Believe it or not, a fast-growing Williamson County suburb could transform into a hipster haven that shares some of East Austin’s cultural DNA. A local housing expert believes Leander possesses all of the ingredients to evolve into the Austin metro area’s first “hipsturbia,” part of nationwide real estate trend.
A recent report from the Urban Land Institute and professional services firm PwC says places like Santa Clara, California; Evanston, Illinois; and Tempe, Arizona, exemplify the rise of “hipsturbias” — “cool” suburbs where live-work-play environments thrive. All three ’burbs benefit from proximity to mass transit, colleges and universities, shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues.
Vaike O’Grady, Austin regional director of Metrostudy, a provider of housing data, connected the dots between Leander and “hipsturbia” at a recent Urban Land Institute luncheon in Austin.
She cites several reasons for the city's potential entry into the realm of hipster-friendly suburbs:
- Development of a 115-acre, urban-style, mixed-use project called Northline. It will infuse Leander’s downtown with a blend of multifamily, retail, restaurant, and office space, and will include a hotel and a movie theater.
- Plenty of land to build more housing. In the third quarter of 2019, Leander had nearly 4,400 undeveloped lots for single-family homes, according to Metrostudy.
- Easy access to MetroRail and the 183A toll road.
- A new $60 million, 100-acre campus of Austin Community College. A second-phase expansion is planned.
- A new full-service hospital operated by St. David’s HealthCare.
Of course, many people have already uncovered Leander's charm. From 2010 to 2018, the city's population more than doubled to around 56,000 residents, according to July 2018 numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau.
“As more and more suburbs — not all, but those with the right recipe — attract a critical mass of ‘hip’ residents, their success will become increasingly visible. This will multiply the number of imitators, keeping the trend going,” the report says.
Alex Tynberg is principal of Austin-based Tynberg LLC, which is developing Northline. Construction is set to start by the end of 2019. Tynberg envisions his project being built in phases over a 10- to 15-year period, similar to North Austin’s Domain and Domain Northside developments.
“Northline is not necessarily trying to become a hipster-catered community, as it will serve all of Leander and the entire Central Texas region,” Tynberg says. “Obviously, it can and will morph into whatever it eventually will be, but that is not necessarily our target focus — to be Austin’s first ‘hipsturbia.’ Certainly, others can project that, which is fine.”
Older millennials who want to buy their first homes and start families are expected to form the foundation of “hipsturbia” enclaves around the country. In a release, ULI notes that millennials in general long for suburbs that boast a “cool” factor, including art galleries, trendy restaurants, and a vibrant nightlife.
“You can take the hipster from the city, but you can’t take the city out of the hipster,” Andy Warren, director of real estate research at PwC, said recently.
The New York Times reportedly coined the term “hipsturbia” in a 2013 article spotlighting hipster-welcoming suburbs. “While this colonization is still in its early stages, it is different from the suburban flight of decades earlier, when young parents fled a city consumed by crime and drugs. These days, young creatives are fleeing a city that has become too affluent,” wrote Alex Williams, referring to New York City and its suburban environs.
Bridget Brandt, president of the Leander Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center, welcomes the notion of Leander evolving into a hipster destination like East Austin. In fact, Leander is laying the groundwork for “unique concepts” that fall under the “hipsturbia” umbrella, she says.
“We already have a vibrant and growing Old Town District that is the home to the Old Town Street Festival,” Brandt says. “When you visit Old Town, it just feels different. It is like stepping back to a time where people greeted you, were interested in what you had to say, and were genuinely delighted to have you visit with them.”
In addition, Leander is home to the Leanderthal Vodka distillery, she says, and a growing number of microbreweries.
“Our goal is to create more places like these, and I think those unique opportunities will set Leander apart from the more traditional suburbs,” Brandt says. “I love the idea that Leander is being considered a place with a unique vibe — it’s exactly what we intended.”