After 28 years living in northern California, I find myself back in the Magic Valley, land of my youth. It’s been a bittersweet homecoming, but it’s been a good move.

As the saying goes, you can’t go home again – because “home” will never be the same as it was. Everything changes, evolves, grows. And the Valley has definitely done that.

As a professional journalist, I’ve learned to see and ask questions about the environment around me – about details others don’t see anymore due to familiarity.

Settling into life in the mid-Valley, I’ve noticed many changes here.

Growing up in the McAllen, things were slower paced. Just about everyone knew everyone else, or knew someone who knew them. And many of us were related to folks in the area, making for a fairly close knit society. Small towns are like that.

There were city parks to gather in, there were always neighborhood pick-up ball games going on, and drivers looked out for kids, with the state by-word being “Drive Friendly”.

Fast forward a few decades.

Now we have the Expressway – “Highway 2” versus “Old” or “Business” 83.

Driving Friendly? Having driven in and around Los Angeles, Drivers here put them to shame with their sheer madness on the road. On any given evening, you can find drag racing – in the same lane – along the Expressway, and folks weaving in and out of lanes like it’s their own personal Autoban. Defensive driving is crucial here. And if the Texas Highway Patrol has a presence on the roads, it’s hard to spot.

Practically every town features continuous strip malls, warehouses and hundreds of restaurants. In other areas that’s called urban sprawl.

There are still parks, just not as noticeable, unless you consider the state parks or Nature Centers. Green space isn’t a priority here. And childrens playgrounds – a staple of growing up in the 50’s and 60’s here? Not so much.

So many other changes too.

Ever noticed how many pawn shops there are? Having lived on both coasts and in-between, I can honestly say I’ve never seen so many per square mile within the main section of each town as there are here. When did this happen?

Progress comes in many forms. And the Valley has seen some great growth.

Birding has become a huge industry here. It’s put the Valley on the map big time. And the presence of STC, UTRGV and the new Texas A&M campus in the works speaks well for the next generation. Education has become a real priority here it seems, and that’s terrific.

But there’s a flip side.

Throughout the Valley, there’s an obvious disparity in economics.

Along with pawn shops, colonias proliferate throughout the Valley. Some existed when I was growing up here, but not in the amazing volume they do now. When did this explode?

“Over the last generation, the disparity of income has been dramatically exacerbated,” said Nedra Kinerk, the President of Futuro McAllen.

Kinerk and her organization work to address quality of life issues here in the area.

“We’re working for better standards of growth – quality not quantity,” Kinerk said. And we need to work towards a perspective of thinking regionally, not locally, she said.

Many others are concerned about these same issues. I hope to profile some of them in future articles.

There are a lot of positive changes visible here in the Valley. But some important questions deserve to be addressed.

What is the evolution that had all this – the pawn shops, the urban sprawl, the disparity of economics versus high priority of education, the colonias – how did it happen? Why was development given its head while Nature was allotted a weak second place?

And what is the long term impact of all this? For environment can nurture or negatively impact those who live in or near it.

We sometimes lose sight of what’s around us. The Valley is special; always has been. But has it become “too” urbanized? Take a fresh look at what’s around. Like me, you might be surprised with what you find.