Steve Adler said at his first State of the City address Monday that Austin has snagged number one spots in three lists: best cities for tech industry, best cities for wildlife and the most economically segregated cities.
“Those three ‘number one’ rankings tell the state of the city,” Adler said. “We have a great economy. Our values are strong, and we need to protect them. And we have inequalities we need to address and fix.”
The City must address economic inequalities at the root of the problem, and people of all income levels must have the same access to employment, education and job training, Adler said.
Valentina Tovar, a senior at Akins High School, spoke about her ideal Austin at the State of the City event. She said all teens should have the same educational opportunities, regardless of their zip code.
“Every child who lives in Austin deserves a superior education from the day they enter kindergarten to the day they receive their diploma,” Tovar said.
Adler hit his top issues, mobility and affordability, in his hour-long address. Austin’s traffic problem is growing and needs a regional-wide solution, Adler said.
“We simply cannot pave our way out of congestion,” Adler said. “We have to get more cars off the road. So we’re going to adopt staggered work hours and telecommuting.”
The increasing problem of housing affordability is also a priority, Adler said.
“We must make housing affordable for families at all income levels and stages of life,” Adler said. “A healthy community supports all income levels, so we have to look beyond the median income level. Neighborhoods with affordable housing are rapidly gentrified, and costs are rising all around the city.”
In order to meet the existing and growing need for affordable housing, Austin needs to construct 100,000 new houses by 2025 and save another 35,000 units from gentrification, Adler said.
He also voiced concern for Austin’s quickly growing population and the city’s inability to keep up with the growth.
Austin is the 11th largest city in the United States, with 885,000 people living in Austin and an additional two million living in the metropolitan area, Adler said. In 25 years, he added, those numbers will almost double.
“Our growth rate is highest in the country by a wide margin,” Adler said. “The ironic twist: the more successful we are at preserving what makes us special, the more people will come.”
Adler gave his address at the AISD Performing Arts Center to 800 people. Unlike his predecessors, such as former Mayor Lee Leffingwell, who gave their speeches in venues such as hotel ballrooms and City Hall, Adler decided to make the annual speech more of an event.
Slam poet Christopher Michael, who opened the evening, touched on the inherent inequality of Austin in performance.
“Texas I-35 is the spine that bridges the north to the south, brings people, commerce, puts food in our mouth and in Austin; it separates east from west, UT from HT,” Michael said. “It’s the great gulf between ‘got’ and ‘lack.’ … We be the bat hiding from the light of day pretending we don’t see the problem. Instead of hiding under bridges, let’s build more.”