Ryan Robinson

Three different segments of Lamar Boulevard rank on the Texas Department of Transportation’s 2013 100 Congested Roadways list. City officials are tackling traffic by planning to connect the activity centers with public transit.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

For hours every afternoon, cars stretch for miles on Austin’s major freeways and roads, stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic with little hope for relief. While city officials say they are taking a multifaceted approach to escaping the gridlock, researchers say Austin’s growing population will likely only worsen the commute unless significant action is taken.

Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau released new data showing Austin is the fastest growing large metropolitan area in the country. Austin’s traffic is ranked worse than New York’s, I-35 between Austin and San Antonio is considered one of the most dangerous roads in the country and some research predicts a future of three-hour commutes between downtown Austin and Round Rock.

With Austin’s low unemployment rate of 4.8 percent making the city an attractive place to live, the city’s population is only projected to keep rising. According to the city’s Planning and Development Review Department, Austin’s metropolitan area population will almost double by 2035. City demographer Ryan Robinson said commuters will need to be creative as the roads become more congested.

“Using an automobile, increasingly in central Austin, is going to become more and more difficult,” Robinson said. “There’s just no two ways around that.”

Eight roads in Travis County rank on the Texas Department of Transportation’s 2013 100 Congested Roadways list, with I-35 in Austin taking the number one spot. MoPac and the Capital of Texas Highway rank 27th and 64th, respectively. Three different segments of Lamar Boulevard also crack the top 100.

In August 2013, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute released a study on I-35 that showed the evening rush hour travel time from downtown Austin to Round Rock will be more than three hours by 2035. Even when the study took improvement plans into account, researchers still found a three-hour commute from the city to Round Rock.

“We’ve been characterized as the messengers of doom because what we show is not pretty,” said Ginger Goodin, a senior research engineer at the institute. “But what we did identify is that the region should be looking at a lot of different strategies.” 

The A&M study notes people will likely just stop moving to Austin before I-35 becomes unbearably congested, but Robinson said he believes people will change their commuting patterns rather than avoiding Austin entirely.

One way city officials say they are tackling traffic is with the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, which lays out Austin’s growth around activity centers. Under the plan, people live, work and shop in activity centers, reducing the need to commute. The city plans to connect the activity centers with public transit.

“It’s simply so much more affordable to serve a dense environment,” Robinson said. “What I mean by serve is everything from water, waste water, electricity, transit, police and fire protection.”

The A&M study accounted for the activity centers.

Michael Oden, associate architecture professor and head of the Graduate Program in Community and Regional Planning, said other cities are also embracing the concept of activity centers.

“The idea behind it is that as we grow and have more people, we try to organize them in more kinds of concentrated areas,” Oden said.

Robinson said the city will have to rely more on public transit as the population increases.

“We are going to have to take the multi-mobile approach,” Robinson said. “As we see an increase in population density downtown, that simply makes transit that much more viable.”

Robert Spillar, the city’s transportation director, said Austin is working to improve mobility into its central core and offer more travel options. Spillar said the city is improving the road network by connecting more streets and working with the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, or CAMPO, a government entity that every urban area with a population above 50,000 is federally required to have. 

The city is also working with Capital Metro and Lone Star Rail on Project Connect, a collaborative high capacity transit plan for the region. As a result of the project, commuters can now use the rapid bus transit service MetroRapid. Commuters will have express toll lanes on MoPac in 2015, and rail projects are also being planned.

“There’s no silver bullet here. There’s no single project that’s going to fix everything,” Spillar said. “So we need everything. For about 30 years, this community didn’t invest in major transportation infrastructure as a city, so it should be no surprise that we’re congested.”

Daniel Yang, GIS and modeling program manager at CAMPO, said it is too soon to tell if activity centers will be a viable solution.

“It’s still too early to close the book, to say the centers have been successful or yet to be successful,” Yang said. “It takes time to see the vision of the centers concept to be fulfilled.”

The city and the Texas Department of Transportation are in the early stages of planning the I-35 Capital Area Improvement Plan, according to TxDOT spokesman Chris Bishop. According to Bishop, ideas range from adding express lanes to burying the interstate underground through central Austin.

“I-35 is the backbone of our local transportation network,” Bishop said. “In some segments, we’ve got more than 200,000 vehicles today and that threatens the economic livelihood of the area.”

Spillar said improving I-35 will require years of planning and construction.

“I think we are actually moving toward a major investment in the I-35 corridor,” Spillar said. “The I-35 corridor is probably a 20-30 year development program. It’s not going to happen all it once. There’s no way that it can.”

Because of the city’s continued growth, Spillar said people will have to make a greater effort to plan how they get around Austin.

