Welcome to our Sweet 16 Round of the Strongest Town Competition. We invite you to read the answers that representatives from these two towns provided to questions about transportation, incremental growth, adapting to challenges, and more. Please scroll down to the bottom to vote!


Photo of National Corndog Day in San Marcos, by Regina Rodriguez

Photo of National Corndog Day in San Marcos, by Regina Rodriguez

San Marcos, TX

Entry submitted by Charlotte Wattingly, Collette Jamison, Kristi Wyatt, Kevin Burke, Abigail Gillfillan, Trey Hatt, Rev. Todd Salmi, Will Parrish, and Tory Carpenter

Describe your town's transportation system and what transportation options are available for residents.

The City of San Marcos recently adopted a Transportation Network Companies ordinance and now has active service from Uber and Lyft. The City has also adopted a Complete Streets ordinance.  The city already has clearly marked bicycle lanes in some areas and is incorporating bicycle and pedestrian facilities into all capital improvement projects. Texas State University provides bus and shuttle service throughout the community for university students, faculty and staff. The regional transportation system (CARTS) continues to expand its circulator system in San Marcos and from San Marcos to other cities in the region.  The primary hub of the bus system is located at the local Amtrak station that provides daily service to nearby Austin and San Antonio. The City is currently partnering with CARTS on a marketing plan to encourage more use of the municipal and regional bus system. The City of San Marcos supports efforts related to regional commuter rail and commits funds and support toward the future regional commuter rail project Lone Star Rail. In addition to vehicular transportation options, the City of San Marcos has implemented a sidewalk plan to fix gaps in the existing sidewalk system as well as provide sidewalk service to areas that are currently lacking. The City is also working on a Greenways Master Plan that will provide off road pedestrian and bicycle access thought the city and connect our many parks.

The City is experiencing rapid growth and making strategic decisions in order to continue to provide for citizens’ individual needs while keeping our core values intact. We’ve also revisited what’s important to us.

Give an example of an incremental project that your town has undertaken.

San Marcos has been in the spotlight over the past three years as the fastest growing city in the country. The City is experiencing rapid growth and making strategic decisions in order to continue to provide for citizens’ individual needs while keeping our core values intact. We've also revisited what's important to us: the cultural heritage of San Marcos, the unparalleled natural beauty and public spaces, the job-creating businesses, our identity as a home of higher education, and our downtown - the heart of our community. Those are just some of the reason the city is investing $20 million in our downtown reconstruction project to supports the goals of our comprehensive plan while improving connectivity between Texas State University, downtown and the adjacent historic neighborhoods.  In fact, Texas State University is a major partner in this project, with a $3 million investment for additional electrical utilities and telecommunication infrastructure. The project includes new, wider sidewalks, bike racks and benches, improved streets, beautiful new landscaping and lights - and the less visible improvements to our underground utilities and drainage system. Part of this process has been reducing the number of vehicle lanes, and reducing lane size, while increasing and improving pedestrian and bicycle facilities. In order to achieve the desired effect of reduced traffic lanes and a safe pedestrian and bicyclist environment, the City is working to take over much of the State DOT system that has historically dominated our City. It also proposed a plan to convert one –way streets downtown to two-way streets to enhance economic viability and downtown as a destination. This project also includes new ordinances to encourage residents to visit and congregate downtown -- like our sidewalk café and parklet ordinance and our dining with pets ordinance.

Describe how residents of your town are actively involved in local decision making.

  • Boards and Commissions - Residents show their love for the community by being actively involved in City boards and commissions, especially Arts Commission, Park & Recreation, Main Street (downtown), and Planning and Zoning Commission.
  • Resident Led Organizations - Residents also volunteer to lead groups such as  the San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance, San Marcos River Foundation and joint City and university groups like Achieving Community Together (ACT), a program that encourages residents and students to work together to make San Marcos a better place to live and attend school.
  • Public Meetings - Turnout for public meetings range from dozens to hundreds of residents depending on the topic.  Those who can’t engage in person often watch our public meetings online or on the City’s municipal channel.  The City has held several public meetings with the interactive capabilities to allow residents who cannot attend in person to ask questions and comment via a chat window during live stream broadcasts.
  • CODE SMTX - A great example of public participation is the development of the comprehensive plan and the ongoing CodeSMTX land development code update.  The City is currently in the process of rewriting the land development code.  City staff jointly leads the process with input from the CodeSMTX Think Tank of community members.  The Think Tank has met 24 times since September 2014 and will make recommendations to City Council once their work is complete.  Additionally, the City has seen a good turnout at the dozens of public meetings and community presentation that have been held.  The CodeSMTX email subscription list includes over 627 individuals, with a reach of nearly 1,000, indicating that residents are sharing the information with friends and neighbors.  

