the inner beauty of austin

I visited my sister and her two kids last month in Raleigh, NC and was struck by the beauty of the place.  I lived in North Carolina for 6 years when I was a teen and go back frequently to visit family, so it’s not like I was unfamiliar with the landscape. It’s just when you are coming from Central Texas the contrast smacks you in the face — it’s SO GREEN!  And there are so many tall trees!  And holy cow, everything looks landscaped!

Granted, she lives in the suburbs of Raleigh where HOA rules apply, but even driving inside the Beltway all the lawns look like people spend every waking moment watering, mowing and weeding.
It makes me want to bring up a point about Austin that makes me a bit uncomfortable to admit:  Austin just ain’t so pretty. On the outside.  Inside, baby, we’ve got soul.  But it’s quite possible that to those who are merely visiting for an extended weekend, Austin might not give the best first impression.
A couple years ago my sister came to visit with her then-husband, a born and bred North Carolinian.  It was his first visit to Austin and I’ll never forget one of his first comments: “Do people here ever do yard-work?!”  Pretty much the exact opposite of what struck me about Raleigh. 
Austin sits at the edge of two types of landscapes; to the west we have the rugged hill country with lots of oak, cedar and brush, and to east are the flat plains.  The stuff that grows here under normal conditions looks pretty scrubby and weed-like, and since we’re in a horrible drought, even that looks more harsh and brown. If something can grow and survive here, we let it. 
Another thing that I’ll admit: Central, East and South Austin homes are kinda scrappy and small, and you have to be committed to the smaller urban lifestyle to want to settle into a 1200 to 1500 sq ft home that was built 60 years ago, back when people didn’t mind showering in a coffin-sized stall (like the one in my “master” bathroom). We are lucky because we have a 2 car attached garage plus an office, but a lot of homes in our neighborhood don’t. There are still lots of homes that need some TLC, because up until about 15 years ago Austin was a sleepy college town, with lots of student rentals and lower-income families. 
And finally, our urban core saw its main growth in the 50’s – 70’s, and there are quite frankly some ugly buildings out there. I can easily overlook them because I know how great the shops and restaurants are that are contained within, but I can imagine a visitor driving around and not being impressed. 
Yes, if you go into the suburbs you will see more manicured sights, and if that’s your thing you will not be disappointed.  Austin has some nice looking suburbs. You’ll still want to come into town to get a feel for the place, and so you’ll need to steel yourself just as much as someone who wants to live closer in.
It’s funny because I think Austin is gorgeous.  I love the greenbelts and the river going through town (even though it’s technically a lake), I love all the scrappy old homes and I love all the oak and pecan trees. I love the hills to the west and the prairies to the east, I love the big skies with the gigantic white clouds.  
Austin is my home and I’m happy here, and if that gives me rose colored glasses, then c’est la vie en rose.
  

8 Comments

  1. Andrea
    July 20, 2011

    I couldnt agree more with your post. My husband and I were just in Austin to scout relocating and coming from missouri love the diversity of inner city greenery and outer city desert like conditions (plus less humidity). I think the older neighborhoods bring character that would be noticably missing and I see your point about looking around and maybe getting the wrong idea – except I have been to other college towns and Austin seems to be the usual in that respect (rentals). I am so glad I found your blog and hope to be a neighbor someday…

  2. Rachel
    July 26, 2011

    what neighborhood’s (zips) can you recommend? we live near DT SA now in a small 1940’s home a love it. we are looking for something similar, preferably 3/1.5 or 2 and nearish to the Hubs work DT. any insight would be most appreciated!

  3. Move To Austin
    July 28, 2011

    Thanks Andrea!

    Rachel, I would suggest taking the neighborhood quiz on my site: http://www.move-to-austin.com/austin-tx-neighborhood-quiz.html. It will give you Zips and neighborhood names based on your preferences.

  4. KatrinaDonham
    July 30, 2011

    How ironic that I’m reading this post right now! My husband and I just moved to Austin from Raleigh, NC, about a week ago! :) I’ve been reading your blog to learn more about Austin pre- and post-move. Thanks for all the great information! We’ve settled in the South Lamar-78704 area and couldn’t be happier! I’ve been telling others about my journey being a new Austinite, I’d love to get some feedback! http://www.asmallthingintexas.wordpress.com . Thanks again!

  5. Alarm System
    October 15, 2011

    Austin is not only about fun but is about visiting the best places such as Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum and Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. Both the places are the must visit places when in Austin.

  6. Kristy
    December 14, 2011

    I realize that this post is old, but I feel the need to comment anyway. Austin’s landscape is amazing compared to Chicago, where I live now. It’s so green and pretty. I guess it’s all relative.

  7. SoonATexan
    February 22, 2012

    I can certainly agree with this post. I visited in January from the North Coast of California, where I live among the giant redwoods and fog. Austin just isn’t a very green city. Here, the top six feet of soil are nothing but rich wet natural mulch, and I didn’t see anything in Austin that even resembled naturally-occurring dirt.
    That said I’ll be moving to Austin just next week! I’m from Sacramento, CA originally, and the hill country is very similar to the foothills of the Sierra, and the weather in summer is just as hot. I’ve been away from Sacto for 21 years, however, so getting used to the heat will be very difficult at first. I remember in Sacto we’d practically have the whole town mapped out according to who had the best A/C.
    Looking forward to moving there, I’m very excited!

  8. Anonymous
    August 22, 2013

    i had to laugh when I read this…because I had the same thought (especially being from up north): doesn’t anybody do their lawn!? Something to get used to and for me, I got used to it quickly but have vowed to find a home and have a beautiful green carpet! <3 ATX!