People in Austin complain all the time about how fast the city has grown and how much their favorite neighborhoods have changed, but you can get a satellite’s-eye view of just how much by using Google Earth Engine. The site collects aerial photography from 1984 to 2016, a period in Austin that includes the real estate boom and bust of the 1980s, the late 1990s tech boom and bust in the early 2000s, as well as the 2008 recession and subsequent economic recovery.
The view of Austin from a macro view can be a bit muddled but you can see lots of activity on the outskirts of town, like the emergence of the Texas 130 toll road on the far right.
But take a look at the neighborhoods and zoom in on certain high-growth areas and the changes are more impressive. For instance, between 1984 and 2016, the old Robert Mueller Municipal Airport was closed. Its runways were razed and replaced with a planned community of retailers and single-family homes.
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport was simply Bergstrom Air Force Base three decades ago. The military abandoned the base but the city turned it into an international flying hub. In the time-lapse below, you can see how the city added another runway to the existing airfield and rebuilt the terminal and parking for civilian use. When a large road suddenly cuts across the map on the right, that’s the construction of the Texas 130 toll road.
Also in southwest Travis County, you find lots of farmland and rural areas that haven’t changed much at all in the past 30 years. But in the space of a few years, the Texas 130 toll road appears – seen below on the left – and then, blossoming from the green space, the Circuit of the Americas racetrack.
Another transformation becomes evident on the other side of the county in Steiner Ranch. Here, you can see how development spilled along roadways and how houses sprouted on hilltops throughout the area.
Just a few miles north, on Lake Travis, the aerial photos show the effects of fluctuating drought conditions on the Highland Lakes. Over the past 30 years, the exposed shoreline of Lake Travis flashes like a neon sign as waters recede and return, depending on the season’s rainfall.
Try Google Earth Engine for yourself. I learned a lot just by looking up my own neighborhood in South Austin near the corner of West Slaughter and Brodie lanes: