austin, texas.

Do a trip report here....go to another city and want to relate it to what KC is doing right or could do better? Give us a summary in here.
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austin, texas.

Post by chrizow »

i just returned from spending two weeks in austin.  here are my thoughts.  forgive me for completely dogging on  kansas city.

1. "VIBRANCY" -  i was there during UT's winter break, when most of the students were out of town, and the city was still 20x more vibrant than kansas city.  downtown austin is just ridiculous in terms of nightlife.  granted, most of the bars are of the frat-boy/Spring Break variety, at least on 6th street, but there are cool, more "adult" places to hang out all over downtown austin.  there are probably 25 bars in a 5 block area just in the main bar district, plus the bars nearby on the perimeter of the district.  they close the street at night to permit proper partying.  i don't want to imagine what that scene is like when the students are in town.  christ.  i assume that warm weather + 50,000 college students + huge influx of moneyed young professionals = good nightlife in a city.  austin has that. 

2. "URBANITY/BUILT ENVIRONMENT" - austin isn't very urban.  to me, the entire metro feels like an austin-sized slice of los angeles, only much less dense.  most of the development is comprised of 60s-80s apartments, low-level street-facing retail, and some newer, beige, denver/seattle-style 6-10-story condo buildings.  there are some very, very cool neighborhoods in austin though.  the huge influx of money down there has resulted in some truly incredible (and often hideous) homes.  also, near campus, lots of people have rehabbed older homes (40s bungalows -->60s ranches) to make them really cool.  there are lots of "Dwell" style modern homes and rehabs.  downtown austin is pretty decent in terms of built environment.  it is probably the size of downtown Clayton, MO, but contains the aforementioned bar/nightlife scene that puts KC (and most cities) to shame.

here is what is important to me:  austin is a great example of how a city can be awesome and vibrant without being very "urban" or pedestrian oriented.  (it is definitely bike-oriented though.).  the urban core of austin outside downtown is rather (dense) suburban, but it is incredibly healthy, fun, and interesting.  attitude and interest in the city can go a long way - after all, there are plenty of dense, pedestrian oriented cities in america that are complete shitholes, and there are cities like austin and, say, many CA cities, that aren't very ped-friendly but blow many "dense" cities out of the water. 

3. "ATTITUDE" - this is where austin just destroys KC, STL, and most cities i have been to.  when you are in austin, there is this feeling in the air that austin is AWESOME!!!  people who live in austin fucking LOVE austin.  there is so much pride and interest in the city, unlike the naysaying attitude most have in KC.  perhaps suburban austin is like KC in this regard, but i doubt it.  obviously, there are bars and restaurants and attractions in the suburbs, but downtown Austin (and the Guadalupe/student ghetto area) is very clearly the "magnet" of the metro.  it attracts people during the day for work, and it attracts people at night for drinking and dining. 

4. "MISC" - if austin weren't so f'n hot and sunny all the time, i would consider moving there from KC in a heartbeat, despite the ugliness of its built environment.  i love the progress KC is making, but it is sad to see a metro half the size of KC that is twice as vibrant, interesting, and healthy.  KC seems to have a bigger/better art scene, which is cool.  the austin museum of art is approximately the size of the Kemper.  austin's music scene is like the KC/lawrence scene multiplied by six.  austin is very progressive politically as well (or at least its residents are - i don't know anything about its municipal politics).  it is a non-smoking bar city too, which is awesome.  it's great to come home from the bars and not need to hook myself up to a breathing machine.    there are also numerous large farmers markets and organic co-ops all over the city, making great food available to everyone.  great restaurants too, although i suspect KC competes very well in this category - except for the organic/vegetarian category: austin has at least 6 veggie restaurants and KC has, like, two. 

overall, austin kicks a lot of ass, especially for its size.  it is definitely a west coast-y city, with an obvious texas fetish.  austin makes me wish KU were in the heart of KC.  sorry folks, i must say that Austin is basically superior to KC in all aspects relevant to a 25 year old male.  :)  austin traffic, however, makes me want to shoot myself. 

thoughts?
Last edited by chrizow on Thu Jan 12, 2006 11:07 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: austin, texas.

