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Austin, Texas

Austin is the capital of the U.S. state of Texas and the county seat of Travis County. Situated in Central Texas, it is the fourth-largest city in Texas and the 16th-largest in the United States of America, as well as the third fastest growing large city in the nation from 2000 to 2006. As of the 2007 U.S. Census estimate, Austin has a population of 743,074. The city is the cultural and economic center of the Greater Austin metropolitan area with a population of about 1.6 million people.

The area was settled in the 1830s on the banks of the Colorado River by white settlers, who named the village Waterloo. In 1839, Waterloo was chosen to become the capital of the newly independent Republic of Texas. The city was renamed Austin, after Stephen F. Austin. The city grew throughout the 19th century and became a center for government and education with the construction of the Texas State Capitol and the University of Texas. After a lull in growth from the Depression, Austin resumed its development into a major city and emerged as a center for technology and business. Today, Austin is home to many companies, hi-tech or otherwise, including two Fortune 500 listed corporations.

Austin was selected as the No. 1 Best Big City in "Best Places to Live" by Money magazine in 2006, and the "Greenest City in America" by MSN. Also, according to CNN Headline News and travel and leisure Austin ranks #2 on the list of cities with the best people referring to the personalities and attributes of the citizens. Austin was also voted America's #1 College Town by the Travel Channel. Austin was ranked the 5th safest city in part because there are fewer than 3 people per 100,000 murdered annually.

Residents of Austin are known as "Austinites," and include a diverse mix of university professors, students, politicians, lobbyists, musicians, state employees, high-tech workers, blue-collar workers, and white-collar workers. The main campus of the University of Texas is located in Austin. The city is home to enough large sites of major technology corporations to have earned it the nickname "Silicon Hills." Austin's official slogan promotes the city as "The Live Music Capital of the World", a reference to its status as home to many musicians and music venues. In recent years, many Austinites have also adopted the unofficial slogan "Keep Austin Weird"; this refers partly to the eclectic and progressive lifestyle of many Austin residents, but is also the slogan for a campaign to preserve smaller local businesses and resist excessive commercialization.

History

Prior to the arrival of settlers from the United States, the area that later became Austin was inhabited by a variety of nomadic Native American tribes, including the Tonkawa tribe, the Comanches, and the Lipan Apaches.

Edward Burleson laid out the town of Waterloo in the mid-1830s. When the Texas Congress formed a commission to seek a site for a new capital to be named Austin, Lamar advised the commissioners to investigate Waterloo, which was then indeed chosen.

At first, the new capital thrived. But Lamar's political enemy Sam Houston used two Mexican army incursions to San Antonio as an excuse to move the government to Washington-on-the-Brazos). Remaining Austin residents responded to the threat by forcibly keeping the national archives in their city in defiance of President Houston's attempts to bring them to Washington. Once the annexation of the Republic of Texas became official, delegates wrote a new state constitution in which Austin was again named the seat of government. The Texas State Capitol was completed in 1888 advertised as the 7th largest building in the world.

In September 1881, Austin public schools held their first classes. The same year, Huston-Tillotson College opened its doors. The University of Texas at Austin held its first classes in 1883.

The Austin music scene began attracting national attention in the 1970s with artists such as Willie Nelson and venues such as the Armadillo World Headquarters. Today, Austin is known as much for its cultural life as its high-tech innovations. The same success that has gained the city a national reputation has brought with it many difficult choices.

Geography

Austin is located at and is approximately above sea level. According to the 2000 census, the city has a total area of . of it is land and (2.67%) is water.

