Austin. Is it merely an overgrown college town or will its Texas-sized sprawl one day rival that of Houston or Dallas? With all the quality-of-life accolades it has accumulated over the past decade, the city is no longer "that place where they film Austin City Limits." The influx of new businesses and new residents has changed this Central Texas city into a major metropolitan area. The population doubled in the past 20 years and has risen more than 25 percent since 2000.
It would be a lie to say Austin is taking all this growth in stride. But it would be equally untrue to say the city is being ruined by a growing number of inhabitants. Suburban sprawl is evident, but so are the city's parks and Austinites' penchant for progressive ideas. Austin is trying to figure out how to grow and green at the same time. With more than 200 parks, an ambitious public transit scheme, incentives for eco-friendly businesses and the greening of high-profile events like the South by Southwest Music Festival, Austin is not yet ready to begin singing the big-city blues.
Growing a green music scene
Can it become one of the greenest?
There's no way around it: Concerts eat up electricity with amps, soundboards and lighting equipment. An Austin-based company called Sustainable Waves is perfecting the idea of solar-powered stages. In addition, the events' organizers are championing the use of biodiesel in some of the generators used to power concert equipment.
SXSW will go paperless in '09 by relying on secure websites for booking and organization. There has also been a grassroots movement among advertisers and promoters to use recycled paper or paper made from certified renewable sources to print the ads and promotional material.
Growing a green transportation network
While not on par with Portland, Ore., Austin does have a strong bike culture. Biking is a prevalent form of transport in inner-city areas, and local business Bicycle Sports Shop has partnered with SXSW to provide rental bikes to attendees of the festival.
Austin is also a national leader in the lobby for plug-in hybrids. The city council is spearheading a movement called Plug-in Partners, circulating a petition to make auto manufacturers aware of the public's desire for further development and greater availability of plug-in technology.
Growing with nature
Austin embraces nature, even if that nature isn't always green, flowering or cute. A large population of bats, for example, thrives under the Congress Avenue Bridge despite urbanization all around them. The bats, which number more than 1 million, are visible most evenings during the spring and summer and have become a bit of a tourist attraction.
Austin's natural side goes well beyond watching flying rodents and splashing in nonchlorinated pools. The city has 206 parks, 12 preserves and 26 greenbelts. While building is continuing at breakneck speed, there are still ample natural elements throughout the city.
Austin's population growth continues, albeit not as quickly as it once did. That growth brings changes and challenges, especially when it comes to the environment. But this is still one of the most green-minded cities in the United States. Austin has plenty of chances to show it can be feasible and practical to grow up and grow green at the same time.