“People have not, in this region, made conscious decisions about how they travel because they haven’t had to,” Spiller said. “Those days are gone.”

Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a three-part series of stories examining the demographics of two neighborhoods where students live ­— West Campus and East Riverside. The last installment will run Sept. 28.

Students living in East Riverside may soon be forced to find apartments even farther from the University, which could lead to academic and social challenges.

Prices in the neighborhood are on the rise after zoning changes similar to those in West Campus have led to development of more luxury complexes. However, for most students it remains a more affordable option than most other neighborhoods.

Census data shows that many white and Asian undergraduates left East Riverside between 2000 and 2010, while the neighborhood continues to attract many Hispanic and black undergraduates with lower rental prices and a culture perceived as welcoming.

Today rising prices are beginning to push these undergraduates from the neighborhood since the passage of the East Riverside/Oltorf Combined Neighborhood Plan, or EROC, in 2006, said Gayle Goff, co-chair of the neighborhood team which represented EROC during its planning process.

“Students who were looking for and are going to be looking for affordable housing have been displaced,” Goff said. “All of the truly affordable apartments have been razed in order to build more expensive, higher-density complexes.”

EROC is a plan intended to increase available housing near Austin’s urban core. The city changed regulations to allow developers to build taller complexes, on the condition that they make 10 to 20 percent of the units “affordable.” Affordability is based on the median household income in a given city, as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Affordable units must be priced at 60 percent of a median family income and can be as high as $1,000 per month. It is difficult to apply that affordability standard to students, Goff said.

“All of the asphalt that existed in parking areas is going to be massively increased by height,” Goff said. “I know that the places that were truly affordable to older residents were torn down, and I don’t agree with how affordability is being defined now.”

The 2010 American Community Survey estimates that 5,598 undergraduate college students in Austin live in East Riverside. Some of these students may attend Huston-Tillotson University, St. Edward’s University or Austin Community College.

North Campus, Hancock and Far West student neighborhoods have not experienced the same zoning and development changes that West Campus and East Riverside have. Because of urban planning designed to restrict high-rise development, the population of these neighborhoods has not grown in the past decade.

“A PORT OF ENTRY”
Beginning with the creation of the UT bus system in 1969, a large population of students began to live farther from campus in student neighborhoods around the city of Austin.

City demographer Ryan Robinson said East Riverside has long been one of these neighborhoods.

“Riverside was created in the 1970s as an off-campus location for University of Texas students,” Robinson said. “Since 1975 it has played a few roles, and one role was to become a port of entry for international immigrants. Today that port has remained relatively constant.”

East Riverside has become an immigrant community for Hispanics and some Asians because of the historic availability of cheaper housing, Robinson said.

“Most of the Hispanic and Latino population living in Riverside isn’t students. They are more workforce related,” Robinson said. “They are living in the multi-family stock in Riverside because it is affordable.”

While the median cost of contract rent in West Campus rose from $610 in 2000 to $958 in 2010, the median cost of contract rent in East Riverside rose from $571 to $669, census records show.

During this time period, the Hispanic population in East Riverside increased from 37 percent to 47 percent of the college-age population, and the black population grew from 6.3 percent to 13 percent.

Since the creation of new housing in West Campus, the percent of college-age students in East Riverside who are white declined from 44 percent to 29 percent, and the Asian population declined from 9.7 percent to 6 percent, census records show.

Business and psychology senior Maritza Rodriguez, a Hispanic member of the Latino Leadership Council, said she moved from West Campus to East Riverside because of the lower cost of rent and the more “welcoming” environment.

“I could afford to live in [West Campus] because of a roommate, and when I wanted to get away from a roommate situation I could pay for a single apartment with furniture included in Riverside,” Rodriguez said.

“In Riverside, you went there and you could see people socializing outside, and it felt less uncomfortable than in West Campus.”

Psychology sophomore Casie Clay, who transferred to UT this year from UT-San Antonio, now lives in East Riverside and said she “doesn’t feel out of place” as a white student living there.

“When I tell people I live in Riverside, they are so surprised I live in the east side,” Clay said. “But I don’t think it’s as bad here as everybody seems to think. I’ll take $385 for my own room and a bus that comes to my own door over triple that price in West Campus.”

FARTHER AND FARTHER
Earlier this year, the University’s Task Force on Undergraduate Graduation Rates identified commuting to school from neighborhoods across town, like East Riverside, as a problem for academic success that reduced chances of graduating in four years.

Students living farther from the University are less likely to be involved in the social and academic life of the university, said Gilberto Ortega-Rivera, a student member of the task force who now works for the University.

“When you look at the data we put together, you see that the farther you live from campus, the less likely you’re going to be involved in academic activities,” Ortega-Rivera said. “You’re also less likely to attend events like the Hex Rally or the Torchlight Parade.”

With less sense of community, commuter students become more likely to suffer academically, Ortega-Rivera said.

“Some of the friends I had at Riverside, they would be less likely to go to the gym or study at the PCL all night before the test,” Ortega-Rivera said. “I think there’s something telling to that when it comes to grades.”

Ashley Cue, a Hispanic undeclared senior who has lived in East Riverside for four years, said she has experienced these problems as a student commuter.

Cue said because she lives so far from the hub of student life, she sometimes feels out of place.

“These experiences caused me to feel out of place and a bit depressed when I started my first year in the University,” Cue said. “At times, [living in East Riverside caused] my grades to slip up.”

Ortega-Rivera said these problems become more common as the cost of living near campus pushes students farther from UT.

“I don’t know if there’s anything UT-Austin can do about this, but as real estate becomes more expensive, it’s pushing more low-income students away from the University,” Ortega-Rivera said. “I don’t think [students] know where they will end up being pushed to.”

URBAN PRESSURE
Since the passage of EROC in 2006, the urban landscape of East Riverside has begun to change.

The city envisioned EROC as a way to let more residents live closer to Austin’s urban core, because it expands the amount of land available for taller high-rises and creates incentives for high-density construction.

Karen Paup, vice-chair of Austin Community Development Commission, said development now spurred by EROC has been problematic for students and low-
income families.

“EROC and the area east of it are a real problem area, where you have a lot of students and working-class families living,” Paup said. “The students need to live closer to campus and so does the workforce, and Riverside has some of the last affordable rents in the city.

Paup said the incentive to build luxury apartments since EROC has displaced renters by not creating equally affordable housing.

“EROC and the corridor plan now being considered for the rest of Riverside will not be able to create housing that will match existing affordable units in the area,” Paup said. “The incentives being used keep the prices of some apartments below market price, but grants or other programs will be needed to produce deeper affordability. So far there have already been some residents displaced.”

The housing bubble of 2008 delayed construction of new buildings, but developers are now taking on East Riverside projects, said Malcolm Yeatts, who represented East Riverside with Goff during EROC’s creation.

“There were a lot of affordable buildings that got torn down and then the real estate bust happened, creating lot of vacant land in Riverside,” Yeatts said. “Since the economy has recovered, yes, that construction has started again.”

Yeatts said ongoing development is now concentrated close to I-35, and he is not sure if it would affect student housing prices.

“Generally there’s a trend with higher-density zoning where there’s a whole lot more units in the area, but they aren’t going to be in the price range that most students are going to consider affordable,” Yeatts said.

“Right now it’s further away from the solidly built student housing [that is] closer to Pleasant Valley Drive.”

“THE HAND They Are Dealt”
Jesus Guevara, an associate academic adviser in the School of Undergraduate Studies, lived in East Riverside for four years as an undergraduate from 2005 to 2009 and now advises many students who commute from the neighborhood.

Guevara said he has seen the new buildings rising in West Campus and has heard students worry about being “pushed out.”

“Students are starting to see these new buildings go up and know they are going to be gentrified,” Guevara said. “Down the road, they worry that management is going to raise their prices when other expensive buildings come in.”

The high cost of housing in other parts of Austin has long resulted in problems of another sort for East Riverside residents with limited options because of limited income, Guevara said.

“It feels almost like Riverside apartments know their students have nowhere else to go, and management is pretty bad as a result,” Guevara said. “I’ve had my own issues with stuff not getting done on time, lost checks and all those kind of issues. Riverside complexes know they don’t have to fix this, so bad things happen to the students again because they have to deal the hand they are dealt.”

Latin American studies senior Yadira Ramos Luna, a Hispanic member of the Latino Leadership Council, said she has experienced management problems at her apartment in East Riverside.

“When me and my roommates moved into our apartment, it was infested with fleas,” Luna said. “We had to go together to the management office every day for a week and a half before they agreed to change the carpet and clean the sofa.”

Luna said the complex also lost her checks and billed her multiple times with late fees when she had paid the rent on time.

“People ask me why I don’t change to other places, and I tell them it’s all the same wherever you go,” Luna said. “My roommate tells me that at University Estates, it’s much worse. I only pay $400 for an apartment, so I can’t say much, and I can’t go and pay for a luxury place in West Campus or somewhere else.”

Gavin Short, property manager at University Estates, said he believed there was no difference in service quality between complexes in Riverside and West Campus. The complex is one of the largest in the area.

“There are communities in both markets geared toward various price points and offering various amenities,” Short said. “It may be true that there are communities in either location that are better at operating the communities than others, but that would have more to do with the management companies, site staff, ownership, etc. rather than the physical address of the property.”

