FACTOID # 28: Austin, Texas has more people than Alaska.
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Encyclopedia > Austin, TX
Skyline from Town Lake

Austin is the capital of the state of Texas, within the United States of America. As of Census 2000, the population of 656,562 people (metro area population of over 1 million people) made Austin the fourth-largest city in Texas (behind Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio), and the 17th largest in the U.S. Austin is the county seat of Travis County and is situated in Central Texas.

Austin was founded in 1835 and 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 business establishments such as Waterloo Ice House (http://www.waterlooicehouse.com/) and Waterloo Records (http://www.waterloorecords.com/).

Austin is also the home of the University of Texas at Austin, aka "UT," the flagship campus of The University of Texas System. Other institutions of higher learning include Austin Community College, Concordia University, Huston-Tillotson College and St. Edward's University.

Austin has a heady mix of educators and their students, politicians and lobbyists. It is also the self_proclaimed "live music capital of the world," with a vibrant live music scene revolving around many nightclubs on 6th Street and a yearly film/music/multimedia festival known as "South by Southwest." Austin City Limits, the longest-running concert music program on American television, is videotaped on the University of Texas campus.

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 Vignette, AMD, Intel, Cirrus Logic, Apple Computer, and National Instruments. The proliferation of technology companies has led to the region's nickname, "the Silicon Hills," and has spurred rapid development that has greatly expanded the city to the north and south.

The University of Texas (http://www.utexas.edu) has an outstanding Radio, Television, and Film (RTF) (http://rtf.utexas.edu/) department and, partly because of this, Austin has been the location of a number of movies, including Secondhand Lions, Waking Life, Spy Kids, Dazed and Confused, Office Space, The Life of David Gale, and Slacker. Austin is home to several well-known directors, including Robert Rodriguez, Richard Linklater, and Tim McCanlies. 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 is situated on the Colorado River, with three 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. 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.

The Congress Avenue Bridge houses the world's largest urban bat population. In the summer, the colony has up to 1.5 million 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, Austin is lit with "artificial moonlight." Several Moonlight Towers (http://austin.about.com/cs/architecture/a/moonlighttowers.htm), built in the late 19th century and recognized as historical landmarks, illuminate the central part of the city. The towers were prominently featured in the film Dazed and Confused. The Zilker Tree (http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/tol/tree.htm) is a Christmas tree made of large lights strung from the top of a moon tower. It stands all year in Zilker Park and is lit in December along with the Trail of Lights.

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.

Austin is served by the Austin_Bergstrom International Airport.

Residents of Austin are sometimes called "Austinites."



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% majority winner. Austin remains an anomaly among large Texas cities in that the council is not elected by districts, and 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 (http://www.austinpolice.com), Austin Toll Party (http://austintollparty.com) 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.

Austin is well known as a center for liberal politics in a generally conservative state, leading some conservatives to deride the city as the "People's Republic of Austin." Austin's suburbs, especially to the west and north, and several satellite municipalities, however, tend towards political conservativism. 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. One consequence of this is that the central city has been gerrymandered by the Republican-controlled state legislature into several U.S. Congressional districts to dilute its influence vis a vis the suburbs. To a limited degree the division between Democratic and Republican precincts coincides with the aforementioned divisions between supporters of environmental regulations and supporters of unfettered urban growth.

The combination of economic conservatism with political 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.


Austin is the center of a high-technology region known as Silicon Hills. Among the attributes that have made Austin popular with high-tech companies are the presence of UT, several major companies in other economic areas, and much lower housing costs than in California. As a result of the region's dependence on high tech, Austin was strongly affected by the dot_com boom in 2000, followed by the dot-com bust.


Before the arrival of European settlers, the area around present-day Austin was inhabited for several hundred years 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.

The first Anglo 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.

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 city streets was surveyed by Judge Edwin Waller (after whom Waller Creek was named). The grid survives nearly intact as the streets of present-day downtown Austin. The north-south streets of the grid were named for the rivers of Texas, following an east-west progression from Red River Street to Rio Grande 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 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 people.

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

In September 1881, the city schools admitted their first classes. That same year, the first institution of higher learning, the forerunner of Huston-Tillotson College, opened as the Tillotson Collegiate and Normal Institute.

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

In the 1930s, the original 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 on the University of Texas campus. The event is considered the most traumatic event in the city's history.

In the 1970s, Austin became a refuge for a group of Country and Western musicians and songwriters seeking to escape the corporate industry domination of Nashville. The best-known artist in this group was Willie Nelson, who became an icon for the local "alternate music industry." In the following years, Austin gained a reputation as a place where struggling musicians could come and launch their careers in informal live venues in front of receptive audiences.

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.

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.

In 2000, Austin became the center of an intense media focus as the headquarters of presidential candidate and Texas Governor George W. Bush. Ironically, 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 km˛ (258.4 mi˛). 651.4 km˛ (251.5 mi˛) of it is land and 17.9 km˛ (6.9 mi˛) of it is water. The total area is 2.67% water.

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 censuspopulation density is 1,007.9/km˛ (2,610.4/mi˛). There are 276,842 housing units at an average density of 425.0/km˛ (1,100.7/mi˛). 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.

Famous Austin residents include cyclist Lance Armstrong, businessman Michael Dell, tennis player Andy Roddick and Winston Liu, actors Sandra Bullock and Matthew McConaughey, and directors Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez. Former residents include Lyndon B. Johnson and George W. Bush.

Sister Cities

See also

External links

Regions: Arklatex | Central Texas | Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex | East Texas | Edwards Plateau | Houston Metropolitan Area | North Texas | Northeast Texas | Piney Woods | Rio Grande Valley | Texas Hill Country | Texas Panhandle | Llano Estacado | Southeast Texas | South Texas | West Texas
Largest Metropolitan areas: Abilene | Amarillo | Austin- San Marcos | Beaumont- Port Arthur | Brownsville- Harlingen- San Benito | Bryan- College Station | Corpus Christi | Dallas-Fort Worth | El Paso | Houston-Galveston_Brazoria | Killeen- Temple | Laredo | Longview_ Marshall | Lubbock | McAllen_ Edinburg- Mission | Odessa_Midland | San Angelo | San Antonio | Sherman- Denison | Texarkana | Tyler | Victoria | Waco | Wichita Falls
See also: List of Texas counties

State United States

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