Austin is situated on the Colorado River, with three man-made (artificial) lakes wholly within the city limits: Lady Bird Lake, Lake Austin, and Lake Walter E. Long. Additionally, the foot of Lake Travis, including Mansfield Dam, is located within the city's limits. Lady Bird Lake, Lake Austin, and Lake Travis are each on the Colorado River. The city is also situated on the Balcones Fault, which, in much of Austin, runs roughly the same route as Loop 1 (Mopac Expressway). The eastern part of the city is flat, whereas the western part and western suburbs consist of scenic rolling hills on the edge of the Texas Hill Country. Because the hills to the west are primarily limestone rock with a thin covering of topsoil, portions of the city are frequently subjected to flash floods from the runoff caused by thunderstorms. To help control this runoff and to generate hydroelectric power, the Lower Colorado River Authority operates a series of dams that form the Texas Highland Lakes. The lakes also provide venues for boating, swimming, and other forms of recreation within several parks located on the lake shores.

Austin is located at the intersection of four major ecological regions and is consequently a temperate-to-hot green oasis but has some characteristics of the desert, the tropics, and a wetter climate. It is very diverse ecologically/biologically and is home to a variety of beautiful animals and plants, notably the wildflowers that blossom throughout the year but especially in the spring, including the popular bluebonnets, some planted in an effort by Lady Bird Johnson.

A popular point of prominence in Austin is Mount Bonnell. At about above sea level, it is a natural limestone formation overlooking Lake Austin on the Colorado River, about below its summit. From the observation deck, many homes are visible.

The soils of Austin range from shallow gravelly clay loams over limestone in the western outskirts to deep fine sandy loams, silty clay loams, silty clays or clays in the city's eastern part. Some of the clays have pronounced shrink-swell properties and are difficult to work under most moisture conditions. Many of Austin's soils, especially the clay-rich types, are slightly to moderately alkaline and have free calcium carbonate.

Climate

Austin has a humid subtropical climate, characterized by hot summers and mild winters. On average, Austin receives of rain per year, with most of the precipitation in the spring, and a secondary maximum in the fall. During springtime, severe thunderstorms sometimes occur, though tornadoes are rare in the city. Austin is usually at least partially sunny.

Austin summers are usually hot and humid, with average temperatures of approximately 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 Celsius) from June until September. Temperatures above are common. The highest recorded temperature was on September 5, 2000. For the entire year there is an average of 111 days above and 198 days above .

Winters in Austin are mild and dry. For the entire year, Austin averages 88 days below and 24 days when the minimum temperature falls below freezing. The lowest recorded temperature was on January 31, 1949. Snowfall is rare in Austin, but approximately biannually Austin may suffer an ice storm that freezes roads over and shuts down much of the city for 24 to 48 hours. Monthly averages for Austin's weather data are shown in a graphical format to the right, and in a more detailed tabular format below.

Table Note: Averages are from the 30 year average from 1971–2000 at Camp Mabry, and records are from Camp Mabry and from previous climate sites, spanning from 1897 to present.

Government and politics

Law and government

Austin is administered by a city council of seven members, each of them elected by the entire city. The council is composed of six council members, and by an elected mayor, accompanied by a hired city manager under the manager-council system of municipal governance. Council and mayoral elections are non-partisan, with a runoff in case there is no majority winner. Austin remains an anomaly among large Texas cities in that council members are elected on an "at large" basis by all voters, as opposed to elections by districts.

The current mayor of Austin is Will Wynn. His second term ends in 2009.

Austin is located in Travis County, Texas.

Law enforcement in Austin is provided by the Austin Police Department, except for state government buildings, which are patrolled by the Texas Highway Patrol.

Fire protection is provided by the Austin Fire Department, and emergency medical services are provided by Austin-Travis County EMS.

Politics

The controversy that dominated Austin politics during the 1990s was the conflict between environmentalists and advocates of urban growth. The city council has in the past tried to mitigate the controversy by advocating smart growth, but growth and environmental protection are still the most divisive issues in city politics.

Austin is well known as a center for liberal politics in a generally conservative state. Suburban neighborhoods in Austin, especially to the west and north, and several satellite municipalities, however, tend toward political conservatism.

