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.