The Austin Planning Commission, a program of Austin City Council, is deliberating a plan similar to EROC that would apply to neighborhoods even farther east. City officials said they don’t know where students and low-income families will go if prices in more parts of East Austin spike.

"When you aren’t around people of color and people of color are the hyper-other, then it becomes acceptable to do racist things," said History senior Joshua Tang.

Photo Credit: Zachary Strain | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a three-part series of stories examining the demographics of two neighborhoods where students live ­— West Campus and East Riverside. The next installment, about the makeup and history of Riverside student housing, will run Sept. 21.

The growing diversity of the UT student body has not spurred racial integration in student neighborhoods, census, city and UT records show.

The majority of Asian and white undergraduates living off campus reside in West Campus, while most Hispanic and black undergraduates live in East Riverside.

This trend has intensified in the past 10 years because of a convergence of socioeconomic inequality, disparate living costs in the two areas and alleged discrimination — and some fear it may not change.

Ryan Robinson, demographer for the City of Austin, said population growth in West Campus is the result of massive multi-family complexes built in the neighborhood since 2004 under a plan called the University Neighborhood Overlay.

Many of these new high-rises may not be affordable for Hispanic and black students, who are disproportionately from low-income backgrounds, Robinson said.

“West Campus has long been expensive and recently became enormously more expensive,” Robinson said. “Since income remains, unfortunately, associated with race, it could be that there is more racial segregation.”

These new high-rises also raised the total cost of living in West Campus, possibly creating an income barrier for Hispanic and black students, Robinson said.

According to The Daily Texan’s analysis of demographic data sets, more than 40 percent of all white undergraduates lived in West Campus in 2010, as well as 38 percent of Asian undergraduates. Twenty-two percent of Hispanic undergraduates and 15 percent of black undergraduates also lived in West Campus then.

These numbers are significantly higher for whites and Asians than in 2000, when only 27 percent of white undergraduates and 21 percent of Asian undergraduates lived in West Campus. Fifteen percent of Hispanic undergraduates and no black undergraduates lived in West Campus in 2000.

In Riverside from 2000 to 2010, the white population declined from 44 percent to 29 percent among college-age people, while Asians declined from 9.7 percent to 6 percent. College-age Hispanics increased from 37 percent to 47 percent, and blacks increased from 6.3 percent to 9 percent. The 2010 American Community Survey estimates that 5,598 undergraduates live in Riverside.

“Massive construction started in 2004 and was intended to allow more students to live closer to campus,” Robinson said. “The plan for that construction was to make the new apartments affordable, but the irony is that the exact opposite has occurred.”

The Daily Texan shared this data with city and UT officials, who have not yet returned requests for comment.

A Game of UNO
The University and the neighborhoods around campus were facing a swelling population problem in the late 1990s.

At that time, West Campus was a medley of small and aging apartments that did not allow new development, and the increased size of the UT student body had outgrown available rental housing near campus.

Many students had to commute from apartments across town, which hurt the University and hindered student success, said Mike McHone, a longtime Austin real estate broker who helped design today’s West Campus.

“When you look at the graduation time line, it became extended,” McHone said. “Class scheduling became less efficient and more costly. Alumni funding, it significantly dropped.”

Austin City Council brought the neighborhoods around campus into the Central Austin Neighborhood Planning Advisory Committee in 2002 to attract students to West Campus. CANPAC then created the Central Austin Combined Neighborhood Plan in 2004 to manage the future development of the University area.

The University Neighborhood Overlay, or UNO, was a key component, McHone said.

“You knock down [the older, smaller buildings] and build new housing that can house over 300 people on the same piece of land,” McHone said. “What we did was create an overlay to bring the University students back by doing that.”

The University Area Partners, the neighborhood association of West Campus, and developers interested in the area created UNO. It passed unanimously in Austin City Council in 2004. The University did not take a position on the plan at the time of its creation.

Affordable Housing
From 2000 to 2010 West Campus developers added about 5,236 new beds in high-rises, according to UAP. The average cost for a single bedroom in these apartment buildings today is between $900 and $1200, available listings show.

McHone said West Campus was always expensive, but the construction boom following UNO caused the cost of living in West Campus to stay lower than developers expected in 2004. Developers hoped to make high profits but had to offer lower rental rates because so many complexes opened at the same time, he said.

Richie Gill, a Plan II and economics senior who founded real estate agency Mr. West Campus, said the cost of monthly rent in West Campus has risen by 7 percent every year since 2004 and now runs between $700 and $900.

Gill said most of the new high-rises in West Campus are catering to a luxury market and were not built for low-income students.