Tell us a story about how your town adapted to a challenge in some way.

In the early morning hours of Sunday, May 25, 2015 hundreds of people in the City of San Marcos and across Hays County were forced to evacuate their homes as the city’s two rivers burst over their banks flooding homes, businesses and roads. Twelve people in Hays County lost their lives, including two children whose bodies have not yet been found. The floods impacted 1,200 homes in Hays County, 844 homes in San Marcos, nearly 350 of those homes sustained major damage or were destroyed. More than 600 children in San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District were impacted; many lost all of their possessions.  The flood was referred to as a flood of record. Just 5 months later, another devastating flood swept the community.  This time there was no loss of life, and while the damage was significantly less intense, it was much more widespread, impacting more than a 1,000 homes in San Marcos alone.

The City was able to immediately set up a disaster assistance donation center and volunteer center after the first flood... It would not have been possible without the help of hundreds of volunteers.

Organizations and individuals extended a helping hand with services and manpower for everything from clean-up to healthcare. The City was able to immediately set up a disaster assistance donation center and volunteer center after the first flood.  While it was city run, it would not have been possible without the help of hundreds of volunteers. In the first two weeks after the Memorial Weekend flood more than 5,000 people registered and showed up to volunteer.  736 individuals and groups donated flood supplies and clothing.  Local business stepped up to offer help like free laundry services, replacement eyeglasses and clothing.  Donations to the City-run donation center totaled more than $221,400 dollars in just two weeks.

Groups rallied together and raised funds. Musicians quickly put together a benefit concert that sold out in just days.  The San Marcos Convention and Visitors Bureau created an SMTX Stronger Together logo and sold logo apparel to raise money for flood victims.  This logo and tagline became our city’s identity for months.  A quick search of the hashtags #SMTXStrongerTogether and #SMTXFlood will show the dedication, commitment and support our community experiences in the aftermath of tragedy.

The two biggest volunteer organizations to form as a result of the flood are the Blanco River Regional Recovery Team, a non-profit organization that is handling long-term recovery for the area.  The organization is made up of volunteers from across the region, with heavy participation from the San Marcos residents.  The organization is responsible for case management, donations, volunteers and emotional support for Memorial Day and October flood survivor.  Serve San Marcos, which was formed just before the flood by First United Methodist Church in San Marcos, has also been instrumental in organizing volunteers across the community to clean, rebuild and assist with recovery. Since May 2015 over 4,500 volunteers have registered and been assigned to projects in the San Marcos community.  Rev. Todd Salmi with Serve San Marcos says San Marcos is an extremely giving community.  He has volunteers young and old.  He’s most proud of the university students who take what they learn in the classroom and volunteer to use it in a practical way to serve the community.

The Downtown Square is the heart of our city where San Marcos’ hip personality really shines.

Does you town have a central "downtown" or district? If so, please describe this place.

The downtown district is bordered by historic neighborhoods to the West, Texas State University to the North, the San Marcos River and associated park system to the East, and Interstate 35 to the South. Within the downtown district, we have a very active Main Street district, which hosts many events throughout the year, from wine and wassail walks and National Corndog Day, to the Western Swing Festival. Our Main Street Department holds yearly award services where local business are celebrated and the best redevelopment sites awarded.  The Downtown Square is the heart of our city where San Marcos’ hip personality really shines. It’s filled with eclectic shops, boutiques and local eats. You will find everything from a favorite grill that’s been open almost 70 years to new art galleries less than a month old. Art markets, music festivals, outdoor movies and quirky events like “Just for Fun Parade” or “Corndog Day” are always a pleasant weekend surprise. Whimsical lights and “Kissing Alley” set the scene. We're a study in contradictions - a leisurely daytime stroll in and around the historic 1909 county courthouse to shop or dine turns into a rocking good time once the sun goes down.

