I came to Austin to compete in the CleanTech Open and attend the Clean Energy Venture Summit but, as long as I was already going to be here, Katie came up and brought Max and we stayed an extra day for a mini vacation. We’ve always liked Austin a lot and periodically we discuss whether we should be living there instead of Houston. Having a dog with us has added more points in Austin’s favor but the debate is still inconclusive. Following are a few thoughts about how the two cities differ:
Social Culture: Austin has a more laid-back, hippie vibe whereas Houston has more of a formal business-driven culture. Winner: Austin
Active Culture: Austin wins by far when it comes to fitness and outdoor activities. Pedestrian friendly, biker friendly, outdoor activities friendly – Austin is basically everything that Houston isn’t in this regard. With a big spring-fed natural open swimming pool right (Barton Springs) and running/walking trails around the lakes, it’s positively easy to be outdoor-active. Plus, as we discovered on this trip, both the social and active culture extend to pet owners. Most restaurants with patios are dog-friendly outside and there are many off-leash parks throughout the city. We even took Max for his first swim in the tributary right by Barton Springs! Winner: Austin by a mile
Arts Culture: While Austin does have some of the visual and performing arts, Houston is clearly the heavyweight between the two. Austin has a few indie arts festivals but I would frankly rather be a visitor for those than a local. With world class symphony, opera, ballet, and theater – not to mention acclaimed art and science museums, Houston wins this one by a landslide.
Food: Culture: Austin has more natural/hippie options (It is the HQ of Whole Foods, after all!) while Houston has more options for fine dining. Houston is closer to the coast and offers a wide range of fresh, local seafood. Winner: Houston
Climate: Houston and Austin are pretty close geographically and have very similar climates. Houston has more humidity, rainfall, and then there’s that occasional hurricane. Winner: Austin
Scenery: Austin’s rolling hill country and lakescapes are absolutely beautiful. Houston, well . . . Winner: Austin
Urban Lifestyle: For both sustainability reasons and personal convenience, I prefer to live an urban lifestyle, living, working, socializing, etc. within the boundaries of a central hub. While Houston still requires a car to get around (Oh how I miss Lausanne!), I do spend 90% of my time within a 3-mile radius. Austin has made some strides in this area recently but I still get the impression that you need to drive all over the spread-out town. Winner: Houston
Internationalization: Although the demographics of the two cities are relatively similar, Houston has a much more international outlook than Austin. With 89 foreign consulates, Houston has the third-largest foreign diplomatic presence after Washington DC and New York City. Many people I meet in Houston are from other places outside of the US; they speak multiple languages and have traveled the world. Most people I meet in Austin are pretty focused on Texas. Having lived and worked abroad I really appreciate the global mindset. Winner: Houston
Travel: Katie and I both enjoy traveling and both Houston and Austin are centrally located, able to reach just about anywhere in the continental US within 4ish hours of flight time. Houston’s airport is much, much bigger, though, and has more direct flights throughout the US. For international travel, Houston is the only option. Winner: Houston
School: Austin likes to boast that they don’t need pro sports teams because they have the University of Texas. I think that’s really cool, especially since I like college sports better than pro sports. However, I don’t like UT and I have no desire to build out a wardrobe of burnt orange! Austin has UT; Houston has Rice. Winner: Houston
Network: I have a pretty good network in both cities but I’ve spent more of my career in Houston so my network is larger there. I’m pretty sure I could build my Austin network up quickly, though, if I were there fulltime so I’m only giving a slight edge to Houston.
Grandeur: I don’t know quite how to label this category but here I’m referring to the “importance” of the city. Austin has much more of a small town feel whereas I walk through downtown Houston and I feel the world’s largest businesses moving and shaking all around me. Winner: Houston
So, as you can see, I’m somewhat divided on the Houston-Austin question. Perhaps this reflects the dichotomy within me: the tech entrepreneur and the aspiring global business leader. Regardless, I really enjoy both places and, if only we could get high-speed rail lines between them, it wouldn’t even matter which one I called home!
Thanks for a great trip, Austin; I always love visiting and I’ll be back soon!