As a result of the major party realignment that began in the 1970s, central Austin became a stronghold of the Democratic Party while the suburbs tend to vote Republican. One consequence of this is that in the most recent redistricting plan, formulated by former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay and enacted by the Republican-majority legislature, the central city has been split among multiple, sprawling districts. Opponents characterized the resulting districting layout as excessively partisan gerrymandering, and the plan was challenged in court on this basis by Democratic and minority activists; of note, the Supreme Court of the United States has never struck down a redistricting plan for being excessively partisan. The plan was subsequently upheld by a three-judge federal panel in late 2003, and on June 28, 2006, the matter was largely settled when the Supreme Court in a 7-2 decision upheld the entire congressional redistricting plan with the exception of a Hispanic-majority district in southwest Texas. This may later affect Austin's districting, as U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett's district was found not to be sufficiently compact to compensate for the reduced minority influence in the southwest district.

Overall, the city is a blend of downtown liberalism and suburban conservatism, but leans strongly to the political left. In 2003, the city adopted a resolution against the USA PATRIOT act which reaffirmed constitutionally guaranteed rights. In the 2004 presidential election, Senator John Kerry won a substantial majority of the votes in Travis County as illustrated in this pictorial of votes by county Of Austin's six state legislative districts, three are strongly Democratic and three are swing districts all of which are held by Democrats. However, two of its three congressional districts are presently held by Republicans; this is largely due to the 2003 redistricting, which left downtown Austin without an exclusive congressional seat of its own. Travis County was also the only county in Texas to reject Texas Constitutional Amendment Proposition 2 — effectively outlawing gay marriage and status equal or similar to it — and did so by a wide margin (40% for, 60% against).

Austin is also an active area for the Libertarian Party. Although the Libertarians remain a third party, they occasionally garner substantial votes, and one of the past Libertarian presidential candidates, Michael Badnarik comes from Austin, while another, Ron Paul who ran for the 1988 presidential election as the Libertarian nominee, and for the Republican Party presidential nomination in 2008, and represented a congressional district that includes part of the greater Austin area.

Two of the candidates for President in the 2004 race call Austin home. Michael Badnarik, mentioned above as the Libertarian Party candidate, and David Cobb of the Green Party both have lived in Austin. During the run up to the election in November, a presidential debate was held at the University of Texas student union involving the two minor party candidates. While the Commission on Presidential Debates only invites Democrats and Republicans to participate in televised debates, the debate at UT was open to all presidential candidates. Austin also hosted one of the last Presidential debates between Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton during their heated race for the Democratic nomination in 2008.

Sister cities

List of sister cities of Austin, Texas, designated by Sister Cities International.

Economy

Austin is considered to be a major center for high technology. The metro area is the headquarters of two Fortune 500 companies: Dell and Whole Foods Market. Thousands of graduates each year from the engineering and computer science programs at The University of Texas at Austin provide a steady source of employees that help to fuel Austin's technology and defense industry sectors. The metro Austin area has much lower housing costs than Silicon Valley, but much higher housing costs than many parts of rural Texas. As a result of the high concentration of high-tech companies in the region, Austin was strongly affected by the dot-com boom in the late 1990s and subsequent bust. Austin's largest employers include the Austin Independent School District, the City of Austin, Dell, the United States Federal Government, Freescale Semiconductor (spun off from Motorola in 2004), IBM, St. David's Healthcare Partnership, Seton Healthcare Network, the State of Texas, Texas State University-San Marcos, and the University of Texas at Austin, The University of Texas. Other high-tech companies with operations in Austin include 3M Company, Apple Inc., Hewlett-Packard, AMD, Applied Materials, Cirrus Logic, Cisco, eBay/PayPal, Google, Hoover's, Inc., Intel, National Instruments, Samsung, Silicon Laboratories, Sun Microsystems and United Devices. The proliferation of technology companies has led to the region's nickname, "the Silicon Hills," and spurred development that greatly expanded the city to the north, south, east, and west.

