Austin Named Best City to Live for The Next 10 Years

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Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell has another feather to put in his hat. Kippler's has named Austin the best city to live in for the next 10 years.

Kiplinger's Personal Finance has named Austin, Texas one of its 10 Best Cities for the Next Decade. The magazine will appear on newsstands on June 8.

“We are excited that Kiplinger's has recognized Austin,” said Mayor Lee Leffingwell. “Austin has been selected for our economic vitality, livability and innovation. The magazine made a point to mention our creative culture, neighborhoods and quality of life”.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell met with Kiplinger's Senior Editor Bob Frick earlier this year. Frick also met with representatives from Austin's Greater Chamber of Commerce, the City's Economic Growth and Redevelopment Office, small business owners and other Austinites.

“I'm particularly happy to see Kiplinger's observed our dedication to small business,” said Leffingwell. “In Austin, small business is big business and part of what makes our city cool”.

It's pretty likely Republican Governor Rick Perry is going to take credit for this. He takes credit for Houston's successes, so why wouldn't he take credit for the hard work of Lee Leffingwell, Mike Martinez, Bill Spelman, Sheryl Cole, Laura Morrison, Chris Riley, and Randi Shade?

Regardless, congrats to this council and previous members for their hard work. This sort of recognition doesn't happen overnight or because of one person.

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  1. Huzzah for Dallas
    “Honolulu (31) is the city in the US with the highest quality of living, followed by San Francisco (32) and Boston (37). Chicago and Washington share position 45 and New York – the base city – is in position 49. Newly added cities Philadelphia and Dallas are ranked 55 and 61, respectively.”

    http://www.mercer.com/qualityo

  2. Outputs without inputs feeds complacency
    The Kiplinger ranking measures outcomes such as small business growth and median income, assigns some undisclosed weight and then ranks.  This is problematic.

    From an analytical standpoint, the trouble with these types of rankings is that they don't appropriately explain the underlying quality of “inputs” such as human capital, infrastructure, and specific public policies; sometimes these rankings even treat these likely inputs as outputs!  Sure, a community might be experiencing substantial small business growth relative to others, but it's only a relatively “good place” if the underlying pool of potential entrepreneurs is the same as the other community.

    Here's a more concrete example. In the scatterplot below, I've compared all of the Texas cities in the American Community Survey to see if some are better than others at using high-skilled workers to produce higher median income.   My assumption is that if we are going to evaluate a “good place”, we want to focus on the value-added by that place on top of its inputs, not just take a snapshot of the outcomes.    The data is in 2007 dollars.  Austin is the red dot.

    So while it is statistically hard to say that Austin is below average, it is also fairly difficult to state that it is substantially better than other Texas communities at the task of transforming high-skilled people into economic gains for everybody.

    Now, Kiplinger isn't in business to help Austin achieve optimal policy outcomes.  These types of rankings probably help sell content and so hooray for us for doing so well in them of late.  The problem is that as Matt implies, these stories become fodder to beat down attempts for policy accountability.  

    Personally, I do think Austin is definitely hurting a lot less than other places. Both anecdotes and hard data bear that out.  

    But I don't think our local policy mix around issues like fighting poverty, K-12, transit, density, and energy generation, water, mental health, clean campaigns is all that optimal or even that cutting edge progressive.  And I fear this contributes to some of the lack of creativity at the municipal level that Phillip wrote about last year.  

    I don't think the obstacle is our corps of local elected officials; they seem pretty responsive to local constituencies.  Instead, I am starting to think this parade of booster articles contributes to deflating existing or ongoing attempts at building organized constituencies that have broad policy agendas.  And that's the problem, these articles can feed complacency.

    • Great analysis, Julio
      I always love your commentary.  I'm curious – does the above control for cost of living differences between Texas cities?

      I think one way in which we can get the best of both worlds is to interpret and message such articles in a particular way – that Austin's success is a direct result of decades of sustained, progressive policy reform that began in the late 60s/early 70s.  As an endlessly optimistic idealist myself, I know that there are many who also respond very well to positive reinforcement of the visible successes of their efforts.  We see that principle in action all the time when motivating voters.

      • Thanks!
        The data does not control for cost of living differences.  If we were to have a two independent variable regression and one was cost of living (say median housing price), that might change the coefficient for the high-skilled degrees variable.

        I agree about the need to message these booster pieces to vindicate progressive policies (wherever evidence backs them up.) However, my concern is that the complacency created by all of this “good news” and improper interpretation of Austin's performance makes it hard for the non-electoral organizing that would create the organizations that do the messaging to mobilize people.

    • other factors
      As lawyer said, you would probably want to control for cost of living. I would suspect controlling for type of graduate degree would yield different results. For example, Austin probably has a greater proportion of non-technical graduate degrees, thus the yield to degree is less than other cities.

      And, of course, Kiplinger focuses on those variables important to them. Including things such as traffic, mass transit, K-12 schools, affordable housing, etc would certainly lower Austin's ranking.

      As someone who has lived in Austin for 40 years, it has now morphed into EveryCity and lost much of its unique charm. SO, I'm actually leaving so I don't have to sit in traffic anymore while I watch another condo tower go up.

      • Controls
        Both suggestions you make would probably create a more insightful model.  That said, I am not sure the inclusion of either would help bolster the case that Austin is creating a lot of value-add over its human capital base.  If we were to include Austin's relatively high cost of living and that variable positively correlates with median income, that would just require it to create even more unique median income lift on its human capital.  Cutting out non-technical degrees might help, but for Austin to significantly exceed the regression line, you'd have to eliminate some massive number (like 90%) of the degrees – moving the red Austin dot to the left all the way near 1.5% of high-skilled degrees.  It's unlikely that so many advanced degrees are not technical or professional in nature.

        I hear your frustration about Austin.  That said, I am optimistic that it has an underlying polity that could mobilize to address a lot of the things that frustrate us all.  The question is how.  And my point is that one small step is to start being a bit more critical of these booster pieces, as well as follow PI Lawyer's lead and try and use them wherever possible to highlight the importance of progressive policies.

  3. Huh?
    Matt, I guess I don't understand how this council of one year should get specific credit to be mentioned by name.  Just as Perry is enjoying the fruits of DECADES of policy decisions, I am having a hard time wrapping my mind around how this recognition is the product of the hard work of this particular council.  I think the Will Wynn and Kirk Watson councils of the previous 10.5 years did the hard work. I realize that you also gave generic props to “previous councils,” but since this doesn't happen overnight, previous councils should get the credit. Most of the indicators they based the ratings upon were from before LL's inaugural.

    The honorable thing to do is to honor the earlier work, rather than artificially hype this council. Let them earn their own legacy.

    • I also agree
      That is why the final paragraph reads, “congrats to this council and previous members for their hard work. This sort of recognition doesn't happen overnight or because of one person.”

      This council is one of the most forward thinking and aggressive planning councils I have seen in years, that is why I gave them all individual shouts of praise.  I didn't support all of them when they ran, but I do support the work they are doing together.

      That being said, I agree with your point entirely.  

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