By Jim Schutze
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"They also, I think, really don't work just on their own terms. They're pitched as kind of having a lot of attributes that people like about older urban communities or smaller towns. But they tend to really not function that differently than typical, conventional subdivisions...They basically just add to the problem of too much development spread out over too large of an area and too much dependence on highways. They're really more like fashion statements than a real solution to sprawl."
If sprawl is evil, then the next few years will determine if Frisco will become just another suburban villain or something unique and worthwhile: a force for good. It will determine who is telling the truth: naysayers like Marshall or people like Cole McDowell, the president of Five Star, and David M. Schwarz, the architectural vision behind the projects in Frisco, Southlake and Flower Mound, as well as the man responsible for The Ballpark at Arlington, the American Airlines Center and Bass Performance Hall, to name a few. They argue that the traditional values represented in Schwarz's past-perfect architectural nostalgia can permeate and shape an entire community, that the design of a community can influence its behavior.
There is already some evidence--Celebration, Disney's much-criticized attempt at city building in Florida that was the model for The Simpsons' Cypress Creek--that it can't. But if Schwarz and McDowell are right, the city of the future just might be the city of the past. If Marshall is, well, at least there will be a new batch of strip malls that look really pretty.
Stand at Parker Square's front entryway and you'll see a living, breathing brochure for Frisco Square. There are no townhomes, but just about everything else is here. From this angle, it really does look like a picture postcard of what most cities in the Dallas-Fort Worth area want to be, missing only a "Wish you were here!" banner hovering just above the rooftops. Just forget that you had to drive through three miles of failed ambition in Lewisville to get here.
Straight ahead, streetlights lead the way like a trail of bread crumbs past two-story buildings housing office and retail space to the solid, stolid Chamber of Commerce building, basking in the sunlight as though it's just waiting for someone to pick up the key to the city. Off to the right, a copper dome with a clock tower stands sentry over the ad hoc downtown. To the left, in the middle of an emerald green lawn, is the kind of gazebo Thornton Wilder wrote plays about. Today, a mom and grandma push a baby in a stroller while another youngster toddles along behind them. Nothing evil about it.
No detail has gone overlooked: David M. Schwarz's designs were meant to invoke the kind of old-fashioned downtown Flower Mound never had, and they do so to an almost fetishistic degree. Brick crosswalks meet you at every intersection, and scattered throughout Parker Square are benches where you can sit and visit for a spell. Vintage-looking fixtures adorn every building, each one constructed with varied brick styles and patterns, as though each had a separate birth. The illusion is that Parker Square grew organically over a few decades. Since it's so freshly scrubbed and new, the criticism often leveled against Schwarz's work--that it's more of a stage set than a town--carries some weight.
But Schwarz's style is exactly what Cole McDowell wanted when he hired Schwarz to design Parker Square. The president of Five Star Development and a Flower Mound resident, McDowell wanted to create a focal point for his community, give it a place to build a sense of history around...and to buy a pair of pants, maybe a nice plate of enchiladas. Build it and they will come and all of that. Flower Mound didn't have much else in that regard, since it was incorporated in 1961 and only recently had to think about what it wants to be when it grows up.
"These suburban communities that were little farm towns 30 years ago have been overrun by housing and land development," McDowell says. He founded Five Star in 1997 after spending the previous 15 years in real estate, building more than 1,000 single-family homes. "In most cases, the city planners and councils have not planned for a downtown. And so they're left with no image except a major intersection with grocery stores on each corner."
In short, he wanted the kind of town square that doesn't really exist anymore, even in places where it sort of does. Look at McKinney. Its old-fashioned town square is essentially a tombstone for the way of life McDowell talks about. The old courthouse, reconstructed in 1927 and currently being reconstructed again as a community arts center set to open in fall 2005, is surrounded on all sides by a dozen antique stores. Yes, there are tree-lined streets, brick crosswalks, office space and retail, restaurants and soda fountains. But they only reinforce the musty, antique atmosphere of the place. The McKinney Community Development Corp. is trying to resurrect the district, but it might be merely giving a face-lift to a corpse. As the low-rider truck pumping 2Pac proves, this is a different time in McKinney.