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Austin’s changing demographics cause for concern in the Barton Springs Zone

Monday, April 8, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

It’s no secret that Austin’s population is exploding, and forecasts that the city’s population will expand to 1 million by 2020 is a subject of concern for many. What is surprising about this boom is that it is actually nothing new. Since 1900, Austin’s population has doubled every 20 years, according to Environmental Commissioner Hank Smith and city demographer Ryan Robinson. Robinson came to the April 3 meeting of the Environmental Commission to give commissioners an overview of the changing demographics and the corresponding changes in the cityscape and its effect on the environment. In Austin proper, it turns out that growth is declining. However, that decrease in humanity is made up for by the meteoric growth in surrounding suburbs and counties, especially northern Hays County. Robinson said the sheer population growth in this area should have environmentalists and residents concerned about the preservation of water quality within the Barton Springs Zone. Commissioner Pam Thompson pointed out that water is of great concern in the Central Texas region, and that “it would be interesting to see water use and how that has been affected (by population growth).” While Robinson didn’t have any data on water usage, he did have data on housing – and prices are rising dramatically. The average median home price in 2000 was $144,500; by 2018, it had risen to $325,000. Robinson said the steep rise is a result of continued demand for high-end home stock and that the challenge for the city could require widening the definition of “home” to something other than a single-family house with a yard. Beyond that, he added, “To me, the ultimate fix is high-capacity transit.”

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