Post by bahua »

Austin is fantastic. Except for the god-awful summers, I'd love to live there. The Hilton downtown is excellent, and they support the government rate, which is great for whenever I'm flying in and out for work up at Ft. Hood.
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Re: austin, texas.

Post by trailerkid »

It's laughable to compare Austin to KCMO. I'd say they're pretty much opposites.

...and a lot of people move to Austin because they think Austin is the shit. It's also like that to a lesser degree in Lawrence. People move to KC because of jobs or family, but that's slowly changing with the stuff happening with the downtown rebirth.
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Re: austin, texas.

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Chrizow, interesting observations.  Why do you think Austin is so vibrant when you say it isn't very urban?   Maybe it is the combination of university and state capital.   Same as Madison, Wisconsin.   If Missouri's main university were in Jefferson City, it might have had a similar dynamic.  The combination of youth/creative culture and stability of state government center.  As it is, their assets are divided.  If they were combined, Missouri might have had a much bigger city midway between STL & KC.  That might be why Columbus is one of Ohio's most thriving cities.  Just a thought.

What can cities like KC to do get the same dynamic & vibrancy?   You make a good point, too bad Lawrence can't be dropped into Midtown KC.  Too late for that.   Trailerkid makes a good point, people don't move to KC to party. They move to KC for jobs and family.  Rebuilding the central city is making it attractive to a wider group of people, which in the long run will add vibrancy & energy.   

Plus, don't forget.  There is nothing like being away from home.   When you are away from home, you don't take things for granted and you don't see the problems below the surface.   People visit Kansas City and are impressed.  KC has it's own look & vibe. 
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Re: austin, texas.

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trailerkid wrote: It's laughable to compare Austin to KCMO. I'd say they're pretty much opposites.
so people can't compare/contrast things that are markedly different?  isn't that the point of comparisons? 

while i feel that austin is substantially more lively than kansas city, i frequently found myself seeing kansas city in parts of austin.  basically, most of the core of austin is sort of like westport in over to the 39th/KU Med area.  chains and independent stuff mixed together, nodes of walkability separated by parking lots and gas stations and residential, mixed-uses in neighborhoods and many kinds of housing styles, fairly eclectic people, etc.
...and a lot of people move to Austin because they think Austin is the shit.
people are correct to move to austin because it is the shit.  i also suspect that people move to austin for jobs too.  austin seems like a pretty healthy job market, since it is the state capital, contains an enormous public university, and also has all the health care, business, service, legal, etc. jobs you would expect in a 1M-person metro. 

it's just too fucking sunny.  8)
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Re: austin, texas.

Post by trailerkid »

chrizow wrote: so people can't compare/contrast things that are markedly different?  isn't that the point of comparisons? 
There's so little in common it just seems sort of futile. You can compare KCMO to Emporia if you'd like, but what's the point?

The most similar city to Austin is probably Columbus. Put KU X2 at 39th and Main and KC would be scary...but it's not.
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Re: austin, texas.

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Expat wrote: Chrizow, interesting observations.  Why do you think Austin is so vibrant when you say it isn't very urban? 
i think it is a combination of (a) U of Texas is enormous and (b) it has become an "it" city for the professional and creative class over the last decade.  this makes it a (ostensbily) "youthful" city.  
What can cities like KC to do get the same dynamic & vibrancy?   You make a good point, too bad Lawrence can't be dropped into Midtown KC.  Too late for that.   Trailerkid makes a good point, people don't move to KC to party. They move to KC for jobs and family.  Rebuilding the central city is making it attractive to a wider group of people, which in the long run will add vibrancy & energy.
the main thing KC needs to change is the pervasive anti-KCMO attitude in the metro.  KCMO has more than enough people to create a VERY vibrant and fun/funky urban core, but only a relatively small subset of people in the metro consider the core of KCMO to be the "it" place in the metro.  most people, it seems, including young adults, are content to live in garden apartment complexes in Lenexa.  in austin, "going out" means "going to central austin," whereas in KC "going out" is just as likely to mean "going to Barley's on 119th."  basically, university towns tend to have vibrant downtowns and urban cores, and Austin is the big kahuna of university towns.  add thousands of government jobs, lots of white collar/tech jobs, and tens of thousands of young adults intentionally migrating to the city, and you have a recipe for a hoppin' city.  

i don't want to join the KC naysayers, but i really don't think KC will ever reach the levels of vibrancy seen in 21st century boomtowns like seattle, portland, austin, etc. (or 1930s KC for that matter).  the only way i think urban KC can do that is to (a) win the hearts and minds of MOST of the metro and (b) somehow attract young professionals and creative people to the city in hordes.  don't get me wrong, i love KC and love the direction it is heading, but it is at least 10 years behind those cities.  KC doesn't have to become the next Denver or Seattle, but i can't help but be impressed by other cities and disappointed by kansas city.  i have no doubt that many visitors are impressed by kansas city - probably because (a) they have low expectations and (b) kansas city really is a pretty neat place.  i'd just like to see it become a little more exciting for young people.  it's fine, and it's cheap, but it isn't particularly inspiring.  also, while i am pleased that the Cordish company sees a golden opportunity to make some bank using the virtual blank slate of the South Loop, i am less than proud to admit that the biggest thing going on in kansas city is a really expensive canned tourist district.  
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Re: austin, texas.

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trailerkid wrote: There's so little in common it just seems sort of futile.
i disagree.  austin, like KC, is a beacon of light in a conservative state.  austin, like KC, is a center for business and arts and culture in its region.  austin, unlike KC, is the state capital and contains a giant university.  that's the main difference - and clearly that is a big difference.

i think the main reason i am so amped about austin and poo-poo on KC right now is because, to me, austin felt like KC if KC were about 10 times more fun. 
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Re: austin, texas.

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I can see where Chrizow is coming from (even though i've never been to Austin).  I had a bunch of friends in college who headed for Austin once they were done (they were mostly graphic artists, musicians, etc types).  I think the fact that they would forsake a much larger mid-western city for a small metro in Texas says volumes for the attractiveness of Austin (and the trouble bigger midwestern cities (not including Chicago) have in attracting large numbers of young creative people right now).

It's a shame really, since cities like Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis and KC have the built environment and population to create very vibrant and eclectic neighborhoods/districts to rival anything places like Austin have to offer (and in many cases already do).  Chrizow hit it on the head in terms of the diffusion problem in KC. 
There are lots of creative, hip people out in the burbs (believe it or not), who just haven't got to know mid-town and downtown enough to naturally head there for fun, or consider moving there.  Not to mention many of those people have lots of more conventional friends who simply wouldn't want to go anywhere urban out of exaggerated fears or lack of interest.  Another problem is distances and car dependency, lots of people just want to go to the closest, most familiar thing, not wanting to drive 20 minutes to get a bite to eat (or get drunk, and then worry about how to get back out to the burbs).

Another issue is the largeness and history of our cities, and the fact that because there are so many existing neighborhoods and districts that need to be preserved and revitalized, it is harder to create an outright critical mass with so many different neighborhoods growing at the same time.  Perhaps, if all we had was the Rivermarket, i'm sure it would be easier to concentrate development and activity there, and have one balls to the wall district where anyone looking to have some urban fun with lots of options within walking distance would head to.  Then, whenever someone came into town and headed to the Rivermarket they would be wowed.  It's a double edged sword really....

