I’m usually a lurker in these forums, as I’m not a mom yet, more, well, a queer someday-parent who’s attempting to assuage her crazed baby lust by reading about others and obsessively planning for a future family. That said, I do live in Austin and figured this might be a good time to delurk and share (since you’ve all shared so much with me)….
Here’s everything I can think of about Austin, good and bad. (Hoo boy, I just re-read before posting and I am incredibly long-winded.) I’m sure I’ll forget something you need/want to know, so feel free to ask specific questions here or by PM and I’ll try to fill you in.
I’ve lived in Austin since 2003, though I’ll be moving at some point now that I’m done with grad school. I’ve lived in a bunch of different places, U.S. and abroad, but have spent most of my life in New England—I grew up in VT, went to the infamous lesbian college of Lesbianville, MA and then worked in Boston for a few years before moving out here for grad school—so Texas was quite a culture shock for me. I imagine it isn’t so very different from Georgia, though, so if you’ve lived in the south before, there aren’t any real surprises there. They like guns (even the gays, which I found startling) and jeans are always in the dress code.
Austin itself is very cool and crunchy. It’s a college town, so there is always a lot going on culturally. If you like live music, this is the place to be, and even though the ubiquitous “Keep Austin weird” t-shirts are probably a little outdated, as it’s outgrown its small and quirky rep a little bit, it’s still very much a liberal paradise, complete with possibilities for spot-the-Prius car games and options for organic produce ranging from Whole Foods to a co-op to a organic home delivery service and tons of farmer’s markets all around. Texas is also the land of the truck and the SUV and even though Austin is known for being a biking community (and lots of people do bike here successfully, including Lance Armstrong), I’ve found riding my bike here scary as drivers are fairly intolerant and it can be hard to get from place to place avoiding highways and other inhospitable areas.
The community seems to be very AP-friendly, though I don’t know a lot of families with kids. I’m not sure if you’re planning more kids, but the midwife situation does seem to be a little bit tenuous—it’s legal, but until recently there were no midwives in hospitals here and the home/center birth midwives don’t have a lot of backup/support from OBs. Actually, I guess that would be the status quo in the U.S., but I found it surprising in such a generally crunchy town that the birth community would be so medicalized.
Austin has a fairly large queer community, though I’m not sure how family-oriented it is (despite being older, somehow at UT I ended up with a lot of undergraduate guy friends, so most of my exposure to the wider Austin community has been clubs, and gay ones at that, which I know is a small part of the overall). Again, it’s the south, and as the capital and home of the largest state school in Texas, it draws a lot of people in from all over much less liberal parts of the state, so it’s not exactly San Francisco gay-friendly. I’ve heard of a few incidents of gay-bashing over the years, but it doesn’t seem to be widespread and in 7 years here hanging out all over town with some very flamboyant boys (by myself, I don’t really ding people’s gaydar), I’ve never seen anyone react badly to us (sometimes a bit confused
but never nasty). I recently met my first lesbian mom here in Austin (I think her kids are 4 and 8) and she told me most of the people they socialize with are straight, but she knew several other lesbian parents that had kids around the same time and just hadn’t clicked with them. If you’re interested in more specifics about Austin crunchy/queer family life, I’ll be happy to ask her questions. We’re in an exercise program together where we do warm-up laps and chat, so I can definitely find out more.
I would say the major drawbacks of Austin for me are:
- It’s HOT (Vermonters are not made for this weather)
- It’s famously for being an allergy city (it takes a couple of years to develop, but I’m super-allergic now and I’d never had environmental allergies before)
- It’s spread out (compared to eastern cities) and growing fast and has only marginal public transportation. Plus, everyone local thinks you’re really weird if you take the bus regularly. (It’s like a pathological fear almost, shading to outright awe that you could possible live without a car.) Oh, and traffic is pretty bad, if you do have a car and just seems to keep getting worse and worse.
- I hate living in a red state and feeling as though my vote and voice doesn’t matter. (Why bother to write my senator when his overt preference is that me and everyone like me just spontaneously combust? He’s sure as hell not going to vote for ENDA.) Also, Christians scare me a little bit and there’s no shortage here.
The major advantages:
- Despite being surrounded by Texas, it is a liberal mecca and full of culture and like-minded people.
- Austinites are very environmentally-aware (though this isn't always supported by Texas law and policy) and Austin is a city that is green and growing greener (this is my field, so it's a huge thing for me, but may not be as important to others)
- I like the diversity of the greater Austin community and Texas compared to where I grew up (though this depends very much on where you live, as parts of Austin are extremely non-diverse)
- It has about the best weather you’ll find in Texas—it’s between the humid eastern half and the extremely hot western half of Texas and does a pretty good job of being moderate in comparison.
- It’s beautiful and there’s lots to do outdoors, including great natural pools and walking trails around the river (if you’re more heat-resistant than I, or in the cooler months).
- It’s centrally located in Texas, so it’s easy to get to a bunch of very different places fairly quickly (at least for Texans who think nothing of a 3 hour drive).
Overall, I would say that Austin is a pretty great place to live, with some caveats.