Austin is also emerging as a hub for pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. About 85 companies from this industry are based in Austin. The city was ranked by the Milken Institute as the #12 biotech and life science center in the United States.

Whole Foods Market is a grocery store that specializes in organic, local, and natural foods and other goods. It was founded and based in Austin. As of August 25, 2008, Whole Foods has 271 stores in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

In addition to global companies, Austin features a strong network of independent, locally-owned firms and organizations, such as the Austin Independent Business Alliance. The success of these businesses reflects the high level of commitment by the citizens of Austin to preserving the unique spirit of the city, and has been tied to the "Keep Austin Weird" campaign.

Demographics

As of the census of 2000, there were 656,562 people, 265,649 households, and 141,590 families residing in the city (roughly comparable in size to San Francisco, Memphis, and Columbus). The population density was 2,610.4 people per square mile (1,007.9/km²). There were 276,842 housing units at an average density of 1,100.7/sq mi (425.0/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 65.36% White, 10.05% Black or African American, 4.72% Asian, 0.59% Native American, 0.07% Pacific Islander, 16.23% from other races. 2.99% were from two or more races. 30.55% of the population were Hispanic or Latino, who can be of any race. 52.94% of the population were Whites of non-Hispanic ancestry.

There were 265,648 households out of which 26.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 38.1% were married couples living together, 10.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 46.7% were non-families. 32.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 4.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.40 and the average family size was 3.14.

In the city the population was spread out with 22.5% under the age of 18, 16.6% from 18 to 24, 37.1% from 25 to 44, 17.1% from 45 to 64, and 6.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 30 years. For every 100 females there were 105.8 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $42,689, and the median income for a family was $54,091. Males had a median income of $35,545 vs. $30,046 for females. The per capita income for the city was $24,163. About 9.1% of families and 14.4% of the population were below the poverty line, including 16.5% of those under age 18 and 8.7% of those age 65 or over. From the year 2000 to 2005, the median house price in Austin grew 34 percent.

According to the US Census Bureau, as of July 2007 the Austin-Round Rock Metropolitan Area had 1,598,161 people. It is one of the top 5 fastest growing metro areas in the nation. If combined with the population of the San Antonio metropolitan area (over to the southwest) the region is home to about 3.6 million people.

Austin is consistently ranked among the three safest cities per capita of any size in many categories and for many reasons, especially because annually, per 100,000 people there are fewer than 5 people murdered.

Culture

As Austin's official slogan is The Live Music Capital of the World, the city has a vibrant live music scene with more music venues per capita than any other U.S. city. Austin's music revolves around the many nightclubs on 6th Street and an annual film/music/multimedia festival known as South by Southwest. The city also has a burgeoning circle of live performance theater venues such as: Zachary Scott Theatre Center, Vortex Repertory Company, Salvage Vanguard Theater, Arts on Real, Scottish Rite Children's Theater, Hyde Park Theatre, and Esther's Follies, a comedy and magic show. The longest-running concert music program on American television, Austin City Limits, is videotaped on the University of Texas at Austin campus. Austin City Limits and Capital Sports & Entertainment run the Austin City Limits Music Festival, an annual music and art festival held at Zilker Park in Austin. The long-running outdoor musical, the Zilker Park Summer Musical, expects to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2008. The Urban Music Festival is held during the Texas Relays weekend every April. Other annual events include Eeyore's Birthday Party, Spamarama, and the Austin Reggae Festival in April and Carnaval in February. Halloween, St Patrick's Day, Independence Day, and Juneteenth (Emancipation Day) are all widely celebrated, in addition to two important Mexican holidays, May 5 (Cinco de Mayo) and September 16.

Austinites take pride in eccentricities and celebrate differences and being different (in lifestyle, character, beliefs, etc.). Austin is the only major Texas city that has no ordinance against women appearing topless in public. "Keep Austin Weird" has become a local motto in recent years, featured on innumerable bumper stickers and t-shirts. This motto has not only been used in promoting Austin's eccentricity and diversity, but is also meant to bolster support of local and independent businesses. The art that gave Austin its reputation for being weird is featured at the South Austin Museum of Popular Culture.

