By Bill Oakey – May 9, 2014
Yesterday veteran Austin pollster, Peter Zandan, released the results of a survey called “The Zandan Poll: Voices of the Austin Community.” These words rose from the page upon my first glance at the report:
65% of Austinites are dissatisfied with the cost of housing
59% of them are dissatisfied with the cost of living
Not surprisingly, the typical media response to the survey incorporated lots of spin. That was easy to do because there were plenty of “feel good” responses about Austin as a city. KUT’s website trumpets the poll with the cheery headline, “Austinites Optimistic About City’s Future.” Two important words were left out of that statement. A more accurate telling would read “Very Young Austinites Optimistic About City’s Future.”
Even the numbers for the respondents aged 18-35 are far from universally rosy. 67% of them say that Austin is headed in the right direction. But 19%, almost one in five, say that the City is headed down the wrong track. Among the 35+ age group, the numbers are most disturbing. Only 46% say that we are headed in the right direction, while a whopping 37% say that we are moving down the wrong track.
Mr. Zandan should be commended for producing this survey at his own expense. His goal was to start a conversation about where Austin is headed and the challenges that the community faces. No amount of media spin can wipe away the underlying concerns about affordability. Traffic and water are highlighted as well. The most positive results from the poll indicate that people love Austin and would like to remain living here. They would recommend our city to their friends as a fun place to live. And, yes, Austin’s “weirdness” also fared well in the survey.
It is unthinkable to me that anyone with the power of the pen would not publicize all of the concerns expressed in such an important report. The trend lines for Austin’s future do not look very encouraging. If 59% of Austinities are not happy with the cost of living today, how in the heck are they going to deal with it five years from now? We have two basic choices. We can either pretend that Austin is one big party town, go out and enjoy the drunken binge of full throttle growth and festival fun, and not worry about the huge hangover that looms over it all. Or, we can step out of denial and admit that bold, innovative, and decisive action is our only hope to avoid some sort of highly volatile boom and bust cycle.
As I have stated before to our elected officials and those seeking to replace them – your most ominous opponent is the quiet inertia of business as usual. The path that we are on now is literally unsustainable on many levels.
The young hipsters of today’s Austin will be looking for houses to raise their own families in a few short years. They will step across the line of that survey into the 35+ age column. What fate will await them at that point? Perhaps our status quo growth model will try to push them out and replace them with a fresh batch of new young hipsters. But by that time, the prospective newbies may have already seen the handwriting on their virtual reality screens. Those may show scenes of a few white-gloved ladies on Congress Avenue, escorted by guys who just stepped out of their lamborghinis. But the screens may also show an eerie calm on the street. Where did the rest of the people go? And who put those boards on all the store windows?