Forward to the Past

Grapevine Lake project takes aim at the automobile

Some of Duany and Plater-Zyberk's rhetoric - and much of what has been written about them -- conjures up Norman Rockwell images of New England village greens or Texas courthouse squares. But the planners say nothing like these idyllic models is feasible today because they were created before cars were a planning issue. It is instead the garden suburbs of the 1920s -- such as Highland Park and University Park -- that they look to for inspiration.

"Neighborhoods like these were designed to accommodate the car, but they are made for the happiness of people, not cars," Duany says. He took his design team on a tour of Highland Park and the Highland Park Village shopping center during the week-long planning process.

The developers of Village of Lakeside were delighted at Duany's interest in Highland Park as a precedent, since their history and that of Highland Park are closely linked. Lakeside's "town founders" (as Duany and Plater-Zyberk shrewdly refer to their developers) are Peter and Betty May Stewart and their five adult children, who own a real estate development company called Penteco. Mrs. Stewart is a granddaughter of Colonel Henry Exall, who laid the groundwork for Highland Park in the 1880s by building Turtle Creek Boulevard and what became known as Exall Lake.

In the 1970s, Stewart began acquiring land at the southern tip of Flower Mound, including a piece with 60-foot bluffs that offer a spectacular view of Lake Grapevine. The land, minutes from D-FW Airport, was zoned for "campus commercial" development (that is, suburban corporate citadels like those of Frito-Lay, EDS, and JCPenny in Plano). But Penteco president Alan Stewart, one of Peter Stewart's three sons, says that real estate brokers and planners "all kept coming back to one thing" when they saw the property and its view: "Wouldn't this be a great place to live?" Stewart heard about Duany's work with mixed-use developments and invited his firm to plan the site.

The way Duany and Plater-Zyberk plan a town illustrates how different their thinkin is: most planners talk to their clients, go back to their office and create a plan, then work to get it approved by the client, the various engineering and marketing consultants, and city authorities. Instead, Duany involves all these parties from the beginnin with week-long intensive design sessions he calls "charrettes." (The word comes from architecture school; at Paris' Ecole des Beaux Arts in the 19th century, students would work day and night to finish their projects before a charrette, or cart, came by to collect them. Architects struggling to meet a deadline still say they are "on charrette." ) He brings a team of designers and artists with him, mostly from his own firm, and after touring the site, the group begins drawing, talking, and debating.

On the first day of the Lakeside charrette, each of Duany's 11 designers drew up a plan; the group critiqued these plans with the Stewarts, getting the sites fundamental design issues on the table right away. Among the most pressing was the view: should it be public or private? Modern developers typically create high-priced lots that back up to desirable features such as lakes, creeks, golf courses. But Lakeside will employ a more public-spirited, democratic approach: a street running along the lakefront, lined with apartment buildings of four or five stories.

The group also hashed out the question of block size -- an important one for Duany, since a system of frequent, interconnecting streets (contrasted with the suburban pattern of long, winding streets and cul de sacs) makes it easier for people to walk between destinations and cuts down on car trips. (He claims that his neighborhood development yields 60 percent fewer car trips per day.)

But when the blocks are smaller, streets -- which are expensive to build -- take up more of the land. The planners decided on small, city-sized blocks connected in a loose grid ,though Alan Stewart says that may ultimately require modification for financial reasons.

As the group worked to narrow the original 11 plans to four, Duany greeted each morning of the charrette like a general, briefing members of his team and assigning tasks. One designer explored different options for the office district at the south end of town; another drew floor plans of houses to demonstrate how Lakeside's plan would accommodate the desires of the local market, such as two-story ceilings and opulent master suites. Team members huddled over their drafting tables or wandered around the room exchanging ideas with colleagues, observers, and the Stewarts. Local civil engineers, landscape architects, and real estate brokers provided additional ideas and information. By week's end, Duany had narrowed the list of master plans to two.

That is as complete as Duany wanted the process to be at this point; anything further leaves too little negotiating room with Flower Mound city officials, who still must approve the project's plan. That remains more than a minor obstacle. For all the positive attention Duany and Plater-Zyberk have gotten, both in professional circles and the press, their work is still looked on with puzzlement and suspicion by many government zoning and planning officials, whose current codes prohibit many components of Duany's "traditional" neighborhoods--especially the mix of uses and the narrow street widths Duany advocates to increase density and slow down cars. The process of winning zoning variances and other approvals for Lakeside is likely to take up to a year.

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