Willacy County is a rural community (pop. 21,515) in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, thirty miles north of Mexico. In 2017, Hispanics and Latinos represented 88% of the population. The County has 16 colonias with some that lack adequate infrastructure for water and sewer. Due to its location along the Gulf of Mexico, Willacy County is vulnerable to tropical storms and hurricanes and has faced significant flooding and wind damages in recent years. County leaders and stakeholders identified a need to unify residents and develop a vision to become a resilient and environmentally friendly community. In collaboration with Texas Sea Grant, Texas Target Communities partnered with Willacy County to develop a county-wide plan to guide growth over the next twenty years.
Three graduate urban planning and one undergraduate geography course contributed to the plan. The process included several public meetings and various outreach efforts to discuss community values, a vision, and goals. By engaging local stakeholders, the process produced a vision to embrace the unique cultural heritage, strengthen the connection to the land and sea, and prepare for the future by promoting vitality, health, well-being, and safety. Guided by that vision, the resulting plan includes ideas to enhance the quality of life, increase access to parks and recreational programs, and promote vibrant neighborhoods with resilient infrastructure that support public safety, and continuity in the face of disasters. The plan also focuses on additional floodplain standards and ways to guide development away from hazards.
Additional project features:
With 36% of the population in poverty, the community identified the need for economic development. The plan explores strategies to leverage community assets, including the natural environment that attracts “Winter Texans” for various recreational activities such as bird watching, fresh and salt-water fishing, and hunting.
Located near the U.S.-Mexico border, Colonias, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), are defined as “residential subdivisions, usually in unincorporated areas of a county, lacking all or some of the basic services, such as water and sewer, paved roads, electricity, drainage, etc.” Colonias are rural communities close to the US-Mexico border that may lack decent housing or adequate water and sewer infrastructure. To understand these communities’ needs and conditions, the project team connected to the Colonias Program. The Colonias Program helps increase self-sufficiency and enhances the quality of life for colonias residents all along the Texas-Mexico border.
Because of the growing concern of the spread of COVID-19 in April 2020, we had to reimagine ways to continue our in-person meetings by implementing online engagement through Facebook, Zoom, and ESRI StoryMaps.
On April 28, 2020, we held a Public Meeting on Facebook Live to discuss Big Ideas and goals for the future of the County. We received 78 comments, 31 shares, and over 100 reactions on the video, whether it was at the time of the virtual event or in the following days and weeks. Additionally, we had nearly 80 live viewers during the stream.
Raymondville High School extracurricular group called the Youth Advisory Council (YAC) participated in the planning process by joining the community meetings in November and March. Early in the planning process, the students conducted a needs assessment in order to obtain information about what the community members felt was needed to make Raymondville a better place to live. The students came together to create a proposal for an emergency clinic to serve the residents of Raymondville and surrounding cities. They created a video that was presented at a June 2020 Raymondville Townhall.