There are eight million stories in the naked city of New York. The silliest one, at least today, involves a tweet sent by Bill de Blasio, the city’s beleaguered mayor. Posting on Wednesday evening, Hizzoner shared a story from Bloomberg about how the current dip in New York’s rental market makes now the best time for ambitious young strivers to move to the metropolis, when previously they might have considered a cheaper city such as Austin. “Move over Austin,” de Blasio boasted, informing followers about a little-known town called New York City that they might consider instead:
Move over Austin, because as the song says, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere — and it’s easier than ever for young dreamers to make it in the greatest city in the world! https://t.co/o2BkSe3i3T
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) February 4, 2021
This is a silly tweet! New York is the biggest city in the United States by a wide margin; Austin is the fourth-largest city in Texas. New York is internationally recognized as a global capital for business, culture, and everything else you can think of; Austin is a fine place to get yourself a plate of barbecue. New York has been famous around the world for generations as the premier destination for young people seeking to follow their dreams; Austin has been in that mix for only maybe a decade. On a purely cultural level, de Blasio’s tweet is strange—if the mayor of Austin had posted “Move over, New York” to declare his city the greatest in the world, it would have read as delusional and pompous. De Blasio’s, instead, reads as paranoid and sad.
And yet this reflects a mood pervading New York City real estate in this particular moment. This is partly related to the pandemic, but the story starts before COVID-19 came to America’s shores. In 2019, New York City was bleeding residents at a rate of 376 per day, according to Census data released in December. Where were they moving? Well, during that same period, the Texas capital was seeing its population grow by 128 per day. (Only the Phoenix and Dallas–Fort Worth metro areas, both substantially larger than Austin–Round Rock–Georgetown, topped this figure.) The implications for New York’s future—and its tax base—are even more striking when you add the pandemic to the mix: 44 percent of the city’s wealthiest earners surveyed by the Manhattan Institute in September said they had considered leaving, citing diminished quality of life in New York and the possibility of remote work as major factors in their decision-making. On a statewide level, New York has seen the largest population decline in the country in each of the past two years.
De Blasio’s press office didn’t respond to a request for comment, but as the mayor of the prestigious-but-shrinking metropolis, he almost certainly hears Austin’s footsteps coming up behind him. It’s probably weird for him, too! Imagine being the mayor of New York, home of Broadway and Wall Street and the Yankees and an endless litany of many of the most famous and talented human beings on the planet—one of the most iconic places on earth—and hearing that your city needs to avoid a death spiral because of all of the people moving to Austin, Texas, a city that doesn’t even have a professional sports franchise just yet. If your lens is purely one of recent economic growth, Austin and New York kind of are in direct competition, and the winner ain’t the Big Apple.
In that context, a Bloomberg headline urging the young and ambitious to “Move to New York, Not Austin” probably feels like manna from heaven. And the arguments presented there are valid: Even as various industries scatter around the nation amid the rise of Zoom meetings and remote work, there’s still a larger concentration of professionals for a young striver to build their network with in NYC than there is in Austin. Where once renters paid a premium to live in New York, prices are down more than 17 percent from a year ago. Though various trackers show rent dropping slightly in Austin over that same time period, the dip is significantly more modest, at under 5 percent. While the baseline of prices is obviously higher in New York, it’s Black Friday in the city’s rental market, while Austin renters merely receive a coupon code.
There are a number of metrics one could use to weigh the relative merits of the two cities, and in many of them, Austin might come up ahead. Certainly, it is a nice place to live! One of the reasons it’s so nice? Because it is not the sort of city that sees itself as being in direct competition with New York City. Even as the culture of Austin is in the midst of a metamorphosis, many of its extant charms are likely to prove durable. There are many cities across the country that are, to some extent or another, in competition with New York—Los Angeles in terms of size and media attention, Washington, D.C., in terms of being a center of power and influence, Chicago in terms of being gray and cold and miserable in the winter, and perhaps even Houston in terms of being a financial center—but Austin isn’t one of them. The two cities are in entirely different weight classes, which is a big part of Austin’s appeal.
Still, on some level, there’s something satisfying in the sad humility de Blasio displays by comparing New York City—New York City!—with lil’ ol’ Austin, Texas. New Yorkers are famous for believing that they are home to the best of everything (whither Brooklyn barbecue), and it’s fun to witness the humbling that comes with Hizzoner himself demanding that the third most-populous city along Texas’s Interstate 35 corridor step off the main stage to reintroduce a kid you may have heard of by the name of New York, baby! Concrete jungle where dreams are made of, indeed.
Austinites should avoid getting too cocky, though. Funny as it is to see New York humbled, an Austin that is poaching an endless stream of New Yorkers sounds like a nightmare. (The city has enough to deal with from California, thanks.) Watching Bill de Blasio freak out about it is satisfying, but let’s hope that a true competition between the two isn’t in the immediate future.