According to the Nielsen Company, adults in Austin read and contribute to blogs more than those in any other U.S. metropolitan area.

Austin is also home to the O. Henry House Museum. O. Henry lived in a house built in Austin in 1891. The O. Henry House Museum hosts the annual O. Henry Pun Off, which is a pun contest where the contestants exhibit amazing wit. Ballet Austin is the fourth largest ballet academy in the country. Each year Ballet Austin's twenty member professional company performs ballets from a wide variety of choreographers, including their international award winning artistic director, Stephen Mills. Ballet Austin has traveled around the world performing in Europe, the Kennedy Center (Washington D.C.), and New York City's Joyce Theatre.

Nationally known Austinites include Willie Nelson, Lance Armstrong, Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Kevin Costner, Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez, and Michael Dell. Other well-known Austinites can be found in the List of Austinites.

Media

Austin has been the location for a number of motion pictures, partly due to the influence of The University of Texas at Austin's Department of Radio-Television-Film Films produced in Austin include Man of the House, Secondhand Lions, Waking Life, Spy Kids, Dazed and Confused, Office Space, The Life of David Gale, Miss Congeniality, Doubting Thomas, Slacker, Idiocracy, Road Trip, Blank Check, A Scanner Darkly, The Wendall Baker Story and most recently, Grindhouse and How To Eat Fried Worms. In order to draw future film projects to the area, the Austin Film Society has converted several airplane hangars from the former Mueller Airport into filmmaking center Austin Studios. Projects that have used facilities at Austin Studios include music videos by The Flaming Lips and feature films such as 25th Hour and Sin City. Austin also hosted the MTV series, The Real World: Austin in 2005.

Austin's main daily newspaper is the Austin American-Statesman. The Austin Chronicle is Austin's alternative weekly, while The Daily Texan is the student newspaper of the University of Texas. Austin also has smaller newspapers such as the Oak Hill Gazette, and Austin Business Journal. Texas Monthly, a major regional magazine, is also headquartered in Austin.

Austin hosts the annual Austin Film Festival, as well as the nationally acclaimed South by Southwest, which draw films of many different types from all over the world. In 2004 the city was first in Moviemaker Magazine's annual top ten cities to live and make movies. The 2007 South by Southwest festival included Pete Townshend, Iggy Pop, Tom Morello, and Rickie Lee Jones.

Austin hosts the annual Austin City Limits Music Festival, based on its own Austin City Limits television show. The festival and television show alike attract musical artists from around the world.

Local businesses and artists produce a lot of interesting handmade indie-fashion and organic-and-eco-friendly fashion, as can be seen on the 32nd street artist market, at festivals, and in many shops. Independent film is prominent in the city.

For a more complete list of Austin's various festivals, see the Wikitravel's Austin Travel Guide's Festivals list

Theaters

Austin also has a strong theater culture, with dozens of itinerant and resident companies producing a wide variety of work. From Esther's Follies on East 6th Street to Zachary Scott on South Lamar Boulevard, live entertainment can be found around the city. Many, many other theater groups exist and often perform publicly, collaborating often with dance and music groups. The Victory Grill was a renowned venue on the Chitlin' Circuit. Public art and performances of many kinds in the parts and on bridges is popular and it is easy to find a myriad of diverse and creative free productions.

The Paramount Theatre opened in downtown Austin in 1915. Managing to escape destruction throughout the years, it contributes not only to Austin's theater culture, but also to its film culture, showing a variety of classic films throughout the summer. The summer program features a series of double features, often paired with vintage cartoons or serials to complete the retro feel. Gone With the Wind is always shown, usually at the end of the season or over Labor Day weekend. The theater also hosts regional premieres for films such as Miss Congeniality.

