Reflecting on McKinney, TX as Money’s Best Place to Live

Following the pool incident McKinney, Texas, one former resident thinks through how the event matches Money‘s claim that it is the Best Place to Live in the United States:

Before this month, the last time McKinney made major news was in the fall, when it was named the best place to live in America by Money magazine. It’s among the fastest-growing cities in the country, and lately big companies have infused the region with thousands of jobs in fields such as energy and aviation. Starting this year, Money wrote, every high-school freshman in McKinney would be issued a Macbook Air to aid in his or her studies.

“Underlying McKinney’s homey Southern charm is a thoroughly modern city,” the Money story gushed…

But the events of recent weeks suggest that even as McKinney has boomed and prospered, some of the more repressive aspects of small-town thinking persist. Perhaps now that so many have come to McKinney to claim what they feel is theirs—a better job, a bigger house, a more private swimming pool—people feel more entitled than ever to push away anyone unlike themselves. Perhaps some cops believe they have an even bigger mandate to crack down on those who pester the well-heeled. Adults at the pool were reportedly telling the black children to “go back to Section 8” housing, and in the aftermath of the incident, local homeowners defended the police. “I feel absolutely horrible for the police and what’s going on… they were completely outnumbered and they were just doing the right thing when these kids were fleeing and using profanity and threatening security guards,” one anonymous woman told Fox 4 in Dallas…

McKinney, more modern than ever, isn’t always recognizable as its former, sleepy southern self. (The Money article speaks of its art galleries, boutiques, and, oddly, shoe-repair shops.) But becoming a “thoroughly modern city” doesn’t just mean a job at Raytheon and access to craft beer. It implies compromise and integration. It requires an understanding of the fact that, in order for a newly rich town to keep growing, it needs a diverse environment in which every person feels at home. When McKinney tops the rankings as the best place to live, it’s worth considering for whom, exactly, that’s actually true.

A few thoughts:

1. Even the best places to live have ugly incidents. This reminds me of Naperville, Illinois which was ranked several times in the top 5 places to live by Money but which has some high profile crimes in recent years. Granted, the crimes were rare. But, Naperville has also dropped to #33 in the rankings.

2. Rapid population growth always comes with adjustments to the character of a community, particularly for suburbs. As late as 1990, McKinney had a population of just over 21,000. There will be rifts between old-timers and new-comers, people who remember when they could know everyone and those who are used to anonymity, those who resent new developments and others who like the new housing options. New populations will arrive – McKinney is over 10% black and over 18% Latino. The suburb will wonder how they can have a single community – and maybe this isn’t possible any longer.

3. Quality of life issues are huge in suburbs. Protecting private property through homeowners associations (and their private pools and security guards) and expensive housing (often leading to separate parts of town based on housing values) is common. Of course, there are places within suburbs where people across these divides do come together. But, the emphasis is often on private lives and avoiding open conflict with other suburban residents.

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