Even though no one neighborhood in KC has it all together (excepting maybe the Plaza), I think we have a good number of moderately attractive neighborhoods and districts that are continuing to grow.  Its a slow process, and of little comfort to those of us who are young NOW, and want an awesome urban district to hang out in, but in terms of the longer term health and attractiveness of KC and other mid-western cities, I think once they have these neighborhoods going full speed they will have a leg up on many of today's boom towns.  It's just going to take a longer time.
KC Region is all part of the same animal regardless of state and county lines.
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Re: austin, texas.

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ComandanteCero wrote:
Another issue is the largeness and history of our cities, and the fact that because there are so many existing neighborhoods and districts that need to be preserved and revitalized, it is harder to create an outright critical mass with so many different neighborhoods growing at the same time.  Perhaps, if all we had was the Rivermarket, i'm sure it would be easier to concentrate development and activity there, and have one balls to the wall district where anyone looking to have some urban fun with lots of options within walking distance would head to.  Then, whenever someone came into town and headed to the Rivermarket they would be wowed.  It's a double edged sword really....
This is an interesting point.  Does Austin have all its eggs in one basket, giving it more wow factor?  Is everything downtown?  Do they have a midtown, an uptown shopping district, well developed streetcar neighborhoods like Brookside, historic neighborhoods outside of downtown, like Westport?    If all the fun stuff from Waldo to River Market were jammed into downtown, the vibrancy would knock you out.  I like cities that have a variety of neighborhoods to visit.  It could get boring to hang out in the same neighborhood every day, no matter how great it is.  I am not making excuses, but wonder if this might be why a smaller city like Austin would appear to have more vibrancy.
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Re: austin, texas.

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chrizow wrote:i think the main reason i am so amped about austin and poo-poo on KC right now is because, to me, austin felt like KC if KC were about 10 times more fun. 
...And you had to visit Austin to find this out?

If you're a Harvey Pekar, KCMO is for you. If you're a Owen Wilson, Austin is for you.
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Re: austin, texas.

Post by chrizow »

trailerkid wrote:
If you're a Harvey Pekar, KCMO is for you. If you're a Owen Wilson, Austin is for you.
what if you're 50% Pekar, 50% Wilson?  :lol:
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Re: austin, texas.

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further, my guess is that there are more Pekars in Austin as well.  :)
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Re: austin, texas.

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^I would disagree there.  Pekar is such a quintessentially rustbelt/old run down city character his type wouldn't be possible in an Austin, or any sunbelt city for that matter.  Not to say there aren't equally eccentric and interesting characters in sunbelt cities, but the Pekar mold is (IMO) too Cleveland to be possible in a place like Austin.

hmmm, I think this subject calls for its own thread.  People or characters who represent a particular moment and place in city history and culture. 

For example:

Woody Allen = Post WW2 NYC
Beach Boys = Post WW2 LA/California
Big Lebowski = Post 60's LA
Harvey Pekar = Rustbelt Mid-west (but Cleveland in particular)
Wes Anderson/Owen Wilson = Contemporary Alt. Austin

hmmm, this is tough, not to mention there is a mixture of fictional and real, and individuals and groups....

Is there an equivalent character for KC....?
KC Region is all part of the same animal regardless of state and county lines.
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Re: austin, texas.

