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Stop Sprawl
1998 Sierra Club Sprawl Report: 30 Most Sprawl-Threatened Cities

Ten Most Sprawl-Threatened Small Cities
Number One: McAllen, Texas

McAllen's urbanized land area has doubled twice since 1980.

McAllen, Texas, is a city growing rapidly as a result of the economic changes spawned by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Situated on the U.S.–Mexican border 75 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico in an area known as the lower Rio Grande Valley, McAllen is in many ways neither American nor Mexican but somewhere in between. Roughly 12 million people legally cross the border in and around McAllen every year. Here, the Texas–Mexican border is almost a theory (The Economist).

Population statistics on both sides of the border exemplify the kind of growth NAFTA has brought to border towns like McAllen. While McAllen's metropolitan-area boundaries may stop at the border, McAllen's sprawl does not. Roughly 1 million people live on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande, while 2 million live on the Mexican side. Rumors abound that some day McAllen and its Mexican metro-sister, Reynosa, will be consolidated into a single metropolis known as "Borderplex" (The Economist).

In many ways, McAllen is a truly unique American city. But not when it comes to sprawl - it's the third fastest growing metropolitan area in the United States behind Las Vegas, Nev., and Laredo, Texas, another border town 125 miles to the northwest (Public Purpose, Demographic Briefs & Urban Policy, "US Metropolitan Areas: Population 1990–1996").

McAllen's urbanized land area has doubled twice since 1980. The region's metropolitan-area population surged over 65 percent between 1980 and 1990 and saw another burst of about 40 percent between 1990 and 1996. The density of metropolitan McAllen, on the other hand, sharply dropped (30 percent) from 2,842 persons per square mile in 1990 to 1,967 persons per square mile in 1996. Driving distances have increased by 30 percent in just six years.

On the American side of the border, development seems to have only just begun. There are five international airports in a 50-mile radius, an area that is home to about 1 million people. Recently, local officials have collaborated in an effort to bring I-69, the proposed Montreal-Mexico City freeway, through the Valley (The Economist).

A factor that threatens to compound sprawl problems in McAllen is the scarcity of a resource no place can do without: water. In an area that is already facing water shortages and that depends primarily on agriculture, this could become a highly volatile issue.

Read the Report | Clickable Sprawl Map | Sprawl-Threatened Cities


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