NEW BRAUNFELS, Texas – Not so long ago, motorists traveling along a stretch of Interstate 35 just northeast of San Antonio encountered vast fields of wildflowers and grazing cows in grassy pastures.
Today the cattle are gone, replaced by clusters of sleek apartments, gated communities, and big box stores. And New Braunfels, America’s third fastest growing city, nestled in one of the fastest growing regions, is at a crossroads.
“People have found New Braunfels – the word is out,” said city mayor Rusty Brockman. “And I think we’re going to continue to deal with this growth for a long time.”
Once a quaint town known for its German roots and the Schlitterbahn water park, New Braunfels has grown by an impressive 56% over the past decade, adding around 32,500 residents.
It was noted by U.S. Census officials last week as an example of a city that has seen significant growth from its perch just outside of metropolitan centers – New Braunfels is between San Antonio and Austin, which also has experienced tremendous growth over the past decade. There were two more in Texas, a growing state: McKinney, outside of Dallas, and Conroe, which had been enveloped by the vast metropolitan area of Houston.
In many ways, the story of New Braunfels’ expansion is the story of a changing America.
As its population has exploded, with many newcomers coming from major cities in Texas and states like California, Colorado, and New York, the city has also become more diverse. The Anglo population fell below 60% for the first time in recent decades, with Latinos making up around 35% of residents.
Pure growth shows no signs of slowing down.
City officials have set aside at least $ 30 million for infrastructure initiatives, in addition to more than $ 600 million for water supply and wastewater projects undertaken by the utility company local. And more money will be needed in the near future, Brockman said.
A visible sign of the boom, permits for new homes topped 1,400 last year, a record for the city, said Jeff Jewell, the city’s director of economic and community development. Over 10,000 single-family homes have been added in the past 11 years and property values have also skyrocketed, with the median home value surging 73% over the past decade, from $ 157,000 to 272 $ 000.
But there was a time when life was much quieter in New Braunfels.
“I still remember when there were only cows there,” said Brittney Marbach, who at 25 no longer recognizes the town in which she grew up. “A lot has changed. We’re losing our small town vibe.”
German settlers, captivated by the green spaces and the convergence of the Guadalupe and Comal rivers, founded the city in 1845. Legend has it that the region reminded Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels, the leader of the settlers, of his former home in Braunfels, Germany. And so he decided to buy a strip of land and name it New Braunfels, near where Native Americans thrived by the water.
The city’s German roots are everywhere. The state’s oldest bakery, Naegelin’s Bakery, still thrives downtown – an area local residents refer to as the Circle – with a constant flow of customers, many of whom are newcomers and tourists clamoring for the branded pastry shop. the shop, the apple strudel.
“The growth has been tremendous for the business,” said Ross Granzin, who now owns the bakery founded in 1868.
Other German landmarks include the square’s neoclassical bandstand and Gruene Hall, an iconic, open-air dance floor that has featured in films and books and hosted prominent musicians such as George Strait, Garth Brooks and Brandi Carlile.
At night, crowds always descend into the beer gardens that have been around for decades, now joined by new bars and restaurants that are more like something one might find in Austin or San Antonio.
New residents of New Braunfels have been drawn to the area for its affordable cost of living and to the large employers who have settled there, including several distribution centers and tech companies. Over the past decade, the median salary has risen from $ 65,000 to $ 90,000 in Comal County, which includes much of New Braunfels, one of the highest averages in the state.
“We exploded for every metric,” said Jonathan Packer, president of the Greater New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce. “There are a number of reasons people come here.
The community has also become more diverse, with the presence of Latinos particularly evident on the city’s West Side. Residents flock to restaurants like El Norteo for typical Mexican fare, such as menudo, a spicy stew known colloquially as a hangover cure. This week, a waiter took orders wearing a red t-shirt that read “Menudo Para La Cruda” or “Menudo For the Hangover”.
Restaurant owner Johnny Aguirre said he noticed young Latinos moving away from more traditional Hispanic enclaves for new developments in the city.
“The city is known for its German culture, but people come here for the Mexican flavor,” Aguirre said. “Growth for us has been good. It has been a non-stop business.”
But so many changes – and so rapid – have also come with challenges.
Nancy Classen, who grew up in the city and works at the Sophienburg Museum and Archives, said she was ready to keep an open mind about newcomers – as long as they didn’t try to change the identity from the city. New Braunfels, a conservative stronghold between progressive cities, is the largest city in Comal County, which overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump in November.
“It’s still a pretty conservative city,” Classen said. “They’re fine as long as they don’t try to change us. It’s not California.”
When Terri Jennings, 58, who operates a local vintage store, asks people where they’re from, many lean over the counter and whisper “California,” as if to reveal a dark secret, she said. said with a smile. “I think they’re a bit of a criticism because people think Westerners tend to be a bit more liberal.”
Even Jennings, who has lived in town for seven years but has worked there for 16 years, has learned to keep her liberal tendencies to herself.
“I don’t want to discuss politics,” she said. “I understand why they are doing it.”
Caleb Harris, 36, said he moved from Utah to New Braunfels in 2013, when he predicted the area had potential for expansion. He bought a property in a subdivision called Overlook in Creekside, north of downtown, as soon as it opened.
“I knew it would be a good area,” said Harris.
It is also part of the demographic development of the region. Harris, who is white, is engaged to a black woman who is pregnant with their child. With people who identify with two or more races growing rapidly, not only in Texas but across the country, her son will be part of an increasingly diverse state.
In New Braunfels, just over 3% of residents identify as more than one race, according to census data, but this is an increase from 1% in 2010. (The number of Americans who are identified as non-Hispanic and more than one race has grown to 13.5 million from 6 million in the last decade.)
Nearby, in the sprawling mixed-use complex of Creekside, which was once a cow pasture, Faith Caddy was walking her two dogs, a husky-Labrador mix named Odin and a red heel named Luna. She recently moved to the city of Colorado, a decision that made great economic sense for her and her 9-month-old son.
Staying there would have been too expensive, said Caddy, 24. “We can actually rent an apartment here and save to buy a house.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.