to ensure that sick, abandoned, and unwanted pets find a forever home. Since it opened its doors in 2008, it has saved more than 30,000 cats and dogs.

Austin continues to be a pet lover’s dream city. So grab a beer and offer your furry friend one, too—then cheers to one of the most dog-friendly cities in America.

Keep Austin Affordable

Wheatsville Food Co-op, the only retail grocery cooperative in Texas, caused waves in January when announcing its new Livable Wage and Benefit Plan; and evidently other local businesses should be taking notes. The plan, which was Wheatsville’s response to a 2015 staff satisfaction survey, increased wages for over 80 percent of hourly staff and established that every employee earn a living wage of at least $13.01, an amount determined by the Austin City Council.

Less than a year since implementation, the results are speaking for themselves. According to Raquel Dadomo, Wheatsville brand manager, employee satisfaction is significantly up, and the co-op has seen an almost immediate decline in its turnover rate. There has been an overall boost in employee positivity and enthusiasm, a direct effect of workers’ ability to better make ends meet. Further, the wage increase has made the co-op a competitive employment option and has resulted in an influx of people applying. 

“We started attracting applicants with great experience—people who may have wanted to work for the co-op but were making more at another job,” said Dadomo.

Although Wheatsville may be the first to implement the living wage, the Council is hopeful that others will follow suit. According to Council Member Ann Kitchen, the city made a commitment last year to improve Austin’s affordability, requiring consideration of both cost and income. 

“We’ve been increasing the amount of our wages for the past two years to better reflect the living wage,” Kitchen said. 

For the next fiscal cycle that began on Oct. 1, this meant bumping the wage to $13.50. According to Kitchen, City Council has set a goal of eventually reaching a wage of $15. Council members acknowledged it is something that will have to be gradual, but are committed to making Austin an affordable place to work and live.

Keep Austin Weird

The City of Austin does a lot for its residents, tackling major issues like transportation and affordability. Yet these big issues often consume the City Council, leaving little time for smaller ones. The livelihood of small businesses, in particular, is one issue suffering from that unfortunate fate. Noticing this, a group of small business owners met in 2002 and founded The Austin Independent Business Alliance (AIBA), a nonprofit aimed at advocating and promoting the importance of local small businesses, of which there are currently an estimated 60,000.

“Local business reflects the culture of Austin. It’s a huge tourist draw and an economic driver,” executive director Rebecca Melancon said. 

Yet, the city refuses to acknowledge this, forcing small businesses to comply to the same standards as large corporations. These standards include permitting, code compliances, and unfair ordinances; all of which hinder the success of local businesses who don’t have the same access to money or lawyers as big corporations. This is where AIBA steps in. In April of 2012, the organization presented the city with the Local Business Manifesto, a 10-page document that outlines the major obstacles local businesses face and how these can be resolved. It is essentially the direction in which AIBA hopes the city will head, one that encourages and protects the rights of small businesses rather than discourages and creates roadblocks. 

The outcome has been anything but impressive; in the four years since the manifesto was presented, the council has done nothing to address it. AIBA has met with numerous council members and the Economic Opportunity Committee, and although they’ve been receptive, no headway had been made.

In 2012, AIBA seemed to emerge as a role model when it first drafted the manifesto; other cities began calling and adopting similar initiatives to protect the interests of small, local businesses. Yet with zero progress made, it’s hard to remain the role model for other cities nationwide. 

The saying goes that government works slowly, but Melancon and AIBA are still waiting for the City of Austin to move at all.

The Meaning of ‘Keep Austin Weird’

The slogan is traced back to the early 2000s, when Austin landmarks BookPeople and Waterloo Records were being threatened by big business. Around this time, a Borders bookstore wanted to move in across the street, and independent business owners fought back with the motto “Keep Austin Weird” to defend the charm and uniqueness a major franchise simply couldn’t represent. Local businesses banded together to form AIBA and give the group a voice in the matter. Since then, efforts to support Austin-based business have grown stronger, and our city is still certifiably weird.

Shopping locally puts 3X as much money in our local economy

Of every $100 spent at a local business, $45 stays in Austin.

*source from AIBA

Keep reading for Major Project Updates!


Major Project Updates

The latest on Austin’s renovations and new attractions.

By Devaney Devoe & Shannon Smith

Surf’s Up! Finally.

Landlocked surfers rejoice! Following a legal battle and months of anticipation, NLand, North America’s first surf park, officially opened on Oct. 7. The park boasts a 14-acre lagoon with waves designed for surfers of all levels, located in the heart of Texas Hill Country. The park’s kickoff came after the resolution of a draw-out legal disagreement over whether the lagoon should be classified as a swimming pool, which would require it to obtain public pool permits. Classification as a pool would have required specific chlorine levels and filtration every six hours—both daunting conditions for a body of water this size. Instead, NLand features a state-of-the-art water treatment system that allows the lagoon to be entirely self-sustaining.

“My family has a rich history of water conservation and environmental stewardship. I am proud to continue that tradition of innovation and sustainability,” said founder Doug Coors. In such case, innovation surpassed regulation and both local and state officials rescinded, resulting in an agreement on Oct. 4. More than just waves, NLand offers a training center with talented instructors for all levels and Blue Prairie, a farm-fresh and locally sourced kitchen. NLand is currently open for its “warm-up period” Tuesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Mondays from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. So grab your board and get ready to hang ten.

Dude, Where’s My Car?

On Tuesday, Aug. 16, Council Member Sheri P. Gallo’s senior policy advisor, Tina Cannon, along with staff members from the offices of Council Members Ann Kitchen and Delia Garza, met with Uber’s new public affairs lead for the Texas market, Trevor Theunissen. Uber initiated this meeting for Theunissen to introduce himself to council members’ staff. Although other council members and Gallo were in a City Council work session at the time, they had their policy staff members meet on their behalf. In the meeting, they “encourage[d] Uber to provide their services to Austin residents and operate under the current regulations, as nine other transportation network companies have agreed to do,” Council Member Gallo stated. 

Over the summer Lyft contractor, Melody Clark requested a meeting to introduce herself to the District 10 office. The meeting was planned “with the understanding that it would be a meet-and-greet, similar to our meeting last week with Uber and an opportunity for Ms. Clark to meet with senior staff, but no major policy discussions would take place,” Gallo said. A few days before the scheduled Lyft meeting, Gallo’s office received news that Lyft’s executive team from California also wanted to attend the meeting. District 10 “suggested to  Clark that it would not be necessary to bring Lyft executives from California because the meeting with Ms. Clark was originally set up as a meet-and-greet, similar to our meeting with Uber’s new public policy director. Although they were still willing to meet with Ms. Clark for our scheduled meeting, about an hour before the scheduled meeting on Aug. 22, Clark called our office to cancel the meeting.”


Off to the Races

On March 21, ESPN sent out a news release announcing that it will be looking for new cities to host the X Games in 2017 and beyond, after three summers of hosting the competition in Austin at the Circuit of The Americas (COTA). Although the X Games relocated regularly in its earlier years, the event was hosted for 10 consecutive years in Los Angeles from 2003 to 2013. When it was originally announced that the X Games would be held at COTA, there was no implication that it would be a short-term stay. However, just two days prior to tickets going on sale for the 2016 X Games, ESPN stated it would no longer be held in Texas’ capital. Earlier that month, COTA announced that the 2016 Formula One U.S. Grand Prix (F1) would be happening in Texas again. However, this should not be considered as much of a victory as it is, considering that it was originally intended in 2010 to be a purpose-built facility for F1, which included a large amount of money from the state’s Major Events Trust Fund. COTA did manage to schedule the 2016 U.S. Grand Prix in 2016. In early March it was announced COTA’s promoters were able to schedule Taylor Swift to headline the post-race performance. Swift will likely bring in her large fanbase to the venue. In November, Bobby Epstein, COTA’s chairman, declared that the state would be reducing COTA’s financial support by over 20 percent. Although there are smaller future events scheduled for this Austin venue, larger events need to be scheduled to support the $400,000,000 outdoor amphitheater. When asked about how COTA plans to adjust to the budget cut and event shifts, officials declined to comment.

MoPac Takes its Toll

As the population in Central Texas grows, it only makes sense for the area’s infrastructure to grow alongside it. Congestion, commuter frustration and environmental concerns were all driving forces behind the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority’s decision in 2013 to begin the construction of an express lane toll road on MoPac. Yet, construction has hit numerous roadblocks, and completion continues to be postponed. As if the normal Austin congestion was not already enough, now commuters’ patience is being put to the test with ongoing construction and further delays. According to Mike Heiligenstein, executive director of CTRMA, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s coming soon. At press time, he said construction in the area north of Texas Highway 183 was nearing completion, and was expected to open by October’s end. As for the rest of the highway, construction will continue into early 2017, when it is expected that all express lanes will be fully functional. 

The multipurpose express tollway aims to reduce commuter time while also providing a safe and reliable option for drivers. As traffic splits between the express lanes and general-purpose free lanes, riders can expect to see a 20 percent reduction in travel time as compared with those currently experienced.

According to the MoPac Improvement Project’s website, the toll rate will be determined by the amount of drivers using the expressway. It could cost as little as 25 cents, with costs closer to $4 during gridlocked times. The pricing system of the tollway is not developed to increase revenue, but rather to prevent the lanes from becoming too congested and to preserve the free-flow speeds that are the very definition of an express lane, according to Heiligenstein. The fees collected on the tollway will be used to pay off the cost of the MoPac project, a price tag of more than $200 million. 

The CTRMA acknowledges the inconveniences the construction project has created but is confident that the outcome will far outweigh the momentary frustration.

“We have made every effort to minimize greater travel times due to construction through nighttime and minimal off-peak lane closures. It doesn’t make it any easier when you’re stuck in traffic, but at least you know we’re working to make it better,” Heiligenstein said. 

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