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Second homes Austin stays weird, in a good way By Larry Olmsted - Special for USA TODAY
Austin isn't like the rest of Texas, and residents are proud of that. The city's official nickname, "The Live Music Capital of the World," is accurate. Its unofficial one, "Keep Austin Weird," is, too.
It's not weird for weirdness sake. Instead, the Texas capital has bucked the trend toward mass-market commercialization and intentionally fended off chain retailers. The city is a sea of independently owned stores and restaurants, from bicycle, music and cowboy-boot shops to secondhand boutiques and art galleries. The only "big box" retailer downtown is Whole Foods Market, which started here.
The music and arts scene fits with the hippie vibe, organic yogurt shops and tattoo parlors. But Austin also is Texas' fittest city. It's home to a cycling and triathlon community. The University of Texas, with more than 50,000 students, gives the city a college-town feel. Second-home owners love Austin for the good weather (despite the hot summers) and because it is in the middle of Texas' Hill Country, with its vineyards, charming small towns and major lakes.
Downtown, meanwhile, is booming. Former mayor Will Wynn made its revitalization his mission from 2003 to 2009.
"The skyline has changed dramatically," Wynn says. "Virtually every high-rise you can see, which is a lot, is brand-new, and almost all are residential. Ten years ago, there was one apartment building, and just 250 people lived in the downtown core. Now it is 13,000, and my goal is 25,000 by 2015." The skyline changes more this month when the 56-story Austonian, the tallest residential building west of the Mississippi, opens.
Revitalization fits with the city's green ethos. One goal is to reduce car use: Many downtown residents, including Wynn, walk to work on widened sidewalks.
Suburban lake towns are popular with second-home owners, too. "There is no shortage of lakes, and Austin is a 12-month outdoor activity spot," says Alan Gabriel of Keller Williams Realty. "You can be water skiing in a wetsuit on Christmas Day."
A look at three Austin neighborhoods