“You’re going to get a lot of debt from building on expensive property in West Campus,” Gill said. “It wouldn’t make sense for developers to build these expensive buildings and target them for a low-income audience. The new buildings were more targeting a middle-class demographic from a suburb of Houston or Dallas.”

Today, the demographic makeup of West Campus is much different than that of the University.

In 2010, white undergraduates made up 51.7 percent population, compared to 63.8 percent in 2000. Hispanic undergraduates increased from 13.5 to 19.4 percent in the same period. Asian undergraduates increased from 14.9 to 17.9 percent. Black undergrads grew from 3.4 percent to 4.7 percent.

“The Value of Dirt”
Brian Donovan, a member of CANPAC and administrator of the Inter-Cooperative Council, a West Campus cooperative organization, said the cost of all West Campus apartments has risen since UNO as a result of rising property values.

According to Travis Central Appraisal District records, the average value of land occupied by high-rises in West Campus increased from $50 per square foot to $100 per square foot between 2004 and 2012. This led apartment owners to charge more for rent since they had to pay more in property taxes, Donovan said.

“The property taxes of all the land in West Campus went up when the new zoning went in, and you can’t fight the value of the dirt,” Donovan said. “A lot of the older apartments, students are living there, too, but now they are charging high rates because they can get away with it as the area becomes more expensive.”

These property taxes rose in response to demand for land in West Campus, which had became more profitable after UNO, Donovan said.

Inter-Cooperative Council doesn’t pay property taxes because it is a non-profit. Rent for a single room at one of the co-ops has risen from $600 to $685 since 2004 due to increased expenses, Donovan said.

Cathy Norman, president of University Area Partners, said the creators of UNO aimed bring all students to West Campus, not just a middle-class or white demographic.

“What we intended was to create housing for all students, not just any exclusive group,” Norman said. “Now, how we are doing on that is a little bit more of a complex question.”

Norman said UNO has been successful in bringing students closer to campus, but there may be flaws in the plan.

“We probably didn’t focus on ethnic diversity at all when we created this plan. I don’t think it was a priority then,” Norman said. “It takes an ongoing process. It’s not like you can have a static plan for ten years.”

Racial Tension
Even if more housing becomes affordable in West Campus, many black and Hispanic students may still choose not to live there, said physics senior Jazmin Estrada.

Lower prices may not improve an environment that many students of color consider hostile.

“In certain areas of West Campus, especially where there’s a lot of white Greek houses, you feel kind of uncomfortable,” said Estrada, who is a member of the Latino Leadership Council.

Estrada said she moved out of West Campus to Riverside after hearing about balloons filled with bleach being thrown at Hispanic students and seeing Facebook photos of a West Campus theme party where participants dressed up as “Cowboys” and “Illegal Aliens.”

Estrada, whose family moved from Mexico to the Rio Grande Valley before she was born, said she lives in Riverside because she, like many other first-generation students, cannot afford to live in West Campus.

“It’s kind of impossible to live in West Campus if you’re a first-generation college student, it’s so expensive,” said Estrada. “Most of us are on financial aid and a bunch of us could maybe afford to live there, but we would have to give up something else.”

History senior Joshua Tang, who is Asian and black, said part of the problem is low Hispanic and black representation in the area. Most white students in West Campus do not commit racist acts in the neighborhood but may look the other way if racist incidents occur, he said.

“When you aren’t around people of color and people of color are the hyper-other, then it becomes acceptable to do racist things,” said Tang, who is a student associate in the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement.

Tang has also experienced racism in West Campus.

“As I was moving into my apartment in West Campus, someone threw [the n-word] at me from their balcony,” Tang said. “Very recently someone dropped a balloon that had bleach in it very close to me. Thankfully, it missed.”

Tang says some white students believe that students of color receive favorable treatment from University admissions and other programs, which might be why they act racially intolerant.

“There are people from homogeneous areas who think people who belong at the University of Texas should look like them,” said Tang.

Premed freshman Meagan Elferink, a member of Zeta Tau Alpha sorority, said West Campus is less diverse than most parts of Texas. She graduated from Ball High School in Galveston, where she said different racial groups are equally represented. West Campus seems exclusive to students from a “certain type of background,” she said. She lives in the Castillian, a private dormitory at 24th and San Antonio streets.

At Ball, “it didn’t matter where you were from or how much money you had,” Elferink said. “I think that’s a more realistic representation of society.”

The UT Police Department and the Austin Police Department say they have received no reports of bleach-filled balloons being thrown at students.

UT students concerned about alleged racial discrimination in West Campus and at UT will meet at 7 p.m. Sept. 18 in UTC 2.112A. The event will feature student panelists sharing their experiences with discrimination at UT.

