Austin, Texas

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Skyline from Town Lake
Skyline from Town Lake
Austin, Texas
Official flag of Austin, Texas Official seal of Austin, Texas
City flag City seal
City nickname: "Live Music Capital of the World"
Location of Austin, Texas
Location in the state of Texas
County Travis County
Mayor Will Wynn
Physical characteristics
669.3 km²
     651.4 km²
     17.9 km²
     Total (2004)
1,377,633 (metro area)
     681,804 (city proper)
     1,007.9 persons/km²
Latitude 30°18'01" N
Longitude 97°44'50" W
Time zone
     Summer (DST)
     CDT (UTC-5)
Official website:

The City of Austin is the capital of the U.S. state of Texas. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, Austin has a population of 656,562 people, making it the fourth-largest city in Texas and the 16th largest in the United States. A 2004 U.S. Census estimate placed the population of the city at 681,804. Austin is the county seat of Travis County and is situated in Central Texas. The Austin–Round Rock metropolitan area is one of the fastest-growing in the United States and is home to an estimated population of 1.4 million as of 2003.

Austin, founded in 1839, was first named Waterloo. In 1838, Mirabeau B. Lamar renamed the city in honor of Stephen F. Austin. Its original name is honored by local businesses such as Waterloo Ice House and Waterloo Records. Austin is situated on the Colorado River, and there are three man-made (artificial) lakes within the city limits: Town Lake, Lake Austin, and Lake Walter E. Long. Additionally, the foot of Lake Travis (including Mansfield Dam), is located within the city's limits. The city is also situated on the Balcones Fault, which in much of Austin runs roughly the same route as the MoPac expressway.

Residents of Austin are called "Austinites" and include a heady mix of university professors and their students, politicians and lobbyists. Austin, home of several major technology corporations, is the center of a high-technology region known as Silicon Hills. It is also the self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the World.



Early settlers

For several hundred years before the arrival of European settlers, the area around present-day Austin was inhabited by a mixture of Tonkawa, Comanche, and Lipan Apache Indians, who fished and hunted along the creeks, including present-day Barton Springs.

In the late 1700s the Spanish set up temporary missions in the area, later moving to San Antonio.

Anglo-American settlers

The first Anglo-American settlers arrived in the area in the 1830s when Texas was still part of Mexico. They founded the village of Waterloo along the banks of the Colorado River. According to local folklore, Stephen F. Austin, the "father of Texas", negotiated a peace treaty with the local Indians at the site of the present day Treaty Oak after several settlers were killed in raids. According to local legend, Austin also negotiated a boundary treaty with the Indians that laid out the fledgling town's limits.

Republic of Texas

In 1839, Waterloo was chosen to become the capital of the new Republic of Texas, and the town was renamed Austin in honor of Stephen F. Austin.

A grid plan for the new capital's streets was surveyed by Judge Edwin Waller (after whom Waller Creek was named). The grid survives nearly intact in present-day downtown Austin. The north-south streets of the grid were named for the rivers of Texas, following an east-west progression from Sabine Street to Rio Grande Street (Red River Street being "out of order" to the west of Sabine Street). The exception was the central thoroughfare Congress Avenue, which leads from the far south side of town over the river to the foot of the hill where the new Texas State Capitol was to be constructed. The original north-south grid was bookended by West Avenue and East Avenue (now Interstate 35).

The east-west streets of the grid followed a progression uphill from the river and were named after trees native to the region, with Pecan Street as the main east-west thoroughfare. The east-west streets were later renamed in a numbered progression, with Pecan Street becoming Sixth Street. The original tree-named streets survive in nostalgic names, including Pecan Street, which is the name of a locally-produced beer.

In October 1839, the entire government of the Republic of Texas arrived by oxcart from Houston. By the next January, the population of the town was 839.

Also in 1839, the Congress of the Republic of Texas set aside 40 acres (160,000 m²) of land near downtown Austin for a "university of the first class". This land would later become the central campus of The University of Texas at Austin.

In 1842, Austin almost lost its status as capital city during the Texas Archive War. President Sam Houston had tried to relocate the seat of government from Austin to Houston, and then to Washington-on-the-Brazos. In the dead of night on December 29, 1842, a group of men was sent to take the archives of Texas from Austin to Washington-on-the-Brazos. Angelina Eberly fired a cannon at the men, who made their escape, only to be caught by another group of men who returned the archives back to Austin.

