“If you are sustainability-minded, then Austin is the place for you,” I have heard time and time again. So I set out to explore a little bit of this pearl in Texas.
My first encounter with the city was with transportation. The Uber drivers were uber-friendly, recommending the best BBQ restaurants and telling their own Austin stories. One driver had spent the past 15 years in Thailand as a musician and had recently returned to the US. His city of choice? Austin.
Was it Austin’s reputation of being gay-friendly, environmentally-friendly, and some would say, weird-friendly?
Or was it something else?
The weather was pleasantly mild as I took a walking tour of the city center with two soon-to-be retirees traveling from Bethesda, MD and a Millennial couple traveling from Pittsburgh, PA. Starting at 602 East 4th Street, we walked past the former home of short story author William Sidney Porter, now the O. Henry Museum. Shortly thereafter we stopped in front of the Susanna Dickinson Museum. Susanna Dickinson was a Battle of the Alamo survivor.
“What’s the Alamo?” I asked, which I do not recommend anyone ever repeat. After my fellow tour walkers shook their heads disapprovingly but kindly, our guide went through a brief history. Austin is the capital of Texas and named after Stephen F. Austin, who led the colonization of the region in the 1800s. The Battle of the Alamo was an 1836 event that encouraged many to join the Texas Revolution; the battle resulted in a Mexican victory against the Alamo Mission in what is now San Antonio. I was the only one in the tour group to not have been to one of the most visited attractions in Texas—the Alamo site.
We continued to the main street in Austin – Congress – and then went to the river, where we learned about Austin’s favorite animal: the bat. From March through November each year, Austin residents and visitors can come to see the world’s largest urban bat colony near the river and the Congress Avenue Bridge. Perhaps one of the most intriguing urban ecotourism destinations.
A green trip anywhere is not complete without meeting the locals and learning more about social and environmental improvement initiatives. I was right on time to participate in a CleanTX Power Lunch featuring an overview of Austin’s circular economy initiatives. I also stopped in for the monthly Clean Energy Beers (which does not require beers – just an interest in clean energy).
So is anything missing in Austin? A cleverly-designed tramway system much like the one in Lyon, France would be a great addition. Although the current population of just under a million people may not justify an underground, as people arrive in droves to the city, creating a robust mass transit system will be more than welcoming.
So what is that “something else” about Austin that makes people want to move there?
It’s probably the relaxed, down-to-earth people nestled in a forward-thinking environment helped by a university, barbeque, and some bats.