The City of San Marcos has adopted a Form Based Code for the downtown district to which builds upon the form of the Historic Downtown Square, the core of the downtown. The City is already seeing success with both incremental expansions of existing structures and larger redevelopments.

What is your favorite thing about your town?

The people of San Marcos care about their community. San Marcos residents are passionate about their City, the San Marcos River (72 degrees year round, crystal clear water, home to several endangered species), and their parks system. It has been the passion on the citizens that has allowed the City to obtain the parklands and limit developments over the aquifer that keeps our river running clear. There is very little apathy when it comes to residents wanting to improve San Marcos. Residents may not always agree with each other about what would improve the community, but they are all willing to stand up and speak out and express their opinions in public forums and fight for what they believe in.

San Marcos is a groove. A way of living. Of doing things. Where else can you walk through a historic neighborhood to downtown and watch a unicycle football game? Where else can you watch hundreds of springs bubble up and form the headwaters of your namesake’s river then jump in a tube or kayak and relax? The people are passionate, the city has a young vibe that keeps the ideas fresh, and the cliché “a great place to raise children” is actually true in San Marcos.  That’s why we affectionately refer to our community as San Marvelous.


Photo by Ken Kinder

Photo by Ken Kinder

Boulder, CO

Entry submitted by Steven Herzfeld

Describe your town's transportation system and what transportation options are available for residents.

Boulder, Colorado is part of an extensive public transportation system which includes many towns and cities on the front Range of Colorado. This includes frequent express bus service to Denver from multiple locations within town. Boulder also has an extensive network of bicycle infrastructure including on-street paths,  paved and unpaved trails, and well-marked bicycle routes through residential streets. Boulder also has a bicycle share program, and a car share program.

Give an example of an incremental project that your town has undertaken.

Recently Boulder has experimented with increasing its bicycle lane infrastructure on certain streets with its rightsizing program.  This created a protective barrier between the bicycle lane and the car traffic. It also reduced the lanes of car traffic from four lanes, to two lanes and a center turn lane.

Describe how residents of your town are actively involved in local decision making.

Many residents are active in promoting both political and economic policies among the community. Presidents can directly participate in the political process by attending our Tuesday night  City Council meetings.

Boulder has adopted a model of rapidly increasing the availability of affordable housing by mandating it in new development projects.

Tell us a story about how your town adapted to a challenge in some way.

With the bow of tech industry jobs, the city has struggled with affordable housing options for many of its residents in non-tech industries.  Boulder has adopted a model of rapidly increasing the availability of affordable housing by mandating it in new development projects. Developers can opt out of the program, but must contribute to a public fund supporting affordable housing.

Does you town have a central "downtown" or district? If so, please describe this place.

Boulder Colorado does have a central downtown, known as Pearl Street. In this district, buildings are occupied by modern offices and retail spaces. Four blocks of Pearl street are reserved for pedestrians only, giving the area a vibrant mix of users including locals vibrant mix of users including locals,  students, and tourists. Boulder has also successfully incubated other centers for the community. North Boulder, for example,  features a large retail district, lots of affordable and mixed-use housing, restaurants, and workshop spaces for rent.

The University Hill area of Boulder is central to campus life at the University of Colorado. This thriving district features retail, restaurants, and entertainment which is aimed at students. University Hill sits directly beside the CU campus and is a popular area of town for students to live.

What is your favorite thing about your town?

My personal favorite thing about Boulder is the bicycle and mixed-use infrastructure,  including the city and county space reserved for outdoor recreation.  Using the city's bicycle infrastructure, you can often go door-to-door between two locations without riding with car traffic,  sometimes even using off-street paths exclusively. The ease of use of the bicycle infrastructure system is further advanced by boulders mild weather,   Even in winter. And when it does snow, the city gives off-street bicycle path is a high priority for snow removal.


Voting is now closed.