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i don't want to step on toes, but probably there are more 20-something-kids-who-want-to-be-harvey-pekar-in-austin, and more lonely-middle-aged-fringe-lunatics-who've-never-heard-of-harvey-pekar-but-have-more-in-common-with-him-than-trendoid-austinkiddies in kc.
does that make sense?
let me put it this way, i don't like austin.  i didn't like even when it was still supposedly cool ('90-'95 r.i.p.).  i don't like any of the flavor of the month cities (i'm looking at you portland).  and i don't like college towns.  i'm not trying to shit on anyone, i had fun the first 2 years i was in lawrence for college, but you grow out of it.  austin might hold one's interest till about 25, but it's still just a college town, mired in childish facial hair experiments and frat bar culture. and austin's musical heyday is long, long gone.  a sort of organic anti-nashville country music flower has wilted away under the glare of press kits for sxsw and the droves of mediocrity that follow the lights.
i'm only 27, so i'm a little way from the supposed doldrums of middle age, and already college towns bore the shit out of me.  and especially if they're in texas, because even in austin, you can't wash that off a person.  the silly college football obsession of people who've never been to college, the non-stop texas-is-bigger shit, i just don't like those fuckers.  in fact if i had to pick the two most full-of-shit, boring, uninteresting, predictable, annoying and embarrassing groups of people in america i would choose texans and college kids. so a texas sized college town doesn't do it for me.
the point being, i wouldn't trade all the street life in the world for having to share a street with those people.  i'll take a failed, sleepy, blighted, fat, fucked up kansas city over austin, texas any day.  in fact, i'd take houston over austin, and that is as damning a thing as i can think of to say.
i understand envying the "vibrancy",  but if vibrancy just means "21-25-year-old-kids"  i guess i don't think its that cool.  not that there's no place for that.  i'm sure austin or madison is a fun place to spend 4 years of your life and an untold quantity of your parents' money,  but i don't think of them as model cities.  ditto the "creative class" magnet cities everybody raves about.  it'd be silly to say i think kansas city is "more fun" than ausitn...but i have more fun here,  where i don't have to dress ironically yet i can still avoid the adult fratboys.  i think harvey pekar is on my side of that fence.  and we're not alone.

new bumpersticker: "keep kansas city uncool"
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Re: austin, texas.

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chingon wrote: i don't want to step on toes, but probably there are more 20-something-kids-who-want-to-be-harvey-pekar-in-austin, and more lonely-middle-aged-fringe-lunatics-who've-never-heard-of-harvey-pekar-but-have-more-in-common-with-him-than-trendoid-austinkiddies in kc.
does that make sense?
let me put it this way, i don't like austin.  i didn't like even when it was still supposedly cool ('90-'95 r.i.p.).  i don't like any of the flavor of the month cities (i'm looking at you portland).  and i don't like college towns.  i'm not trying to shit on anyone, i had fun the first 2 years i was in lawrence for college, but you grow out of it.  austin might hold one's interest till about 25, but it's still just a college town, mired in childish facial hair experiments and frat bar culture. and austin's musical heyday is long, long gone.  a sort of organic anti-nashville country music flower has wilted away under the glare of press kits for sxsw and the droves of mediocrity that follow the lights.
i'm only 27, so i'm a little way from the supposed doldrums of middle age, and already college towns bore the shit out of me.  and especially if they're in texas, because even in austin, you can't wash that off a person.  the silly college football obsession of people who've never been to college, the non-stop texas-is-bigger shit, i just don't like those fuckers.  in fact if i had to pick the two most full-of-shit, boring, uninteresting, predictable, annoying and embarrassing groups of people in america i would choose texans and college kids. so a texas sized college town doesn't do it for me.
the point being, i wouldn't trade all the street life in the world for having to share a street with those people.  i'll take a failed, sleepy, blighted, fat, fucked up kansas city over austin, texas any day.  in fact, i'd take houston over austin, and that is as damning a thing as i can think of to say.
i understand envying the "vibrancy",  but if vibrancy just means "21-25-year-old-kids"  i guess i don't think its that cool.  not that there's no place for that.  i'm sure austin or madison is a fun place to spend 4 years of your life and an untold quantity of your parents' money,  but i don't think of them as model cities.  ditto the "creative class" magnet cities everybody raves about.  it'd be silly to say i think kansas city is "more fun" than ausitn...but i have more fun here,  where i don't have to dress ironically yet i can still avoid the adult fratboys.  i think harvey pekar is on my side of that fence.  and we're not alone.

new bumpersticker: "keep kansas city uncool"
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Re: austin, texas.

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Chingon, are you actually Harvey Pekar? 

I think the Harvey Pekar thing is a good point, whoever brought it up first. 
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Re: austin, texas.

