- Austin is one of America’s fastest-growing cities, with a buoyant creative economy, which grew by 25% during the 2008 recession
- It was recently designated as City of Media Arts within UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network
- The City has assembled a task force to address Austin’s affordability challenge
City data: Key facts
- Geographical area: 810 sq. km
- Total population: 947,987
- GDP (PPP) million: $135,010
Originating in the settling of Texas in the 1830s, Austin is the state’s capital city and the 11th most populous city in the US. Immigrants from Germany, Sweden and Mexico were the area’s original inhabitants, but significant periods of growth followed. Building booms occurred throughout the late 19th century, with the construction of the first Capitol building, the arrival of the railroad and the opening of the landmark Driskill Hotel. The Moonlight Towers, built in 1894, are a set of illuminations unique to Austin, and over half of the original 31 have been preserved. Austin has been home to authors and artists throughout history, from America and beyond. Elisabet Ney, a German classically trained sculptor, moved to Austin in the 1800s. The city’s museum, dedicated to her legacy, houses the largest collection of her work in the world.
Austin is one of America’s fastest-growing cities, drawing in people attracted by the temperate climate and – up until recently – the comparatively low housing costs. The city has a buoyant creative economy, which grew by 25% during the 2008 recession. Austin’s cultural landscape includes both established cultural organisations as well as creative hubs, where creatives live, work and showcase their work. In addition to fixed cultural events such as Austin Fashion Week, Austin Poetry Slam, O. Henry Pun-Off, Art City Austin, Bat Fest, Austin City Limits Festival, and South by Southwest, the city hosts a mix of more informal, fringe activities, also key to its overall cultural offerings. Austin is perhaps most well known for its live music scene, hosting both the longest-running concert music programme on American television, Austin City Limits, as well as being home to one of the highest numbers of music venues per capita of all US cities. Austin was also recently designated as City of Media Arts within UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network, which it is hoped will contribute to building valuable relationships between Austin’s creative sector and the rest of the world.
The city’s social, cultural and economic changes also bring challenges with them. As Austin has continued to experience explosive growth, affordability has become an issue. The City has assembled a task force to address problems around the resulting displacement of communities and threats to historical and cultural identity, its responsibilities include preserving and growing small businesses and cultural assets. The popular local movement, Keep Austin Weird, which began as a way to promote independent local businesses, has now come to represent a wider popular movement in support of the city’s eccentricity and diversity.
Meanwhile, the City of Austin’s Cultural Arts Division, within the Economic Development Department, is the largest funder of arts non-profit organisations in the city, commissions temporary and permanent public art, and leads several initiatives to address affordability, preservation of cultural heritage, promotion of cultural tourism, and financial training for artists and arts organisations. The Creative Economic Priority Program is a key component of Imagine Austin, a 30 year masterplan for the city, and aims to find the best ways to support and enhance Austin’s creative sector going forward. The City is focusing on actively supporting the creative community, through addressing its challenges to find affordable live and work space, incentivising creative development projects, and by partnering with local educational institutions to improve creatives’ workforce skills to be more competitive in the job market. Policies to improve local infrastructure are also linked to the city’s cultural priorities. There are currently several mobility initiatives underway aimed at improving public transport and roads, and proposed bond funding to improve existing and secure additional City-owned creative facilities.