The 2020 census counts released last week are full of good news for Texas. For every day since 2010, 1,095 people were added to the state’s population, with a total of about four million new jeans and a growth rate more than double the national average.
I’m counted among these new jeans, even though I’m not exactly new. I’m what you might call a born Texan. I grew up near Beaumont and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, but spent twenty years on the east coast subways of Boston, New York, and Washington. What made me step back? The longing to be close to my relatives and the magnetism of Austin’s creative technology environment, as well as its welcoming LGBTQ community, its relative affordability, and the opportunity to build a school center UT LBJ to study the various cities and subway of Texas.
Luckily for transplants like me, Texas is as metropolitan as the Acela corridor and is so diverse. An astonishing 95 percent of these new jeans are Hispanic, black, Asian, Native American, or multiracial. Since 2010, the state has gained eleven new Hispanic residents and three new black residents for every non-Hispanic white. About 40% of jeans are Hispanic, up from 38% in 2010. Twelve percent are black and 5% are Asian. The Austin, Dallas – Fort Worth and Houston subways are home to some of the largest LGBTQ communities in the country.
The growth of Texas subways has pushed the state forward. DFW and Houston are two of the only three subways in the United States that have garnered more than 1.2 million residents since 2010 (New York is the third). Austin, one of the fastest growing large subways in the country, added 567,000 new residents (the Milwaukee-wide equivalent). San Antonio added an additional 416,000. Fort Worth is the fastest growing U.S. city with at least 500,000 U.S. residents; Austin came in second. Six of the state’s suburban counties — Comal, Hays, Fort Bend, Kaufman, Rockwell, and Williamson — are among the nation’s ten fastest-growing countries. Meanwhile, the rural Texas population grew less than 1 percent.
The continued rise of the Texas Triangle (whose corners are DFW, Houston and San Antonio) should come as no surprise, as seven out of ten Texans already call it home. The triangle accounts for 80 percent of the state’s GDP, 95 percent of its venture capital investment, 71 percent of its new jobs and all of its 49 Fortune 500 companies.
As an urban planner, what fascinates me about Texas cities and subways is the variety that exists between them and within them, and that so many thrive on. Dallas – Fort Worth and Houston are examples of global gateway manuals, Austin is a technology and creative hub, and El Paso is the economic anchor of a binational mega-region. Texarkana is a center of manufacturing and defense services. All of them, of course, face significant challenges. Austin and San Antonio experience a fugitive gentrification; Corpus Christi, Galveston and Houston face the reality of climate change; and Houston and Midland-Odessa will need strategies that leverage their engineering experience as the state continues its move toward alternative energy.
Beyond their great barbecue, what brought all these new people to Texas are the same things that attracted me: economic opportunity, affordability, and diversity, not just of races, ethnicities, and cultures, but of whole lifestyles. . Until recently, the small conservatism of the Texas firm and its strong public-private partnerships ensured that localities could address their problems and opportunities as they saw fit.
But recent trends are worrisome. The emergency powers that Governor Greg Abbott has claimed are part of an attempt, aided by the state legislature, to seize the powers that cities and counties have long held over how revenue increases and in which they spend them, as well as on small issues as to whether plastic grocery bags can be banned and old trees protected. The threat of suing school districts demanding masks or removing liquor licenses from restaurants trying to provide their customers and staff with safe environments is the opposite of Texas. Texas got where it is, supporting local innovation, not scouring it out of respect for one or another national access button problem, or for an old rural guard to be threatened by the rise of multicultural cities.
Austin doesn’t tell Beaumont how to operate and Beaumont doesn’t need to preach to Austin. The challenges our subways face vary enormously, as do the preferences of jeans in different parts of our enormous state. Local leaders require resources and authority to develop policies that address the needs and desires of their citizens. Most of these leaders want to go back to the Texas way, which not only spoke of freedom in terms of disease-spreading freedom, but actively allowed the freedom of Texans to choose local officials and policies that reflected their views and circumstances.
Steven Pedigo is an intern at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and director of the school’s Urban Lab.