Jim Darling first came to McAllen and the Rio Grande Valley in 1977. The freshly minted graduate of the Baylor Law School who was looking for something new.
“I saw the palm trees and felt the warm weather, and thought, ‘I think I want to stay here,'” said Darling, a native of Rochester, NY.
Stay Darling did, serving 28 years as McAllen’s city attorney. Many of those years, he was reporting to longtime Mayor Othal Brand, a stickler for good streets and efficient drainage.
“I can relate now to what Mayor Brand thought when I’m driving around McAllen and I come across a pothole. It drives me crazy,” said Darling, who is now himself the city’s mayor, serving his second term.
Darling’s rise from city attorney to city commissioner and now mayor caps over three decades of service to his adopted city. McAllen has changed greatly over Darling’s time in McAllen. The city has always featured a pro-business climate, robust retailing and the solid infrastructure developed under Brand.
Recognizing the Softer Side
The latter’s successors as mayors, including current Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez and now Darling, have focused on quality of life issues. These include the addition of hike-and-bike trails and the development of the largest single floor library in the United States. There are also more museums and festivals in the city. All these efforts to add new elements to the city were borne out recently when U.S. News & World Report ranked McAllen number three nationally for best places to live for quality of life.
The magazine described McAllen as “a vibrant metro area” with an abundance of festivals and an outstanding public library. It also touted the International Museum of Art & Science.
“It shows that while we’ve maintained a strong business community, we’ve expanded quality of life with hike-and-bike trails, improved bus systems, and more cultural events and parades,” Darling said of the ranking. “There’s more things for people to do here.”
The U.S. News recognition of McAllen comes during a year of a pandemic that has altered life in the city and temporarily diminished some of the attributes cited by the magazine.
“A lot of the things we got recognized for are events we had to curtail,” Darling said.
Easing Back In
McAllen is beginning to gradually and carefully ease back into some city celebrations. The Fiesta De Palmas and McAllen’s holiday parade will be held in a limited fashion at the city’s convention center area. Social distancing and limits on crowd sizes will be maintained while giving local residents some semblance of the yearly celebrations.
The city will eventually return to its robust offerings as cited by U.S. News, which gave McAllen a high score of 7.8 on its quality of life scale. The magazine cited retailing, strong medical and health care services, and international trade as some of the city’s best qualities. The boost in the arts and recreation have been integral to making the city more livable and enjoyable. They give a softer edge to a city known for business.
Darling also cites that politically, McAllen has become more inclusive. Single-member districts for city government representatives widen the pool of city leaders.
“We’ve diversified in so any different ways,” Darling said. “I feel like we had a really good base to build from in making the city an even better place to live.”