In January 2007, Austin Lyric Opera hosted the American Premiere of the Philip Glass opera, Waiting for the Barbarians, an allegory of oppressor and oppressed based on the novel by John Maxwell Coetzee of South Africa. Coetzee, the Nobel Prize Winner for Literature in 2003, is a University of Texas at Austin graduate and former UT professor.

Austin is home to a growing improv comedy scene spread over several theaters: ColdTowne Theater, The Hideout Theater, and Salvage Vanguard Theater. Some of Austin's best known improv troupes include ColdTowne, The Frank Mills, Girls Girls Girls, Parallelogramophonograph, and Get Up.

Austin also hosts the annual Out of Bounds Improv Festival and Miniature Golf Tournament. Out of Bounds has drawn nationally known sketch and improv artists. Each year the festival has grown bigger, better, and more exciting. In 2008 Out of Bounds festival will host over 40 improv and sketch comedy troupes from 11 cities perform over 7 days. The 2008 festival has also been expanded to include stand-up and short films.

Sports

Austin is the largest city in the United States without a franchise in a major professional sports league. However, many Austinites enthusiastically support the University of Texas Longhorns' sports programs. The University of Texas football and baseball teams each won their respective national championships during the 2005-2006 seasons. Minor-league professional sports came to Austin in 1996, when the Austin Ice Bats began playing at the Travis County Expo Center. Since then, they have been joined by many other teams.

Austin Area Minor-League professional sports teams
Club Sport Founded League Venue
Round Rock Express Baseball 1999 Pacific Coast League Dell Diamond
Texas Stars Ice Hockey 2009 American Hockey League Cedar Park Event Center
Austin Aztex U23s Soccer 2008 Premier Development League Dragon Stadium
Austin Aztex Soccer 2009 United Soccer Leagues First Division
Austin Outlaws Football 2003 National Women's Football Association House Park
Austin Wranglers Arena Football 2004 Arena Football League 2 Frank Erwin Center
Austin Toros Basketball 2005 NBA D-League Austin Convention Center
Austin Blacks Rugby 1967 USA Rugby Austin Rugby Center
Austin Huns Rugby 1972 USA Rugby Zilker Park Rugby Field

In addition to team sports, Austin is generally known for its active outdoor culture. Austin is home to many runners, rock-climbers, swimmers, divers, snorkelers, mountain bikers, cyclists, and more. Natural features like the bicycle-friendly Texas Hill Country, limestone rock formations, and generally mild climate work with the centrally-located Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail, and local pools like Barton Springs to make Austin the home of several endurance and multi-sport races and communities. The Capitol 10,000 is the largest race in Texas, and approximately fifth largest in the nation. The Austin Marathon has been run in the city every year since 1992. The Austin-founded American Swimming Association hosts an open water swimming event, the Cap 2 K, and other closed-course, open water, and cable swim races around town. Austin is also the hometown of several cycling groups and the champion cyclist Lance Armstrong, as well as environmentally- and economically-minded bicycle commuters. Combining these three disciplines is a growing crop of triathlons, including the Capital of Texas Triathlon held every Memorial Day on and around Lady Bird Lake, Auditorium Shores, and Downtown Austin.

Tourist attractions

Many of the tourists that visit Austin come for its vibrant nightlife; however, there are many other attractions in Austin, including the Texas Memorial Museum, the Blanton Museum of Art (opened in 2006), the galleries at the Harry Ransom Center, and the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum across the street (which opened in 2000). The Texas State Capitol itself is also a major tourist attraction. The Driskill Hotel built in 1886, and located at 6th and Brazos, was finished just before the construction of the Capitol building. Sixth Street is a musical hub for the city but also includes annual festivals such as the Pecan Street Festival and Halloween night. The Enchanted Forest, a multi-acre outdoor music, art, and performance art space in South Austin, is a uniquely Austin haven that hosts unusual events such as fire-dancing and circus-like-acts. The three-day Austin City Limits Music Festival, held in Zilker Park every September since 2002, also brings many visitors from across the nation.

The Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge houses the world's largest urban population of Mexican free-tailed bats. Starting in late February, up to 1.5 million bats take up residence inside the bridge's expansion and contraction zones as well as in long horizontal grooves running the length of the bridge's underside, an environment ideally suited for raising their young. Every evening around sunset, the bats emerge in search of insects, an exit visible on weather radar. Watching the bat emergence is an event that is popular with locals and tourists, with more than 100,000 viewers per year. The bats migrate to Mexico each winter.

Considering Austin's "Earth-friendly" reputation, it is appropriate that the Austin Zoo, located in the Oak Hill neighborhood just north of US 290, is a rescue zoo that provides sanctuary to displaced animals from a variety of unfortunate and often neglectful situations.

Austin also has several well-known swimming locations. These include Deep Eddy Pool, Texas' oldest man-made swimming pool, and Barton Springs Pool, the nation's largest natural swimming pool in an urban area. Barton Springs Pool is spring-fed and ranges in temperature from about during the winter to about during the summer. Swimming in Barton Springs at Christmas is an annual tradition for many Austinites. Hippie Hollow, a county park situated along Lake Travis, is the only officially sanctioned clothing-optional public park in Texas. Activities include rockclimbing, kayaking, swimming, exploring, and hiking along the greenbelt, a green, lush, long-spanning area that runs through the city. Hamilton Pool is a gorgeous and cool (temperature-wise) pool and wildlife park located about 30 minutes from the city and is strongly recommended by many locals.

Farmers markets are popular attractions, providing a variety of locally grown and often organic goods.

Architectural landmarks

Buildings that make up Austin's skyline are modest in height and somewhat spread out. The latter characteristic is due to a restriction that preserves the view of the Texas State Capitol building from various locations around Austin. This is according to the report produced by theDowntown Commission Downtown Development and Capitol View Corridors. (2007). . The city's tallest building, 360 Condominiums, was topped out in late 2007. Austin's second tallest building, the Frost Bank Tower, opened in 2004 and stands at and is located at the corner of Congress Avenue and 4th Street. Austin is currently undergoing a skyscraper boom, which includes construction on the 360 Condominiums at , the Austonian at , and the T. Stacy Towers at and tall. By 2011, the Frost Bank Tower will be the only skyscraper built before 2005 to remain in the top ten tallest buildings in the city.

The iconic Pennybacker Bridge, also known as the "360 Bridge", crosses Lake Austin to connect north and south Loop 360.

At night, parts of Austin are lighted with "artificial moonlight." Several 165-foot moonlight towers, built in the late 19th century and recognized as historic landmarks, illuminate the central part of the city. Only 17 of the 31 original towers remain standing. The towers are featured in the film, Dazed and Confused. Austin's Zilker Park Tree is a Christmas display made of lights strung from the top of a Moonlight Tower in Zilker Park. The Zilker Tree is lit in December along with the "Trail of Lights," an Austin Christmas tradition.

Transportation

Central Austin is bracketed by Interstate 35 to the east and the Mopac Expressway to the west. U.S. Highway 183 runs from northwest to southeast, and State Highway 71 crosses southern part of the city from east to west, completing a rough "box" around the central and north-central city. Austin is the largest city in the United States to be served by only one Interstate Highway.

U.S. Highway 290 enters Austin from the east and merges into I-35. Its highway designation continues south on I-35 and then becomes part of Highway 71, continuing on to the west. Highway 290 becomes its own road again southwest of the city, when it splits from Highway 71 in a busy interchange in Oak Hill known as "The Y." Highway 71 continues as far west as Brady, TX, and Highway 290 continues west to intersect Interstate 10 near Junction. Interstate 35 continues south through San Antonio, TX, and continues to its culmination at Laredo, TX, which is on the Texas-Mexico border. Interstate 35 is the highway link to the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex in northern Texas. There are two links to Houston, TX (Highway 290 and State Highway 71/Interstate 10). Highway 183 leads northwest of Austin and is a route with other major highways to such cities as Abilene, San Angelo, Lubbock, Amarillo, Albuquerque and Denver.

