Last week I was reading through Wikipedia’s list of United States cities by population (yes, just for fun and yes, that’s my source), which includes 295 incorporated places with a population of at least 100,000 as estimated by the US Census Bureau.
Charlotte is #17 on the list with an impressive 10.74% growth rate from 2010 to 2014 outpaced by only one other top 20 city: Austin, TX, which took the #11 spot.
What caught my eye was not only Austin’s insane growth over the last four years but also the fact that it is the exact same size as Charlotte (in terms of land area) and our population is currently right around where theirs was in 2010.
I’ve never been to Austin but from what I can tell from the outside, it’s a cool place known for its thriving food, music and art scenes. There could be worse things than following in its footsteps. Here’s a look at why I think we can use Austin as a guide (and in some cases a warning) for what’s to come in Charlotte.
Charlotte and Austin are the exact same size in terms of land area: 297 square miles. That means that as both grow at a comparable clip, they’ll be looking for ways to fit all those people into the same area, which includes implications for building development and transportation. We’re working with the same canvas, which is why I think it’s a good comparison.
Austin’s light rail proposal failed at the end of 2014, leaving the city looking for alternate mass transit solutions for what’s being called a transportation crisis in the 4th most congested metropolitan area in the country. They’ve explored increasing the capacity of the roads with a focus on bus transit and even staggering work hours to spread peak traffic out throughout the day. Meanwhile, Charlotte’s light rail expansion is moving forward along with the addition of the new streetcar but we’re not in the clear. Continuing to focus on infrastructure will be key to keeping us from a transportation crisis of our own, which many who commute on I-77 and I-485 would no doubt argue already exists.
Cranes on cranes on cranes. This list of 47 ways downtown Austin was changing back in 2012 and this current list of 59 downtown Austin emerging projects sounds an awful lot like Charlotte now: apartment towers, hotels and new businesses galore are going up on what seems like every corner. Austin has seen an apartment boom that parallels Charlotte’s and, unfortunately, the Wall Street Journal predicts a rise in vacancies in both metros as supply outpaces demand for the rentals.
Cost of living
According to BestPlaces, Austin is 13% more expensive than Charlotte with housing cited as the biggest factor in the difference. If this is what lies ahead for our apartment boom, get ready to shell out some serious cash for living expenses. According to Numbeo, rent prices are 50% higher in Austin. These are the estimated average rental and purchase prices for apartments in Austin (left column) versus Charlotte (right column):
If Austin truly is a predictor of where Charlotte is headed (and I have no actual expertise in the area to support that, just what I dug up here), don’t let the impending (or continued) construction, traffic and expenses get you down. Austin is known nationwide for being the Live Music Capitol of the World, cranking out a killer food scene, and keeping it weird with festivals, art and more. In my opinion, Charlotte has seen a major tipping point in these areas in the last five years I’ve been here and if Austin’s growth experience is any indicator, we have a lot more to look forward to…
Near and dear to our hyperlocal news hearts, Austin-only online news site The Austinot launched in late 2011 to a surprisingly strong and information-hungry audience and has gone on to garner tens of thousands of social followers (12.6k Twitter, 26k Facebook, 1.9k Instagram) and a strong media presence.
I’m not saying we’ll be just like Austin; in a lot of ways I think we’ll be better and in some ways we’ll likely fare worse (surely we will never beat their tacos, right?). But given that Austin has gone before Charlotte as a city of this size and growth rate, I think they’re certainly worth watching.
Austin crane photo via BuildingATX