I grew up in a town that was so small that I couldn’t walk to Tastee Freez without three people calling my mom let her know where I was. I couldn’t get away with anything.
When we moved to Mansfield in 2000, there was still a tiger painted on the side of Burger King to support the only high school in town. I thought we were moving to a place that would be a lot like where I grew up.
Evidently we were part of the great migration, just another U-Haul rolling into town and swelling the population. Although that parade has slowed, Mansfield has changed from a small rural town known for the Kowbell Rodeo to winning awards for one of the best places to live in the United States. The latest honor was being named the sixth Best Small City in America to Move To by Movoto Real Estate. The real estate blog looked at 100 U.S. cities with populations less than 60,000, comparing cost of living, safety, unemployment and home sales.
While nobody minds winning another recognition, everyone seems to have a different opinion on whether Mansfield is actually a city or if it’s still a town.
Everybody pretty much agrees that it was a small town not that long ago. You hear from people who grew up here, how everybody knew everybody and their mama. A lot seem to miss those days, and I understand that. I take it as a personal favor -- now that I’m a mom -- when someone calls me when they see my kids stepping out of line.
So if we are a city, when did that happen?
It hasn’t been one for long, maybe five years, said Allen Saxe, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Texas at Arlington. The difference between a city and a town is semantics, he said.
“It’s what they really want to call themselves,” he said. “A city sounds big. A village sounds nice.
“(Mansfield) is a city, it’s growing and doing it in a methodical way, with zoning and building codes,” Saxe said. “They looked at other cities. That’s good, it shows that people are paying attention.”
While Mansfield has grown into what Saxe and others consider a small city, some towns fight growth and anything connected with it, he said. Flower Mound, with more than 67,000 residents, calls itself a town with a town council, town manager and town hall. Others vote to keep out large corporations or franchises.
Marc Flake, public information officer for Tarrant County, says Mansfield was definitely a town when he moved here in 1994. The population was about 15,000 when he moved into a house built in a pasture, he said. Now, Mansfield feels a lot more like a city, Flake said.
“It’s got a Sam’s (Club) for Pete’s sake,” he said.
Flake pointed me toward the Texas Municipal League, which does make some designations. According to the league’s handbook, “A city can change its designation from ‘town’ to ‘city’ by ordinance once it becomes Type A (general law city).” And “A Type B or C city may change to a Type A city once it has reached 600 inhabitants or gains a manufacturing facility.”
So if you go by that ruling, Mansfield has been a city for almost a century, even when a lot of the streets weren’t paved.
Of course to really go big time, a general law city has to hit 5,000 inhabitants, the handbook says, then residents can vote to adopt a charter and become a home rule city. Home rule cities can do anything that doesn’t violate state or federal law, while general law cities operate under state statutes.
Mansfield voted to become a home rule city in 1975, so if you go by that, we’ve been citified for almost 40 years.
Of course, everybody is still going to have their own opinion.
My youngest son, who was about to start kindergarten when we moved to Mansfield, gets upset if we go out to eat and he doesn’t see anyone he knows. Even with approximately 60,000 residents in Mansfield, that rarely happens. So he’s satisfied that his hometown is still a small town.
When I told my husband that anything over 600 people was city, so we weren’t a small town anymore, he just smiled.
“Well, I only know about 500 of them, so it’s still a small town to me,” he said.