Going Forward
Alan Robinson, administrator of West Campus cooperative organization College Houses Cooperatives, is supporting the Affordable Housing Initiative that will go before Austin City Council on Sept. 27.

High-rises built in West Campus since UNO was established must offer between 10 and 20 percent of their units at “affordable” rates, but the definition of what was affordable was very high, Alan Robinson said.

“Someone who qualified for an affordable room was expected to pay a little over $1,000 per month for rent,” Alan Robinson said. “Those were [U.S. Department of] Housing and Urban Development definitions, and weren’t based at all on students.”

The AHI will change the definition of an affordable room from city-wide averages based on families to a different algorithm, lowering it to about $700, he said.

“That’s still pretty high, but I think it’s going to help a lot of people out,” he said.

The AHI will also change the definition of an affordable unit to an affordable bedroom, which Alan Robinson says will double the number of affordable rooms in West Campus.

“They currently have to provide about 20 percent of their units at affordable rates,” he said. “By changing the definition to bedrooms, we think we can double the number of people living in affordable housing.”

West Campus faces both economic and racial challenges. For students choosing whether to live in the neighborhood, the two often go hand in hand.

Due to the number of college students and recent graduates, Austin is ranked the third biggest city for single women to live in America. (Photo Illustration)

Photo Credit: Mary Kang | Daily Texan Staff

Austin has all the single ladies flocking to its Sixth Street nightlife, its single men and its creative, quirky atmosphere, according to data released last week by CBS.

Based on data collected by Rent.com, CBS ranked Austin as the third-biggest city for single women in America. Rent.com surveyed single female renters and homeowners to create a rating scale based on factors including the number of single men in the city, night life, cost of living and low divorce rates. Phoenix came in first and Seattle finished second.

The city of Austin has 120.5 single men for every 100 single women, and 31.5 percent of women ages 15 and up have never been married, according to census data provided by city demographer Ryan Robinson.

The numbers of single women and households headed by single women may be higher in Austin because of the number of college students and recent college graduates, Robinson said. Austin has one of the lowest median ages in the country and one of the highest inward migration rates of college educated people, he said.

“Austin is a very open city,” Robinson said. “People come to Austin to be themselves. That might sound corny but people move to New York to make it big, or to L.A. to be famous or to Boston to be smart. Those are generalizations but people come to Austin so they can really let it hang out. Regardless of who’s here, it’s a great place to be a young adult.”

Reagan Noble, the manager of J. Black’s Feel Good Lounge on West Sixth Street, said many of his patrons are single women. The city is an easy choice for single people of both sexes because of its relaxed quality, Noble said.

“Austin is more genuine than in other places I’ve lived around the country,” he said. “I think that makes it an easier place for single people to be. There’s less pretentious behavior to sort through.”

Austin is easily the best place to be single in Texas, said corporate communications senior Jennifer Hass. Although she plans to go to California after graduation, she said she would recommend Austin to single women looking for a place to call home.

“There’s enough to do to have fun by yourself as well as with a group of people,” she said. “At the same time, it’s never thrown in your face that you have to conform to be in a
relationship.”

The laid-back, no-pressure atmosphere of Austin and the lack of relationship worries that come with single life makes the city ideal for single women looking to have fun and just be single, Hass said.

“It’s really easy to be liberal and free with your time and not have to worry about someone else,” she said. “Not that it’s a bad thing to be with someone else, but at the same time you don’t have to worry about hurting someone else’s feelings by contributing time to spending with yourself or other friends.” 

Printed on Friday, August 26, 2011 as: Liberal lifestyle, festive nightlife attract single women to Austin.

Photo Credit: Andrew Torrey | Daily Texan Staff

Ideas for retooling the Austin city government are under consideration as the mayor and staff review proposals for regional representation.

Austin currently elects six council members and its mayor at-large to stand for the entire city, but a new plan would allow representatives from six geographic districts to hold a place in municipal government. The city hired the lawfirm Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta to develop a proposal for how to divide the city. They proposed four maps for possible districts that could support plans for regional representation.

Federal law requires each district be nearly equal in terms of population, and other demographic factors like race and voting age were taken into consideration when drawing potential districts. City demographer Ryan Robinson said he believes these issues are important because if done correctly, geographic districting can ease concerns over gentrification.

“People think one district is comprised of a majority ethnicity when really it’s not,” Robinson said. “There’s a connection between demographic evolution of a city and how that relates to creation of a district.”

Robinson said geographic districting would help ensure minority representation and could also increase voter turnout.

“The mayor has been championing this change since his time as a council member,” said Mayor Lee Leffingwell’s spokesman Matt Curtis. “He firmly believes this is the right next step for the community.”