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i don't really want to live in a "college town" either.  i do not relish the thought of being surrounded by undergrads all the time.  austin isn't a "college town" in the sense that lawrence or columbia or even madison is. 

i agree with chingon's sentiments about "texans and college kids" but i really don't think "sharing a street" with KU fans or 'necks in KC is much better.  :lol:  it also isn't difficult to see that KC holds its own in terms of "adult frat guy" nightlife.  texas' football/UT obsession is regrettable, but is it any different than KU hoops fanatics, Chiefs fanatics, or Cards fanatics?  nope. 

and as ridiculous as texas is and as inflated as many texans' view of texas is, there isn't much reason to believe that, on balance, texas is any worse than missouri or kansas.  all three are red states in flyover country that are seas of rednecks with some cool cities.  besides, i would absolutely LOVE to see a bit of texas-style pride in kansas city.  johnson countians have texas-sized pride in their homeland, after all.  it would be great to see that sort of general public enthusiasm for urban KCMO. 

i love KC and think it has a lot to offer.  i am moving back next summer, after all, and i am fairly pleased about that.....buuut i will be trying to find job opportunities in other cities, including "flavor of the month" cities like seattle or portland, because (in my estimation) those cities offer more options in almost every conceivable measure of cities.

i don't measure "vibrancy" as 21-25 year olds everywhere either.  like i said in my report from austin, most of the college kids weren't even in town since it was winter break.  the "vibrancy" came from bona fide austin residents.  i was just noting that the city seems more "alive" than KC DESPITE the absence of 50,000 undergrads. 

as for "keep kansas city uncool," i don't think we need a campaign affirmatively advocating such a phenomenon, as kansas city will maintain its uncool/underdog status for many generations. 

further, this harvey pekar thing is absurd.  what sort of measure is that?  who the hell knows where more "harvey pekar" types live and who cares?  do we measure cities by how many night watchmen or custodians there are with a secret literary bent or world-class quartz collection?

i like austin because there are more things i like there:  cool bookstores, lots of good movie houses, good record stores, good bars, good music scene (which despite being past its heyday still creams KC/lawrence), interesting clothing stores, fun outdoors recreation options, a more rich literary scene, a better attitude regarding the city, more progressive-thinking people, and of course the recent flood of educated people under 40. 

kansas city has a better art scene, more interesting architecture, more variety in terms of neighborhoods, more varied weather, fewer texans, less traffic, and presumably a more diverse culinary scene, but that's about it.  so it goes.
Last edited by chrizow on Sat Jan 14, 2006 11:39 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: austin, texas.

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chrizow wrote: i like austin because there are more things i like there:  cool bookstores, lots of good movie houses, good record stores, good bars, good music scene (which despite being past its heyday still creams KC/lawrence), interesting clothing stores, fun outdoors recreation options, a more rich literary scene, a better attitude regarding the city, more progressive-thinking people, and of course the recent flood of educated people under 40. 

kansas city has a better art scene, more interesting architecture, more variety in terms of neighborhoods, more varied weather, fewer texans, less traffic, and presumably a more diverse culinary scene, but that's about it.  so it goes.
And what's funny is I agree with you about all this. I thought we already established that Austin "cooler" than KCMO in most every respect. And KCMO is still 100X more interesting than Austin. I'd much rather live in a city where people go to the Monster Trucks at Kemper than one where someone wears a scarf when it's not even cold and buys Sufjan Stevens records. :puke:

Austin is obsessed with itself. It is so fucking in love with itself it makes you wanna throw up in your mouth. I'd rather live around people and places that look like they belong in an Errol Morris documentary rather than a Richard Linklater movie. This is all I'm saying and I don't really see an argument.
chrizow wrote: what if you're 50% Pekar, 50% Wilson?   :lol:
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Re: austin, texas.

Post by bahua »

I judge cities almost entirely on what the selection of beer on tap is. Seriously.

Austin beats KC on the bahuameter, but then again, so do most cities outside the midwest, with the notable standout exceptions of Dallas and LA.
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