In the mid-1980s, Austin completed construction on Loop 360, a scenic highway that curves through the hill country from near the 71/Mopac interchange in the south to near the 183/Mopac interchange in the north.

In November 2006, Austin opened the first segments of its first-ever tollway system: State Highway 130 runs from Georgetown, Hutto, Round Rock, Pflugerville, where it connects with 45, passes US 290 just between the city limits of Austin and Manor, extending around the east side of the city until it ends at 71 just east of the airport. The next segment will loop around the airport to the east and meet with US 183 south of Creedmoor, then the last few segments will continue southward until it reaches Interstate 10 in Seguin, east of San Antonio.

State Highway 45 runs east-west from just west of Highway 183 in Cedar Park to 130 inside Pflugerville (just south of Round Rock). From there it becomes 45 North/South and is cosigned with 130, currently where 130 ends. The project also included a tolled extension to Mopac that allows direct access to I-35.

The 183A Toll Road opened March 2007, providing a tolled alternative to 183 through the cities of Leander and Cedar Park.

Remaining segments of 45 and 130 are scheduled for completion in 2007. A separate segment of 45 still under development (State Highway 45 SE) will eventually connect US 183/State Highway 130 to I-35, in south Austin.

Austin's airport is Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (IATA code AUS), located southeast of the city. The airport is the former Bergstrom Air Force Base, which was closed in 1993 as part of the Base Realignment and Closure process.

Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Capital Metro) provides public transportation to the city, primarily by bus. CapMet is planning to change some routes to "Rapid Lines". The lines will feature 60-ft long, train-like high-tech buses. This addition is going to be implemeted to help reduce congestion. Capital Metro also is building a commuter rail system that is scheduled for completion in fall 2008. The system was built on existing freight rail lines and will serve downtown Austin, East Austin, Northcentral Austin, Northwest Austin, and Leander in its first phase. Future expansion could include a line to Manor and another to Round Rock. Capital Metro is also looking into a circulator system of streetcars to connect most of Downtown, the University of Texas, and the 700-acre Mueller Airport Redevelopment. The streetcar system would help connect the new rail line to key destinations in Central Austin. An Amtrak Texas Eagle station is located west of downtown. Segments of the Amtrak route between Austin and San Antonio are under evaluation for a future passenger rail corridor as an alternative to the traffic congestion of Interstate 35.

Education

Researchers at Central Connecticut State University ranked Austin the 23rd most literate city in America for 2007. It also was recently given the title of America's #1 College Town by the Travel Channel.

Higher education

Austin is home to The University of Texas at Austin, one of the largest universities in the country and the flagship institution of The University of Texas System. Other institutions of higher learning include Austin Community College, Concordia University, Huston-Tillotson University, St. Edward's University, the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, the Acton School of Business, Austin Graduate School of Theology, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and a branch of LeTourneau University.

Public schools

Most of the city is covered by the Austin Independent School District. Parts of Austin are served by other districts, including Round Rock Independent School District, Pflugerville Independent School District, Leander Independent School District, Manor Independent School District, Del Valle Independent School District, Lake Travis Independent School District, and Eanes Independent School District.

Private schools

Private and alternative education institutions for children in preschool-12th grade include Regents School of Austin, Garza (public), the Waldorf schools, The Griffin School, The Khabele School, San Juan Diego Prep, St. Austin Catholic School, St. Stephen's Episcopal School, St. Mary's, St. Michael's Catholic Academy, St. Andrew's Episcopal School, St. Francis School, Trinity Episcopal School, Huntington-Surrey, and many Montessori schools.

See also

Notes

External links

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