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Why do folks move here? Ask our 1.6 million residents

Staff Writer
Austin 360
Austin's skyline might be changing, but its natural beauty, cultural attractions and job opportunities continue to rank it among the top places to live in the U.S.

It seems the rest of the world has finally caught on to what residents of Austin and its surrounding communities have known for years: This is a great place to live.

Consistently ranked near the top of almost every list that measures such things, Austin's combination of favorable climate, natural beauty, entertainment options and vocational opportunity makes it a prime destination for those in search of a higher quality of life.

That is how reporter Jeremy Egner started his introduction to this annual publication 10 years ago.

Some things haven't changed.

From national publications such as Forbes, Fortune and Kiplinger to innumerable niche publications and websites, Austin continues to rank highly on almost every list imaginable.

One of best places in the country for finding jobs and for job growth. One of the best places to establish and grow a small business.

One of the best value cities. A $60,000 a year paycheck in Boston has the same buying power as $40,000 a year here.

One of the best cities in the country for young adults. One of the best cities to make a fresh start, and one of the best to retire to.

One of the best cities in the nation to make music and movies. One of the best areas for runners. One of the best cities for outdoor activities of all kinds, and a city featuring one of the best urban parks systems.

One of the best airports in the country for fast food between flights? You guessed it.

Highest praise: When Kiplinger released its list of "10 Best Cities for the Next Decade," Austin was No. 1.

Today, the five-county Greater Austin area, which is about 40 percent larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined, has more than 1.6 million residents. That's about a third more than 10 years ago and about double the population of 20 years ago.

Since 2000, most growth has occurred in Williamson County to the north of Austin and Hays County to the south. The populations of both have grown by more than 50 percent during the past 10 years. Round Rock is the largest city in Williamson County. San Marcos is the largest in Hays County.

Most of us live in Travis County, which has a population density of about 1,000 people per square mile. Most Travis County residents live in Austin, which has roughly the same population as another dreamy city: San Francisco.

Far fewer of us live in Bastrop and Caldwell counties. The entire population of Caldwell County would fill only four of every 10 seats in the football stadium at the University of Texas. All the folks in Bastrop County would fill three of every four seats in the stadium.

All this growth has changed our environment. Today we have more high-rise buildings, shopping centers, highways, congestion, noise and pollution than ever. A midday trip across town can be time-consuming and frustrating. It's more of a challenge to get good tickets to a popular concert or sporting event. The wait at the restaurant can be longer.

Even with all the changes, the core qualities remain. Beautiful parks and lakes. Clean water. World-class music. Thriving arts and theater communities. Competitive professional sports teams. National-caliber college academics and athletics. An inventive, creative, diverse, tolerant population.

Generally speaking, we're somewhere in our 30s, well-educated and make a pretty good living. We like gardening, running, cycling, swimming, boating and fishing. We love youth sports, football (at all levels), tennis and golf.

And, some folks would say, we're just a little weird. Maybe it's the occasional lawn with polka dots, the annual celebration of Eeyore's birthday, the 3-story Cathedral of Junk or the Wiener Dog Races.

In the pages that follow, you can get a feel for Austin. Mind you, it's just an introduction to the metropolitan area and the people who live here, and a look at what the area has to offer. It doesn't pretend to be comprehensive.

For a current and more extensive look at everything that is going on in the Austin metro area, please visit www.austin360.com/this-is-austin.