Since its infancy in the early nineteenth century, downtown Austin has become a true melting pot, drawing its residents from around the world, as far as London and as close as South Austin. From its walkable streets to its nonstop bustle of activity, downtown possesses a charm that has proved irresistible, its diversity of districts matched only by the vibrancy of its residents. Whether they have kept one foot across the pond, traded in New York City for the Live Music Capitol or called Austin home for as long as they can remember, these individuals have made a haven for themselves in the heart of the city.
Apt. 1: Sam Gosling
When Dr. Sam Gosling first moved to Austin to teach psychology at the University of Texas, he purchased a small cottage in Hyde Park. While downtown Austin had only just started to develop in early 1999, Hyde Park was the cozy, quintessential neighborhood that seemed to typify Austin living: “Without really thinking about it, I just assumed that’s what you do in Austin. You live in Hyde Park,’” he says. After some time, however, Dr. Gosling, author of Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You and co-founder of spotsi.com, began to feel uneasy in his home. Despite the comforts of his neighborhood, he felt at odds with an environment that didn’t complement his love of urban activity. “One day, I found myself mowing my lawn,” he says solemnly. “And I thought, ‘How did I get here? I don’t enjoy mowing my lawn, and the mosquitoes are biting me.’” It was then that he began to search for a neighborhood that truly engaged him, reflecting both his lifestyle and his personality. Dr. Gosling at last discovered the historic Brown Building, an Art Deco structure built in the late 1930s and located in the heart of downtown Austin. “There are times when you go into a place and you immediately feel, ‘these are my people.’” Dr. Gosling observes. “I felt that it was much closer to who I was and where I wanted to live.”
Born in London, Dr. Gosling spent many of his formative years on a farm in Gloucestershire, so he’s equally at home in the countryside as he is in the city. What draws him most to downtown Austin, however, is its intersection of modern urbanism and what he calls the neighborhood’s “grit.” “I don’t want to feel in danger—I’m not going to live in Mogadishu, for example,” he laughs. “But I want a place with just a little bit of edge.” For Dr. Gosling, the word “pleasant” is about as appealing as the word “bland,” and he instead seeks spaces with a sense of authenticity and artistic drive. Downtown Austin strikes just the right balance, he says, between its comforts—“this isn’t exactly the Tenderloin of San Francisco”—and a creative edge, which he sees reflected in the city’s street artists. “Downtown has unexpected things,” he notes. He especially admires the work of the public artist and printmaker, Failure, many of whose pieces he has hanging in his apartment. “If I go to a city and there’s no street art, then it’s not the sort of place I want to live,” he remarks. “I like that restless, artistic energy.”
Above all, Dr. Gosling has found in downtown Austin the satisfaction of resonating with the people and space around him. It’s a kind of implicit resonance, one that doesn’t express itself in borrowed cups of sugar or evening chats on the front lawn. Instead, “there’s a sense of being around like-minded people,” due in part to the self-selecting nature of residents who have subscribed to the downtown lifestyle. “The people here have chosen to forgo space and a yard and driving in favor of being around amenities and other people,” Dr. Gosling says. “We don’t make these choices randomly—they reflect our values.” Much like Dr. Gosling himself, his fellow residents of downtown Austin have all traded in the ease of a conventional neighborhood for the density and high energy of downtown Austin. This “common urbanism” that downtown Austin residents share, he says, is essential to making a living space feel like a home. Though different corners of the city speak to different Austinites, for Dr. Gosling, downtown evokes a feeling of belonging: “It is, in some sense, my broader tribe.”
Apt. 2: Noa & Eddy Levy
When Noa Levy first moved to Austin, the downtown area had only just begun to develop, and she was looking for a neighborhood that would grow along with her. “There were no bars, no Whole Foods,” she observes. “We wanted to be part of something that was going to evolve, and we’ve grown with downtown.” A native of Mexico City, Levy lived in a high-rise complex as a child, and though she has since hung her hat around the world, including Israel and San Diego, she has always been drawn to the compact, urban lifestyle with which she grew up, making downtown Austin the ideal neighborhood for Levy, her husband, Eddy, and her two children, Jack and Gali.