1845 to 1899

After Texas was admitted to the Union in 1845, two unsuccessful statewide elections were held that attempted to move the capital elsewhere.

From 1861 to 1865, Texas was part of the Confederacy.

St. Edward's University (then St. Edward's Academy) was founded in 1878 by Rev. Edward Sorin, Superior General of the Congregation of Holy Cross, on South Austin farm land.

In September 1881, the city schools admitted their first public school classes. That same year, Tillotson Collegiate and Normal Institute, the forerunner of Huston-Tillotson College, opened to the public.

In 1882 construction began on The University of Texas at Austin campus with the placement of the cornerstone of the Main Building. The university formally opened in 1883.

Texas State Capitol
Texas State Capitol

The Texas State Capitol was completed in 1888 on the site specified in the 1839 plan. At the time it was billed as the "seventh largest building in the world."

In 1891, the neighborhood of Hyde Park was developed north of the University of Texas as a streetcar suburb.

In 1893, the Great Granite Dam on the Colorado River was constructed, stabilizing the river's flow and providing hydroelectric power.

1900 to 1969

In 1910, the concrete Congress Avenue Bridge across the Colorado River opened, fostering development along South Congress Avenue. The Littlefield Building at 6th and Congress downtown also opened this same year.

In 1911, a streetcar line was extended into South Austin, allowing for the development of Travis Heights in 1913.

In the 1930s, the Great Granite Dam was replaced by a series of seven dams built by the federal government, which created the string of reservoirs that now define the river's course through Austin. Lyndon Baines Johnson, then a member of the House of Representatives, was instrumental in getting the funding authorized for these dams.

On August 1, 1966, Austin was terrorized by Charles Whitman, who shot and killed 16 people with a high-powered rifle from the clocktower of the Main Building of the University of Texas. The event is considered the most traumatic in the city's history.

1970 to 1989

In the 1970s, Austin became a refuge for a group of Country and Western musicians and songwriters seeking to escape the music industry's corporate domination of Nashville. The best-known artist in this group was Willie Nelson, who became an icon for what became the city's "alternate music industry." The Armadillo World Headquarters gained a national reputation during the 1970s as a venue for these anti-establishment musicians as well as mainstream acts. In the following years, Austin gained a reputation as a place where struggling musicians could launch their careers in informal live venues in front of receptive audiences. This ultimately led to the present-day moniker the city uses — "live music capital of the world."

During the 1970s and 1980s, the city experienced a tremendous boom in development that temporarily halted with the Savings and Loan collapse in the late 1980s. The growth led to an ongoing series of fierce political battles that pitted preservationists against developers. In particular the preservation of Barton Springs, and by extension the Edwards Aquifer, became an issue which defined the themes of the larger battles.

1990 to present

In the 1990s, the boom resumed with the influx and growth of a large technology industry. Initially the technology industry was centered around larger, established companies such as IBM, but in the late 1990s, Austin gained the additional reputation of being a center of the dot-com boom and subsequent dot-com bust. Austin is also known for game development, filmmaking, and popular music.

In 2000, Austin became the center of an intense media focus as the headquarters of presidential candidate and Texas Governor George W. Bush. Interestingly, the headquarters of his main opponent, Al Gore, were in Nashville, thus re-creating the old country music rivalry between the two cities.


According to the 2000 United States Census Bureau, Austin is located at 30°18'01" North, 97°44'50" West (30.300474, -97.747247)1. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 669.3 km² (258.4 mi²). 651.4 km² (251.5 mi²) of it is land and 17.9 km² (6.9 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 2.67% water.

Austin is situated on the Colorado River, with three man-made (artificial) lakes wholly within the city limits: Town Lake, Lake Austin, and Lake Walter E. Long. Additionally, the foot of Lake Travis, including Mansfield Dam, is located within the city's limits. Town Lake, Lake Austin, and Lake Travis are all 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 MoPac Expressway. The eastern part of the city is 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, the city is subjected to frequent flash flooding from the excessive 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.


