San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

April 13th, 2008
Kyle’s compulsion to change

The Myth of Jones: A Column
By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large

The beauty of daydreaming about Kyle is that whatever pops into your head could happen. No other city on the fast-growing Interstate corridor through Hays County is nearly so well positioned to make itself new. Nor is any other town so willing to do it, even if it must be admitted that Kyle has no real choice in the matter.

San Marcos, the county seat and the long-time population center, includes a beautiful river park, pleasant vibrations, a buzzing little downtown square and a state university. It’s a city full of desirable resources that somehow doesn’t add up to the sum of its parts. The parts just won’t come together.

For the first time in 30 years, San Marcos is looking outside its own staff for a new city manager. From accounts, it’s barely imaginable that the city council can agree unanimously on anybody.

Some entrenched forces want to open up the business environment. City surveys indicate that the general citizen is most interested in preserving ecological treasures. Some who bought houses a mile from Texas State are shocked to learn that college students are young, noisy and messy, so they want to crack down. Still others, who live in quiet neighborhoods, want no change at all.

In an environment of conflicting desires with even strength, gridlock wins and the status quo survives. Thus, San Marcos is substantially the same town as ten years ago, despite the madness surrounding it, and it could easily remain the same town in ten years. One might not say San Marcos is stagnant, but it’s not especially dynamic, either.

Buda is a sweet little town that has been fortunate to control its growth and maintain some sense of intimacy. Maybe a population explosion is coming, and maybe the population will grow evenly. Either way, it’s hard to envision a compelling future for a town that sounds so beholden to sterile, white, upper-middle class aspirations.

The present city council election, by the way, is an excellent opportunity for Buda to talk about what it really wants, especially since the new city council will select a new city manager. But when you talk to the players in Buda today, they talk about making Buda a nice place to live, a pleasant place to live – those amorphous “quality of life” goals that often amount to keeping the poor people away from the rich people. How blah. It might be safe, but where’s the juice?

In the last three or four years, a palpable difference has emerged between Buda and Kyle, due largely to Kyle’s outrageous growth. Kyle people don’t talk so much about making Kyle a nice place to live. They don’t talk about making Kyle a pleasant place to live, either. That kind of talk quiets down when you’re in the grip of complete upheaval.

A six-fold population increase in Kyle during the last eight years has really laid a beating on nice, pleasant and quaint. Rolling ranches are off the landscape, replaced by cookie-cutter eyesores like discrete housing developments, sprawling retail and exasperating traffic. Basically compelled to go for something else, Kyle people talk about making Kyle a great place to live, work and play. That’s the right idea. When you can’t have nice and pleasant, go for great, lively and exciting. Try to make a virtue of a necessity.

Thus, Kyle has the most demanding aspirations and is furthest from realizing them. If Buda wants to be a nice, pleasant town, it just has to maintain. If San Marcos wants to stay what it is, it just has to stifle change. But Kyle is not, at this moment, the great place that it wants to be. And Kyle knows it. So, Kyle is on the move. Perhaps, if all goes well, today’s sprawl is a transition that pays the bills while Kyle pursues a more urbane public setting.

Unlike Buda and San Marcos, Kyle isn’t even approximately the town it was ten years ago. Kyle understands that it doesn’t have any choice about remaining a rural community. Kyle is destined for urbanism, suburbanism, or some mix of the two. Given how Kyle pursues breadwinner employers and an economy based on technology and office quarters, the city is aiming high.

Buda and San Marcos are easy towns to see and touch. Kyle is all but a phantasm, almost a theoretical entity, so new to itself that it hardly knows what it is. But if Kyle is the harder town to embrace, it is the one town on the Hays County corridor that embraces change and it is, therefore, the more interesting town to envision. Kyle is becoming something very different. We just don’t know what.

But keep in mind this little proverb, dreamed up many years ago while fighting the middle management at an office job: If you can visualize the absurd, you can predict the future. That’s especially true in Kyle, which makes it a very promising city.

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