In Mexico City, Levy’s parents worked in real estate on a small scale, and Levy still recalls accompanying her mother on rounds to meet her family’s tenants and collect rent—a childhood memory that stuck with Levy upon graduating from the University of Texas. After exploring many industries, from law to advertising, and attending graduate school for International Relations and International Communications, Levy found herself uncertain of where life would take her next. As she seached for her next job, she began driving across the city, looking at houses for sale. Though she didn’t realize it at the time, her upbringing had cemented an interest in real estate that later resurfaced as she searched for a career path: “I didn’t have any clients,” she says, “but I would call up the real estate agents and think, ‘I can do this on my own.’”
Today, Levy and business partner Anna Anami head The Boutique Real Estate, and while Levy works in real estate in Austin’s many diverse neighborhoods, she has a special fondness for downtown Austin. Though she originally settled in the South Congress area in 2003, Levy couldn’t help but be pulled a little further north: she had been working with condominiums downtown, and after selling what she calls “the downtown lifestyle” to clients for a year, she realized that the neighborhood was just the right nesting place for herself and her family. The downtown lifestyle that won her over, she says, is the sense of community that comes from a shared philosophy of living: “I think people who live in downtown have a similar mentality of being a little bit more green and reducing their carbon footprint—they’ll walk rather than drive their cars.” And though it’s easy to mistake the bustle of downtown Austin for brusqueness, Levy says it couldn’t be further from the truth. “You live in close quarters,” she observes. “There isn’t a yard separating you from your neighbors, and everybody’s very understanding—it’s almost like communal living.”
Above all, what Levy loves most about downtown Austin is the feeling that the entire city is at her fingertips. “I feel like we have it all within a mile radius,” she admits. “We can go to the park, eat outside, visit the pool, make a trip to the grocery store, go to the movies, the children’s museum, run on the trail—we can do almost anything and not even use our car.” Furthermore, with The Boutique Real Estate office and her husband’s company, East End Ink, close by, she’s able to “live, work and play downtown.”
Since making the move to downtown, Levy has watched her neighborhood blossom with art galleries, restaurants and bars. The development of the 2nd Street District has especially struck her over the years: between ACL Live at the Moody Theater and the Violet Crown Cinema, she says, “all of 2nd Street is our new date-night destination!” Though she’s seen many of her fellow downtown residents retire to the suburbs due to the influx of growth, Levy and her husband can’t imagine leaving. “We’ve seen downtown come from vacant warehouses to a full-blown, revitalized neighborhood, and it keeps growing every day,” she says. “I think it’s going to be an even more vibrant community five years from now than it is today.”
Apt. 3: Matthew Diffee & Tanya Erlach
While on the staff of The New Yorker, cartoonist Matthew Diffee and then Senior Talent Manager Tanya Erlach traveled to Austin for the magazine’s university tour. During a staff party, they began talking to each other at Guero’s Taco Bar, unaware that they would be returning years later as Austinites themselves. After a decade spent in New York City, they’ve settled into their home in downtown Austin, whose combination of urban sensibilities and laid-back culture made an ideal neighborhood for the New York transplants.
“It’s funny—it’s like living in a New York City apartment in Austin,” Diffee, a cartoonist for The New Yorker and Texas Monthly, observes of their cozy space overlooking Lake Austin. “But it’s an apartment we could never afford in New York!” A native of Denton, Diffee was eager to get back to his Texan roots, so when Erlach took her position as Director of Events at The Texas Tribune, Austin was the perfect fit. Despite the city’s sprawl, Diffee notes, downtown Austin boasts an accessibility reminiscent of New York. “You can live without a car if you wanted to,” he says. “Especially for festivals like SXSW, downtown is a great headquarters. You can stroll around to things and stroll home when you’re done. That, to me, is the New York parallel.” Furthermore, downtown’s high-rise lifestyle made an easier transition from living in New York, Erlach adds. “I wasn’t ready to get a house and a yard,” she says. “This is just a little apartment in the middle of everything.”
Though even the downtown corner stores channel Big Apple delis, what distinguishes downtown Austin from New York City, Diffee