A couple of weeks ago, I posted my monthly contribution to AustinStartup.com, in which I referenced work by the IC2 Institute identifying and explaining the model of a vibrant, regional technology ecosystem that the study’s authors called the “Technopolis.”
After a harsh stretch during the post-dot com years, Austin certainly seems to be undergoing a renaissance – an Austin 2.0 phenomenon, in its own way – as one of the great Technopolises in the country. Recent evidence is its designation in the July issue of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine as the “No. 1 best city for the next decade.” Personally, this feels a little bit like the video game jinx where so many players appearing on the cover of EA Sports’ Madden football have run into career-limiting (or ending) situations shortly thereafter.
But Madden-like falls from greatness notwithstanding, the Austin metro area’s recognition as a great place to work and build companies is largely girded by having such a great quality-of-life to offer.
I know from my own experience that our family considered Austin a quality-of-life move, more than 15 years ago when we came to the city. We were seeking refuge from common big-city problems, like crime, traffic, and pollution. Of course, there were trade-offs, like the higher cost of housing (as compared to elsewhere in the South), the sharper divide in racial boundaries and overall lack of ethnic diversity, and the more unchecked suburban sprawl. But, overall, Austin delivered on the quality-of-life promise for us.
And, if you haven’t kept track of the quality-of-life recognition that the city has received recently, it continues to show well. Just counting the first six months of 2010, here are some quick highlights courtesy of the Greater Austin Chamber:
- No. 2 most innovative city in the U.S. – Forbes, May
- No. 3 most dog-friendly city in the U.S. – DogFriendly.com, May
- No. 1 place for young adults – Portfolio.com, March
- No. 1 local music scene – Budget Travel, February
- No. 2 best place to retire and row – Rower’s Almanac, January
At the macro level, scoring at the top of those lists is great for the city, but at the micro level, what are examples of some of the hundreds of enterprises and amenities contribute to securing Austin’s top finishes?
Fortunately, Austinites aren’t a shy bunch and can be quite articulate and passionate in their loyalties and favorites. Besides voting with our dollars every day, Austinites literally vote for their favorites in polls, many prominently featured in the hometown weekly, the Austin Chronicle.
In this spirit of naming names, I offer my own, personal list of favorites – in no particular order of priority – representing the on-the-ground micro-ventures that make Austin my hometown for life:
- Lady Bird Lake Trail (and The Trail Foundation)
- Westbank Public Library
- My neighborhood (town) Rollingwood
- My airport commute – 15 minutes, door-to-door…seriously!
- Urban greenbelts and the deer (and other indigenous wildlife)
- KUT radio
- Corazon (although we still mourn Castle Hill)
- The Eanes Independent School District
- SoCo, especially the South Congress Cafe and Magnoila Grill
- The weather – not as chilly as SF and not as humidly sweltering as Houston, DFW
- “Restaurant row,” i.e., Barton Springs Road, especially, Austin Java Company and Shady Grove
- Austin Community Foundation
- Manuel’s (especially, 3rd and Congress location)
- SXSW and ACLfest – those are my feet after the 2009 ACL mudfest…you should have seen Eddie Vedder!
- Dell, IBM, HP, and Apple (they’re all here…)
- Las Palomas (in “downtown” Westlake)
- Greenlights for NonProfit Success
- ACC – hardest working JuCo in the country
- Coffee shop diversity, like Texenza, Little City, Ruta Maya, Thunderbird – you name it (the Starbucks baristas are cool too)
- Whole Foods and Central Market (and my neighborhood Randall’s too!)
- My easy commute to 3 of the 10 largest cities in the U.S. – Houston, Dallas-Ft Worth, and San Antonio
- Austin Technology Incubator
- The Alamo (especially, the South Congress location)
- Zilker Park and Barton Springs
- The casual Austin vibe (especially, the option to dress comfortably when you go out)
- The Draught House and Gingerman
- Austin Energy – the country’s coolest utility
- The lakes and surrounding hill country
- Waterloo Music
- Bikers (with and without engines, on and off road)
- Our local collegiate multi-sports franchise, UT Austin athletics… who needs professional sports when you’ve already got pros in amateur clothes?
- Leadership Austin
- The Austin Chronicle
- Willie, Lance, Sandra, and Leslie
- Austin Ventures
- RunTex – hydration benefactor to millions
- The Parish, La Zona Rosa, Mohawk, Stubbs, Emo’s, Antone’s…
Ok, ok, ok…basically we think pretty much every Austin 6th Street / Red River venue is killer in its own way and, even though the district seems to be going through frequent bi-polar swings – from bordering on seedier, grittier, darker to hipstery, celebreality, pre- and post-yuppie – there’s still no place like it and I love it.
The “Live Music Capital of the World” nickname may be getting dissed more frequently these days (including by our current mayor, who admits his tastes favor Salzburg and Vienna), but personally I think the 365-nights-a-year diversity, raw intensity, and volume of options is unbeatable.