These eight maps show how annexation shaped Tyler, from 1940 to today

Few decisions can more dramatically rewire a city than annexation, the process of widening city borders to absorb nearby land — and people. A bigger footprint can mean more demand for public services, more tax dollars to spend, more housing and traffic, and so on. Those decisions have everything to do with the way race and class work in a city, and that’s why annexation is often a bitterly divisive issue. Just last month, the Texas state senate battled over the future of annexation and what power cities should wield over their neighbors.

The history of annexation in Tyler, it turns out, offers something of a master class in both the messiness and the transformative power of this process. Here’s a look at how the shape of city has changed over the last nearly 80 years:

Most annexed land has either incorporated existing structures into the city or reserved lands for ones about to be built. Far more property has been added in the south than elsewhere, slowly stretching the city vertically. In the 1960s, portions of highways 69 and 271 were annexed, providing antennas for the city’s characteristic bug-shaped outline.

More recently, the city has annexed areas far removed from its geographic center. Tyler Pounds Regional Airport was merged into the city in 2011, and the UT Health Science Center was gobbled up the next year. Among the most recent acquisitions is a wedge of land along Highway 69 adjacent to I-20. This tiny slice of Tyler provides a jumping off point from which the city could annex, say, a future Amazon warehouse or other desirable property that pops up along the highway down the road (so to speak).

Tyler’s city plan lays out priorities for what the city should annex next and why. The plan includes a map showing how Tyler has changed over time. We used that data — provided to us by the city — to create the maps above.

Over the next few months, we will be further exploring what the shape of the city means for the people who live here. Has growth always been a good thing? What role has annexation played in Tyler’s stark, entrenched segregation? Will downtown Tyler ever thrive again, now that the city’s economic center has moved so far south? If you think you have some answers, or better questions, send us an email. We’d love to hear from you.