Perfect Town, USA

Frisco wants to lure Andy and Opie with a Starbucks. Why is that an evil plan?

"The mayor looked at [the sprawl and overdone residential developments] happening in Plano and said, 'I don't want this to happen to Frisco. I want my town to develop differently. And I want to keep some of the values of the original place,'" Schwarz says.

Lettellier agreed. He'd been a city planner in Plano and knew the potential pitfalls that lay ahead for the growing city, how explosive growth can have explosive results. After more than a year of meetings, the concept of Frisco Square was born. Lettellier and the various city offices set about the task of figuring out how they wanted to raise it.

"They were open to the concept of traditional town development--new urbanism. They saw the value in it," Lettellier says of the city council and zoning and planning commissions. "They saw what's happening in Southlake. We visited Celebration in Florida, did a lot of research from these type of developments, and the city was very comfortable in trying to do something like that."

Nothing to see here: In a few years, Friscans can get frisky at Frisco Square. Right now, it's just a scale model.
Mark Graham
Nothing to see here: In a few years, Friscans can get frisky at Frisco Square. Right now, it's just a scale model.
Five Star Development's first town square, Parker Square in Flower Mound, is a living, breathing brochure for Frisco Square.
Mark Graham
Five Star Development's first town square, Parker Square in Flower Mound, is a living, breathing brochure for Frisco Square.

In November 2001, the city officially broke ground on Frisco Square, the $600 million, 4 million-square-foot development that will contain all of the city's offices, as well as a library, church, police station, senior center and dozens of parks and gardens, plus high-end apartments and townhomes. Schwarz came up with the master plan and is designing some of the buildings. With Frisco growing at an exponential rate--according to the U.S. Census, it's the fastest-growing city in Texas and one of the fastest-growing in the country--McDowell's plan was for the 100-year-old city to start fresh. With so many new faces in Frisco, it was a fine time to try, and Frisco Square is the right place to do it.

"The vision is about building community pride and a sense of place," McDowell says. "I believe in building more than just financially viable office and retail developments. If you create the density and project tenant mix that keeps people from retreating to their cars to go to lunch or the dry cleaners, if you provide a venue for people to gather together for special events, then you get to know your neighbors. That's how you create community."

Celebration, the "city" Disney opened for business in 1996, tried the same thing. A residential development 30 miles outside downtown Orlando, Celebration was designed to mirror a pre-World War II small town. It was to be a model for how a town should work, where people knew their neighbors and everything was in walking distance: stores, city services, entertainment, whatever. It would be racially and financially diverse, less a community than another Magic Kingdom.

Celebration turned out to be as white as a sheet of paper and just about as blank. Residents didn't sit on their front porches visiting with neighbors; they sat inside watching television. People still used their cars because they had to: The stores on Market Street seemed to cater more to tourists than to Celebration's citizens. The city was too insulated, and Disney and the "town fathers"--the city's informal leadership committee--were too controlling. As Bill Potts, a retired home builder and father of one of Celebration's disgruntled residents, says at the end of Celebration, U.S.A.: Living in Disney's Brave New Town, Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins' 1999 book documenting the community's first three years: "[Disney] may be able to build an amusement park, but they can't build a town." A sense of community developed in Celebration, but it was in spite of the town's planners, not because of them. The same thing could happen to Frisco Square, says writer Alex Marshall.

"Because they're built around the car and they really have to be for people to have access to them, then the normal routine of daily life really doesn't change very much usually," Marshall says. "People usually still have to drive to get to the supermarket. It's very difficult to get any kind of commerce going in these places, because for a store to work, they need exposure to traffic. So, you can't have a town square in the middle of a subdivision be successful commercially. You just don't have the density. You don't have enough traffic, so they tend to be problematic.

"The neo-traditional subdivisions outside of town...I'm pretty skeptical of," he continues. "They tend to say that they are a return to traditional small towns, but I think it's kind of fake. Traditional small towns don't stand for exclusivity or privatization. These subdivisions, they're typically governed by a homeowners' association. That's not a real town; that's a private real estate venture. Basically, they tend to be just another subdivision, but they tend to try to hide that."

Frisco Square is managed by a homeowners' association; it's a selling point, in fact, a way to attract people who want the maintenance-free lifestyle the homeowners' association will ensure. And Frisco Square's price structure naturally guarantees exclusivity: The homes range from 2,900 to 4,200 square feet with prices as high as $500,000. The apartments aren't much cheaper, and with their granite countertops and high-end fixtures, they can't be. Lower-price-point homes are next on the agenda, Hanson says, but don't expect them to be that much lower.

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