Forward to the Past

Grapevine Lake project takes aim at the automobile

All that said, what will Lakeside, this modestly revolutionary community, look like? While the plan is not final, one can expect a retail center similar in size to that of Highland Park Village at the entrance to the community from International Parkway, the road that stretches north from the airport to Flower Mound. From that entrance, a grand avenue will curve through the development, gradually exposing the view of the lake until it terminates at the site's highest point. There, the planners anticipate some kind of civic building or park where, Duany says, "people enjoy the sunset over the lake every day as a civic ritual." In between, there will be a variety of housing types: apartments, townhouses, detached houses, some with garage apartments.

Throughout Lakeside, there will be parks about the size of a city block within a two-minute walk of each house--what Duany calls "hollering distance" for parents and children. There will also be a larger, eight-acre park near the center of the community. Most of these green spaces will be designed around existing natural features, including a wetlands area and a number of large trees.

You can also expect an architectural style quite different from your average North Dallas development. While Penteco will build the streets, utilities, and other public spaces in Lakeside, other builders and developers will build the houses, stores, and offices--which raises one of the most controversial aspects of Duany and Plater-Zyberk's method.

To insure that the buildings that go up in their communities can coexist harmoniously, the developments always impose a strict architectural code. Based on local precedent, the code dictates the kinds and colors of materials that builders may use, the shapes of windows, the angle of roofs, even the varieties of plants. In some of their towns, including Seaside, houses are required to have porches and picket fences.

Some architects view such rules as stifling creativity; some builders regard them as anti-capitalist. "Developers call me a communist, and architects call me a fascist," says Duany. But those who sign on to his methods ultimately learn to live happily with the sort of privately imposed restrictions that they would never countenance from government zoning planners, Duany says.

The architectural style Duany and his team members settled on for Lakeside is the kind of clean, simple aesthetic pioneered in Texas by the late architects David Williams and O'Neil Ford. They were, in turn, inspired by the lean, metal-roofed barns and houses of the Texas Hill Country, with masonry lower stories and balconied wooden upper stories. The range of allowable colors--yellows, reds, tans, and browns--was drawn from rock samples on the Lakeside site. The look is as spare as some modern architecture, but with a scale and language of detail that give it a warmth and historical resonance. And it is dramatically different from the ubiquitous, mongrel-like local suburban houses--with their concentration of gables, arched windows, and columns--that architects deride as "North Dallas Specials."

Duany insists that his developments need architectural codes because architects and builders don't behave responsibly: "When traditional towns were designed, planners could count on architects to be responsible urbanists, team players." Modern architects, though, "have been taught to be individualists and to mangle plans."

To those who conclude that he and Plater-Zyberk are peddling nostalgia, Disneyesque historical kitsch, Duany responds that any good architect--regardless of his aesthetic leanings--can work within his guidelines.

But his lectures and his own firm's work reinforce the idea that traditional urbanism is about more than just finding better physical patterns for communities. In his slide lectures, compelling images of long-gone community life--a turn-of-the-century crowd on a New England green, for example--recur, and he promises tremendous turn-back-the-clock social benefits along with his design.

Some of these are obvious: if more people lived near where they work, they could reclaim some of the best hours of the day that they now spend commuting. And neighborhoods with their own civic and commercial centers would help people better identify with neighbors.

But some of Duany's claims seem to confuse cause and effect: some of our sense of alienation and rootlessness has to do with our increased mobility and divorce rate, for example. And when Duany blames the suburbs for creating the need for retirement communities (because old people can't stay in the suburbs after they quit driving), he forgets about the breakdown of the extended family, another reason retirement homes become popular, and one whose connection to postwar planning is remote at best.

Another of Duany and Plater-Zyberk's ideals is a community of mixed incomes; that is why they insist on a variety of housing types. But so far, their built projects have been victims of their own success.

Seaside, for example, started out as a middle-class resort. But because the town was so different and so appealing, property values soon skyrocketed. (Some of Duany and Plater-Zyberk's draftspeople had been paid in Seaside lots, which ended up funding their graduate educations.) "Until this kind of development becomes normative," Duany notes, "people will bid it up."

Lakeside, too, is likely to become as much a high-end enclave as its model, Highland Park, although it is hard to say how builders will react to the traditional-neighborhood idea. Market forces could also affect the mix of housing: if buyers don't take to the attached row houses, for example, the zoning may change accordingly.

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