As of the census2 of 2000, there are 656,562 people, 265,649 households, and 141,590 families residing in the city. The population density is 1,007.9/km² (2,610.4/mi²). There are 276,842 housing units at an average density of 425.0/km² (1,100.7/mi²). The racial makeup of the city is 65.36% White, 10.05% Black or African American, 0.59% Native American, 4.72% Asian, 0.07% Pacific Islander, 16.23% from other races, and 2.99% from two or more races. 30.55% of the population are Hispanic American or Latino of any race.

There are 265,649 households out of which 26.8% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 38.1% are married couples living together, 10.8% have a female householder with no husband present, and 46.7% are non-families. 32.8% of all households are made up of individuals and 4.6% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.40 and the average family size is 3.14.

In the city the population is spread out with 22.5% under the age of 18, 16.6% from 18 to 24, 37.1% from 25 to 44, 17.1% from 45 to 64, and 6.7% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 30 years. For every 100 females there are 105.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 105.7 males.

The median income for a household in the city is $42,689, and the median income for a family is $54,091. Males have a median income of $35,545 vs. $30,046 for females. The per capita income for the city is $24,163. 14.4% of the population and 9.1% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 16.5% of those under the age of 18 and 8.7% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.


Thousands of graduates each year from the engineering and computer science programs at the University of Texas provide a steady source of young, talented, and driven employees that help to fuel Austin's technology sector. The metro Austin area also has much lower housing costs than, for example, Silicon Valley. 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, although recovery is proceeding rapidly.

Austin's biggest employers include the State of Texas, the University of Texas, Dell, IBM and Freescale Semiconductor (spun off from Motorola in 2004). Other high-tech companies in Austin include Apple Computer, Vignette, AMD, Intel, Motive Inc, Cirrus Logic, Samsung, National Instruments, United Devices and Sun Microsystems. The proliferation of technology companies has led to the region's nickname, "the Silicon Hills," (Austin was originally "Silicon Gulch", but it seems that San Jose, California already has that distinction) and has spurred rapid development that has greatly expanded the city to the north and south.

Austin is served by the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Amtrak's Texas Eagle passenger train serves Austin, and segments of this route between Austin and San Antonio are being evaluated for a future passenger rail corridor as an alternative to the traffic congestion of Interstate-35.

Government and politics

Law and government

Downtown Austin and the State Capitol as seen from the Congress Avenue Bridge over Town Lake
Downtown Austin and the State Capitol as seen from the Congress Avenue Bridge over Town Lake

Austin is administered by a city council of seven members, each of them elected by the entire city, and by an elected mayor. Council and mayoral elections are non-partisan, with a runoff in case there is no 50 percent majority winner. Austin remains an anomaly among large Texas cities in that the council is not elected by districts, though there has been a strong effort to change the election system to one of single districts.


The main political actors within 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.

The political controversy that dominated 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 main hot-button issues in city politics. Today conservatives in Austin argue that the cities various highway traffic problems are rooted in the denial of past highway/infrastructure development by political action commitees who do not support highway expansion.

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 Texas." Austin's suburbs, 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 1970's, central Austin became a stronghold of the Democratic Party while the suburbs tend to vote Republican. To a limited degree the division between Democratic and Republican precincts coincides with the aforementioned divisions between supporters of environmental regulations and supporters of urban growth. One consequence of this is that in the most recent redistricting plan, formulated by the Republican-majority legislature, the central city has been split among multiple sprawling districts that do not conform to any unifying economic, geographic or cultural theme. Many political observers have characterized the resulting districting layout as gerrymandering. The plan was contested in Federal court, but a judicial review of the redistricting plan determined the plan was not illegal.

Overall, the city leans Democratic; in the 2004 presidential election, although Senator John F. Kerry lost Texas' U.S. Electoral College votes when he was defeated by President George W. Bush by a wide margin, he 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, one strongly Republican, and two are swing districts (one presently held by a Republican and the other by a Democrat). However, two of its three congressional districts are presently held by Republicans; this is largely due to the 2003 redistricting, which left Austin with no congressional seat of its own.

The combination of economic conservatism with social liberalism has also made Austin an active area for the Libertarian Party. Although the Libertarians remain a third party, the party is very active in the Austin area, and two past Libertarian presidential candidates, Ron Paul and Michael Badnarik have come from the vicinity of Austin.