Curtis said city officials are considering each map and will choose one to put before the council and citizens. City officials will discuss plans and create community conversation over the next year, and Leffingwell hopes to put the change up to vote next November, he said. Citizens would elect one representative from their local district, while two council members and the mayor would still be elected at-large.

Austin is one of only three major U.S. cities to not operate under a system of single-member districting. Leffingwell and other community leaders believe the city has grown beyond its ability to operate under the current system and geographic representation would prove beneficial.

Linda Curtis, founder of ChangeAustin.org, said she agrees with the need for local representation to exist as the city evolves, despite concern over possible development of “ward politics,” which would put districts in negative competition with each other. She said districting could also potentially allow UT representation in city matters.

“We are at a breaking point,” Linda Curtis said. “Single-member districts are coming in as a way to take back the city with competitive, local campaigns.”
 

City Council began the process of reforming its membership structure with a proposal at a regular meeting Thursday. Currently, all Austin residents vote for each of the six at-large council members and the mayor. The City Council is working to put together a proposal for a hybrid single-member district system in the Austin. If the proposal passes, the council will consist of six district-specific representatives, while two council members and the mayor will still be elected at large, said Matt Curtis, a spokesman for the mayor. “If you truly believe in democratic representation, it’s best to have your representative as close to the people they’re representing as possible,” he said. “This allows community members from different parts of town to have someone who represents their interest as well as citywide elected representatives who will represent the entire community.” The proposal would give voters a go-to council member for issues such as problems with trash pickup or a problematic street corner, Curtis said. Community members with different interests will have their own council member, he said. The city expects constituents to vote on single-member districts in November 2012, although a date has not been finalized, he said. “It’s important to the mayor that this is a decision made by the community,” he said. “We want the community to be able to vote on it while we’re putting this proposal together.” The first three districts will be determined by ethnic demographics and will most likely establish two primarily Hispanic districts and one primarily black district, said City of Austin demographer Ryan Robinson. The next three districts will be based on communities of interest, he said. “My guess is that campus would probably be in the middle of a central Austin district,” Robinson said. “Pretty much all past maps had campus right in the middle of a district. You wouldn’t want a set of districts that split UT into two pieces.” The districts will be based on 2010 census data, Robinson said. Increasing voter turnout and creating a hybrid system with single-member districts are the two goals of the proposal, said campaign consultant Mark Littlefield. Voter turnout has been steadily dropping over the past decade — the number of Austin voters has dropped from 200,000 to 88,000, he said. “If you were Doctor Evil from an Austin Powers movie and you were trying to divide the council for a lower voter turnout, I’m not even sure he could disenfranchise as many voters as we have in Austin, Texas,” he said. Austin is one of the largest cities that continues to elect all of its council members at large, Littlefield said. If this proposal passes, the city will likely make changes after two or four years to increase the number of districts or move to a fully single-member district system, he said. “Nothing’s been written in stone,” he said. “Nothing’s been written in ballot language. I would much rather do something that people would have confidence in first and then tweak it.”

City Council began the process of reforming its membership structure with a proposal at a regular meeting Thursday.

Currently, all Austin residents vote for each of the six at-large council members and the mayor. The City Council is working to put together a proposal for a hybrid single-member district system in the Austin.

If the proposal passes, the council will consist of six district-specific representatives, while two council members and the mayor will still be elected at large, said Matt Curtis, a spokesman for the mayor.

“If you truly believe in democratic representation, it’s best to have your representative as close to the people they’re representing as possible,” he said. “This allows community members from different parts of town to have someone who represents their interest as well as citywide elected representatives who will represent the entire community.”

The proposal would give voters a go-to council member for issues such as problems with trash pickup or a problematic street corner, Curtis said. Community members with different interests will have their own council member, he said.

The city expects constituents to vote on single-member districts in November 2012, although a date has not been finalized, he said.

“It’s important to the mayor that this is a decision made by the community,” he said. “We want the community to be able to vote on it while we’re putting this proposal together.”

The first three districts will be determined by ethnic demographics and will most likely establish two primarily Hispanic districts and one primarily black district, said City of Austin demographer Ryan Robinson. The next three districts will be based on communities of interest, he said.

“My guess is that campus would probably be in the middle of a central Austin district,” Robinson said. “Pretty much all past maps had campus right in the middle of a district. You wouldn’t want a set of districts that split UT into two pieces.”

The districts will be based on 2010 census data, Robinson said.

Increasing voter turnout and creating a hybrid system with single-member districts are the two goals of the proposal, said campaign consultant Mark Littlefield. Voter turnout has been steadily dropping over the past decade — the number of Austin voters has dropped from 200,000 to 88,000, he said.

