Austin Is Not For Everyone
My family moved to Austin from northern Florida two years ago for my husband's job. We were so excited, as Austin was at the top of every list we could find online. It was like a warm Portland! It was the greenest, most family-friendly, most affordable, most entrepreneurial, most healthy places in the whole US! I was born and raised in the northwest US, but I'd lived in Florida for 11 years before our move. I was most excited for the family-friendly and green aspects of the city. I pictured my family biking, swimming, walking around our neighborhood meeting other families. . . . We have two girls--6 and 4. I had expected the vibe to be laid-back, eclectic, artistic, funky, progressive, and warm-spirited. I was looking forward to new opportunities for my girls. In the city, we could get them involved in things not available in Florida. They could do anything! They could sing opera! They could hear live music every day! Sure, we were leaving a tight community of friends and coworkers, but we had moved before, and everything worked out. My first shock happened while my realtor was taking me around (read: driving for miles and miles through considerable traffic) to the areas with the best-rated schools (Eanes and Lake Travis). Was I going to have to live way outside of the city in cookie-cutter suburbia (or a McMansion trailer park) in oder to afford a well-built medium-priced house with good schools? It was beginning to look like that. At night, after the realtor dropped us off at the hotel, I would cry. Where was my cute little neighborhood? My neighborhood health-food store? My farmer's market? My plethora of active people? If you don't like your neighborhood coming with an entrance sign, Austin suburbia is NOT the place for you. I didn't want to look out my window to see my neighbor's wall. I didn't want to stand on my balcony and see their roof within arm's length. We drove and drove and drove and drove. We looked and looked. Eventually, we ended up finding a house NOT in a development (very hard thing to do) in the Lake Travis area. (Far away from downtown, to my sadness.) Originally, I wanted to live closer to downtown, but I quickly discovered that I'd have to shell out $500,000 for a dive of a house (and I can't do a remodel with two small children and a working husband) in a very mediocre school district/questionable neighborhood in order for that to happen. I live in a really safe neighborhood with some character. The median price of a home in my area is $475K (steep if you're moving from Florida; not steep if you're moving from California--where 75% of my neighbors are from). The trade-off for buying a custom-built house in my price-range was that, though I had a .5 acre lot, I had no grass and no garden because of the drought and plant-eating deer (as cute as they are). My yard was wild--juniper, cacti, agave, and rock. And dirt. Pretty, pretty dirt. In order to have a "yard," you NEED a fence, a sprinkler system (water is expensive), and a professional landscaper to get you started (or no day job). I wish I had known this moving here: Gardening is not impossible, but--compared with Florida, the northwestern US, and many other areas on the globe--it is for experts who have a lot of expendable cash. Raised beds need to be built. Elaborate watering systems need to be installed. Et cetera. You cannot dig a hole in the ground with a shovel. You will hit solid rock. The other concern that hit me was that there were so many people here. Whenever we tried to go out into nature, we ran into a billion other people. There is no real wilderness here. You can canoe through the city (if you get to the rental place early enough). You can "hike" and got to the lake. But you'll not be alone by any stretch. And camping, real camping, is far away. Hours away. And, as far as I can tell, the state park system is nonexistent. The parks we have attempted, have been very very busy.
The best thing about Austin is this: It is kid friendly. Most restaurants have play-scapes, activities, so much to do to give parents a break. I will miss the food (Torchy's, notably) and little else when I go. The main reason I want to go is that I want to give my kids a childhood where they experience the outdoors without it being a chore to get there. And also: it is rather expensive here as far as extracurricular activities go. And the other thing: Austinites are NOT green. If you think you're moving to a green city, think again. You have to drive everywhere; the development is sprawling and sprawling; as far as I can see, the city's only plan is to keep spreading; no one carpools. ( In fact, there isn't even a carpool lane.) The over-consumption is mind-boggling. The hills are filled with enormous houses that go on and on and on and on . . . . Someone once said, "Austin is not a love-at-first-sight city." I had wanted to fall in love. I have found this to be true. And it MIGHT be a great place to be young and entrepreneurial. But trying to find real friends here at age 40? Good luck.
C. | Lakeway, TX