Editor's note: As the year comes to a close, we're looking back at the top 10 most popular stories of 2020. This year's top reads are very much a reflection of the past 12 months, with topics ranging from social justice issues to coronavirus coverage to local real estate news and everything in between. As 2021 begins, it brings with us a new hope, but the work remains. A new legislative session is poised to begin with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle fuming; Austin is amid the most crushing wave of COVID-19 cases yet; and local business owners and creatives — the heartbeat of our city — are struggling to find a path forward amid fumbling local, state, and federal responses to the pandemic. CultureMap will continue to cover the stories that matter to Austin's culture, with a few fun surprises in between. Below are the 10 stories that captivated our attention over the past 12 months, and check out our most-read restaurant and bar stories here.
1. UT Austin president responds to Longhorn football players' demands. After weeks of protests in downtown Austin and across the country, members of the Texas football team joined other students and athletes on June 12 to request changes to the University of Texas at Austin in regards to its racist history. The news made national headlines, unsurprising considering the Longhorns are among the most powerful athletic brands in the world. A few days later, the interim university president responded and the story took off. The story's readership was almost double that of CultureMap's No. 2 most popular story, illustrating the powerful shift in how we think about social justice and how we're reckoning with our own history.
2. Austin's groundbreaking new 'social contract' is first of its kind in nation. In mid-December, the Austin City Council issued a groundbreaking directive to the city manager: write a social contract for Austin. The document would define the city's collective values, and is the first of its kind in the nation, according to those who worked on the initiative.
3. Austin home prices climb sky-high as real estate experts issue warning to city leaders. One of the most extraordinary things to watch has been how Austin's residential real estate market has ballooned during the pandemic. Sure, we've known local real estate has been gaining momentum for the past decade or so, but the past 10 months have been extraordinary. As people continue to move here from other places (yes, that uptick in California license plates is very real), so too do Austin property values. In their final report of 2020, the Austin Board of Realtors sounded the alarm, telling city leaders this growth isn't sustainable.
4. Texas' largest crystal lagoon makes waves as cool new summer vacation spot. A 12-acre lagoon opened in Texas City this summer, boasting white-sand beaches, an inflatable obstacle course, kayaks, and even sailboats. During a summer when trips were cancelled and travel halted, this story about an in-state vacation destination was a must-read.
5. Nation's largest land bridge for people and wildlife opens in San Antonio. Another in-state destination story that caught our attention this year. In December, the United States' largest wildlife crossing opened in Northwest San Antonio. Robert L.B. Tobin Land Bridge is designed to help pedestrians and wildlife move freely — and safely — over a highway and between the two portions of a popular park.
6. Former police chief Art Acevedo seemingly blames Austin for Houston unrest. Et tu, Art? Austin's former police chief, who currently resides over the Houston Police Department, was caught on video saying some harsh things about his former hometown. After taking aim at Austin's lack of racial diversity, he blamed the city for causing unrest in Houston this summer. Acevedo has yet to clarify what exactly he meant in the inflammatory video, though he's certainly had the opportunity to do so during his numerous national TV appearances this year.
7. America's largest indoor waterpark splashes into Austin suburb. Another vacation destination, this time in nearby Round Rock. In early fall, a new African-themed safari resort opened in the Austin suburbs, bringing with it the largest watering hole, um, indoor waterpark in the entire country.
8. Former teen heartthrob is latest Hollywood celeb trading LA for Austin. James Van Der Beek, the former (and some argue current) heartthrob, is now living in the Austin area. He and his family announced on social media that they were trading Hollywood for the Hill Country. In the weeks that followed, the Van Der Beeks shared details of their rental property, revealing that it does indeed have a creek.
9. 2 popular Austin bars to be bulldozed for new downtown high-rise tower. At this point, we're getting used to high-rise towers coming this tiny strip of downtown, but this one really resonated with readers. Container Bar and Bungalow are on track to be bulldozed for a 53-story hotel and apartment tower, but will be incorporated into the new building, says the developer.
10. Popular podcaster Joe Rogan punches one-way ticket from LA to Austin. Joe Rogan joined James Van Der Beek as Austin's two newest celebrity imports. In August, the controversial podcaster revealed he was relocating to the Capital City, specifically a tony neighborhood near Lake Austin.