“If you were Doctor Evil from an Austin Powers movie and you were trying to divide the council for a lower voter turnout, I’m not even sure he could disenfranchise as many voters as we have in Austin, Texas,” he said.

Austin is one of the largest cities that continues to elect all of its council members at large, Littlefield said. If this proposal passes, the city will likely make changes after two or four years to increase the number of districts or move to a fully single-member district system, he said.

“Nothing’s been written in stone,” he said. “Nothing’s been written in ballot language. I would much rather do something that people would have confidence in first and then tweak it.” 

Austin is growing more diverse, and more students are migrating to the University area, said a city demographer.

Ryan Robinson, a city demographer, analyzed the 2010 census figures and presented his findings to a group of about 60 people on campus Thursday.

Austin’s total population is now more than 790,000, according to the census. Austin is the 14th-largest city in the country, one spot up from where it ranked in 2000.

International immigration played a major part in the city’s population boom. The city’s white population is aging and remaining stagnant, while the Hispanic population is surging. Fifty-seven percent of the city’s population is now Hispanic, and one in two children born in Austin is Hispanic.

“Even when jobs were falling, international immigration continued to grow,” Robinson said. “Job creation, quality of life relative to competing cities and an extreme sense of [home] are some other things that might have sparked a population growth.”

Robinson said he also found an increase in people living around the University because students moved from the East Riverside area to the West Campus area.

“If UT wasn’t doing as well as it was today, the population in West Campus wouldn’t be as prominent as it is today,” Robinson said.

The black population in the main parts of the city went down. Robinson said he noticed an increase in the black population in Austin suburbs, which may suggest that an increased number of black residents are moving from the city to surrounding areas.

The census also showed how different racial groups inhabited different parts of Austin and which parts were the wealthiest. Slowly, East Austin is losing its previously black majority, while West Austin remains predominantly white, and North Austin is seeing a more concentrated group of Hispanics.

“I find this information very enlightening with regard to how the city is becoming more divided and look forward to seeing how the city will respond to the results,” said Drew Blair, a retired economics professor from St. Edwards University.
 

Photo Credit: Veronica Rosalez | Daily Texan Staff

Census data released Thursday verifies what most Texans already know — in the last 10 years, the state has seen a huge population boom and dramatic demographic shifts.

Texas is still the second most populous state in the nation, after California, growing 20.6 percent — 4.2 million people — since the 2000 Census. The nation as a whole grew by 27.3 million people, most of whom settled in the South. Austin alone grew from 656,562 to 790,000 people.

“The data verifies that the Austin metropolitan region has been nothing short of an extremely rapidly growing region, in terms of its population gained over the last 10 years,” said city of Austin demographer Ryan Robinson. “Totals are all a little bit above what everyone thought they would be.”

Robinson said demographers expected the 2010 population to be about 785,000 people. The Hispanic population grew more than any other ethnic group and now makes up 35.1 percent of the city total, about 250,000. Austin is now a majority-minority city, meaning that the non-Hispanic white population is less than 50 percent of the total.

“Within the city of Austin, Hispanics now make up more than 35 percent of the population, five percentage points higher than in 2000,” Robinson said. “It shows that we have diversified significantly from a racial and ethnic standpoint. Anybody who lives here knows that.”

Sociology professor Jacqueline Angel said the state’s additional four million people translates into higher costs for state agencies that assist students, low-income people, the young and the elderly. That means the state Legislature will now have to figure out how to address the increasing cost of state programs like Medicare, Medicaid and education, she said.

“The growing number of younger and older people are going to need a lot of support to compete in a global economy,” Angel said. “The 2010 Census has very important political implications for our state’s future.”

With increasing student populations, she said University tuition rates are likely to increase to compensate for the increased costs of providing higher education to more people.

“This increase is going to put pressure on the state to fund all of our programs,” she said. “More students are going to be demanding higher-educational opportunities, but they may not be able to come to flagship universities because of the lack of availability of openings because enrollment numbers are just exceeding capacity nationwide. How we respond to that is where our political leadership matters.”

As a result of the increase in population reflected in the Census count, Texas gained four seats in the U.S. House of Representatives in December, bringing the total to 36 representatives. The release of Census data also marks the beginning of state redistricting — the process of redrawing district lines for state and national legislative seats.

Texas Legislative Council spokeswoman Anna Abraham said the population data will be input into a redistricting application for lawmakers to begin to outline proposed district boundaries by next week.

“We have some computers set up here in the office with the software so that anyone from the general public can take a stab at making their own maps, or if there are any maps that have been released as open records, they can also play with that,” Abraham said. “Or they can just look at how things are right now.”