People and culture

Austin has a vibrant live music scene (boasting more music venues per capita than any other U.S. city) revolving around many nightclubs on 6th Street and a yearly film/music/multimedia festival known as South by Southwest. The longest-running concert music program on American television, Austin City Limits, is videotaped on the University of Texas campus. Austin City Limits is also the name of a yearly 3-day music festival held in Austin at Zilker Park.

Austinites take great pride in being eccentric 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. Another prime example of Austin's "weirdness" is Leslie Cochran, a vagrant transvestite who has run for mayor multiple times and, in Cochran's best showing, received 7.77% of the vote in 2000.

Famous people

Famous Austin residents include cyclist Lance Armstrong, businessman Michael Dell, tennis player Andy Roddick, actors Sandra Bullock and Matthew McConaughey, musician Willie Nelson, directors Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez, and science fiction writer Bruce Sterling. Former residents include Lyndon B. Johnson and George W. Bush. Austin was also the longtime home of the late blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan as well as, for several years, rock singer Janis Joplin.


Austin is home to University of Texas at Austin, the largest university in the state of Texas and a flagship institution of The University of Texas System, also the largest state system of higher education in Texas. Other institutions of higher learning include Austin Community College, Concordia University, Huston-Tillotson University and St. Edward's 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.

Media and entertainment

The University of Texas at Austin has an outstanding Radio, Television, and Film (RTF) department [1] and, partly because of this, Austin has been the location of a number of movies, including Man of the House, Secondhand Lions, Waking Life, Spy Kids, Dazed and Confused, Office Space, The Life of David Gale, Miss Congeniality, and Slacker. In order to draw future film projects to the area, the Austin Film Society has converted several disused buildings from the now-defunct Austin Airport into a state-of-the-art digital filmmaking center known as Austin Studios. Among the projects to have used facilities at Austin Studios are music videos by The Flaming Lips, and feature films such as 25th Hour and Sin City.

Austin is home to several well-known directors, including Robert Rodriguez, Richard Linklater and Tim McCanlies. It is also home to several other entertainers including Sandra Bullock, Willie Nelson, and Shawn Colvin. Austin hosts the annual Austin Film Festival, as well as the South by Southwest Festival, which draw films of many different types from all over the world. In 2004 the city was named #1 in Moviemaker Magazine's Annual Top 10 Cities to live and make movies. Austin also hosts the annual Austin City Limits Music Festival, which attracts musical artists from around the world. The 2005 Show included Oasis, Coldplay and Franz Ferdinand.

MTV taped an Austin season of its hit reality television series The Real World in 2005.


Among the professional sports teams in Austin are the Austin Ice Bats of the Central Hockey League and the Austin Wranglers of the Arena Football League. The Round Rock Express, affiliated with the Houston Astros, are located in nearby Round Rock, Texas and play Triple-A baseball in the Pacific Coast League. In 2005, the National Basketball Association awarded an NBDL team to the city of Austin. The name of this team was finally released on August 10th, 2005, and will be called the Austin Toros.

Architectural landmarks

A moonlight tower
A moonlight tower

Buildings that comprise Austin's skyline are modest in height and somewhat spread out. The latter characteristic is due to a restriction that preserves the view of the Texas Capitol building from various locations around Austin. Austin's current tallest building, the Frost Bank Tower, opened in 2004 and stands at 515 feet.

The Congress Avenue Bridge houses the world's largest urban bat population, which has become a favorite with locals and tourists alike. In the summer, the colony has up to 1.5 million Mexican Free-tailed Bats; in the winter they migrate to Mexico.

The iconic Pennybacker Bridge, also known as the "360 Bridge," crosses Lake Austin to connect north and south Loop 360.

At night, parts of Austin are lit with "artificial moonlight." Several moonlight towers, built in the late 19th century and recognized as historic landmarks, illuminate the central part of the city. The towers were prominently featured in the film Dazed and Confused. The "Zilker Tree" is a Christmas "tree" made of large lights strung from the top of the Moonlight Tower that stands in Zilker Park. The Zilker Tree is lit in early December along with the "Trail of Lights," an Austin Christmas tradition.

Sister cities

See also

External links

Newspapers and media

Nature and environment


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