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Austin: Neighborhoods in Brief

Although Austin, designed to be the capital of the independent Republic of Texas, has a planned, grand city center similar to that of Washington, D.C., the city has spread out far beyond those original boundaries. These days, with a few exceptions, detailed below, locals tend to speak in terms of landmarks (the University of Texas) or geographical areas (East Austin) rather than neighborhoods.

Downtown The original city, laid out by Edwin Waller in 1839, runs roughly north from the Colorado River. The river has been dammed in several places, forming a series of lakes. By downtown, it is called Town Lake. The first street on the north shore of Town Lake used to be called First Street, now it's called Cesar Chavez Street. Downtown extends north up to 11th Street, where the capitol building is. The main north-south street is Congress Avenue. It runs from the river to the capitol. Downtown's eastward limit is the I-35 freeway, and its westward limit is Lamar Boulevard. This is a prime sightseeing (it includes the capitol and several historic districts), and a hotel area, with music clubs, restaurants, shops, and galleries. There are a lot of clubs on and around Sixth Street, just east of Congress, in the Warehouse District, centered on Third and Fourth streets just west of Congress, and in the Red River District, on (where else?) Red River, between 6th and 10th streets.

South Austin For a long time, not a lot was happening south of Town Lake. This was largely a residential area -- a mix of working class and bohemians lived here. South Congress, the sleepy stretch of Congress Avenue running through the middle of South Austin, was lined with cheap motels. Then, in the 1980s, it started taking off. The area became attractive to store and restaurant owners who liked the proximity to downtown without the high rents. Trendy shops moved into the old storefronts. Yuppies started buying houses in the adjoining neighborhoods. And now South Austin is one of the preferred places to live. Fairview Park and Travis Heights, adjoining neighborhoods between Congress and I-35, are perhaps the most popular. They were Austin's first settlements south of the river. At the end of the 19th century, the bluffs on the south shore of the river became desirable as Austin residents realized they were not as likely to be flooded as the lower areas on the north bank. Farther south and west, toward the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, south Austin begins to reassert its rural roots.

Central Austin This is a larger area that includes downtown and the university campus. It's not a precisely defined area. If you were to travel north from Town Lake through the downtown area and past the capitol, you would come across a complex of state government office buildings (on and around 15th St.). Past that would be the UT campus (19th to 26th streets). Farther north, you get to the Hyde Park neighborhood (35th to 51st streets). Hyde Park got its start in 1891 as one of Austin's first planned suburbs; renovation of its Victorian and early Craftsman houses began in the 1970s, and now there's a real neighborhood feel to this pretty, tree-lined area. Beyond Hyde Park numbered streets disappear. You pass through a couple of neighborhoods, and eventually you come to Research Boulevard. For a lot of Austinites, this is where central Austin ends and north Austin begins. Central Austin doesn't extend east of I-35, but it does extend west of the Mo-Pac freeway. Central Austin also includes the neighborhoods west of Lamar. One of these is Clarksville, a formerly black community founded in the 1870s by freed slaves. It's now a neighborhood of small, old houses that command high prices. To the west of Clarksville, on the other side of Mo-Pac, is an even more tony neighborhood called Tarrytown.

East Side This section is east of I-35, between Town Lake and 12th Street. Predominantly Hispanic, the neighborhood has many Mexican-food restaurants and markets. You'll also find a number of African-American heritage sites (there is a black community just north of the Hispanic community), including Huston-Tillotson College, Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the George Washington Carver Museum; the French Legation Museum and state cemetery are also in this area. The quiet, tree-lined French Place, just east of I-35 between Manor and 38 1/2 streets, is beginning to vie with South Congress for yuppie/artist ingress. The warehouses near MLK are increasingly being occupied by art galleries and turned into residential spaces for those likely to frequent them. Naturally, new restaurants are arriving to feed all the hungry artistes.

I-35 Corridor Austin has grown around the heavily traveled connector area between Central and the Northwest, where the airport used to be located. Lined with chain hotels and restaurants, it's as charmless as it sounds, but it's convenient to both downtown and the north. The old airport is now being converted into mixed-use space for condos, retail, and affordable housing.

West Austin Upstream from downtown, the Colorado River flows from north to south. On the west bank across from Tarrytown is West Austin. This is an affluent suburban area that includes the communities of Rollingwood and Westlake Hills. There's another dam, and the river here is called Lake Austin. Far beyond that is another, larger dam that creates Lake Travis. Here's where you find Lakeway, as well as the more charming, low-key Bee Cave. But you don't have to live here to play here: This is also where those who live in Central Austin come to splash around and kick back on nice weekends.

Northwest This is where most of the high-tech industry is located. It is largely suburban. It includes the Arboretum, a large mall and surrounding shopping area. Farther north are the bedroom communities of Round Rock and Cedar Park.

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