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Austin: Introduction

In almost anything you read or hear about Austin, you will be told that it is a laid back city. "Laid back" has become Austin's defining trait. First-time visitors get here and expect to find a city whose denizens all move about and express themselves in the unhurried manner of Willie Nelson. They must feel a little put upon when they drive into town only to find bearish traffic and pushy drivers and a downtown that is looking uncomfortably similar to Houston or Dallas.

Over the years Austin has gotten bigger and busier, but it hasn't lost its essential nature. Stay here for a couple of days and you'll feel the laid back quality you've heard about. Austinites are personable, gracious, and open, and for them the enjoyment of the simple pleasures of life holds a great deal more attraction than the rat race. At times it seems that everyone you meet is either a musician, a massage therapist, or has some other sort of alternative career.

Austinites of all walks of life enjoy the outdoors. Barton Springs is the preferred spot for a swim; the popular hike-and-bike trail that encircles Town Lake is a favorite place for either a leisurely walk or a serious run. The city streets and bike lanes are filled with Austin's many cyclists. Just outside of town are several parks and nature preserves and rivers and lakes that can be enjoyed. Hand in hand with this love of the outdoors is a strong environmental consciousness, which is reflected in the local government. Austin leads the nation in green energy production, has the most aggressive recycling and energy conservation programs in the state, and, though starting late, it has instituted programs to reduce traffic and urban sprawl.

Finally, one can't talk about Austin for very long without mentioning the rather large university at its center. The University of Texas feeds the Austin scene. It has brought thousands of bright, young students here, who, once they get their degrees, decide that they don't want to leave. They stay and add to a large pool of educated people looking for a livelihood. This has attracted large high-tech companies who seek a large educated work force. Austin has also been fertile grounds for a lot of native start-up companies in all kinds of fields.

Austin is now big enough to be many things to many people. But to me it's the creative center and the social and environmental conscience of Texas.

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