Perfect Town, USA

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

So you won't have to worry about who's living next door to you at Frisco Square. They'll be well-off, upper-middle to lower-upper, just like you. They might even make good neighbors. And McDowell may yet succeed at building a community where he's building his development. Most likely not the one he's selling.

If you want an even better idea of what Frisco Square eventually will be, get back on state Highway 121 and drive another 30 minutes west and south, and you'll end up in Southlake. This is where the model for mixed-use developments exists. Literally. Southlake Town Square is on the cover of the Urban Land Institute's Mixed-Use Development Handbook, a how-to guide for city planners.

It's not Frisco Square, either. Not exactly, not yet. But it's closer to it than Parker Square is: After a protracted dispute with the city and some of its residents, Cooper & Stebbins--the project's developer--is building its first phase of 29 brownstones around Southlake Town Square (35 people are on the waiting list to buy one), with a second phase of 39 following soon after. The number eventually will be 155.

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.

Once the new homes are in place, the development will be much more comparable to Frisco Square, the kind of place where, ideally, you can live, work, shop and play. Right now, three out of four ain't bad.

On a Friday afternoon, Southlake Town Square looks exactly like the photo on the cover of ULI's handbook. The imposing columns of Southlake's red-brick courthouse overlook a cozy park with a pair of fountains and dozens of children at play. A grandmother and her grandson share a snowcone. Another kid shares a scoop of ice cream with his shirt. The demographics are perfect--multiple ages, races, the whole bit.

More so than Parker Square, Southlake Town Square is a real mall, only with a courthouse as the main anchor store. Tenants include The Gap, Eddie Bauer, Bath & Body Works, Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel and, of course, a Starbucks. It's slightly upscale, but then, so is Southlake. It's as though someone chopped the top off NorthPark and made it a convertible.

Once again, Schwarz's hand is evident right away: another mess of nostalgic storefronts, separate but equal, different but the same. This is what suburban cities look like, if you forget 60 years of history. Or that none of this was here a decade ago.

Today, it's bustling. You have to circle a bit to find a parking space, and even then, you have to engage in a bit of defensive driving to get it. When you circle, however, the most distressing aspect of Southlake Town Square pops up: The development already has an adjacent strip center, a one-story complex around back called The West Side District. Euphemisms aside, it's a strip mall. But whatever.

"For Southlake it creates a downtown core that we did not have," says Greg Last, the city's director of economic development. Since it opened in 1999, he's given tours to city leaders from all over the country, most recently the mayor of San Antonio. "In order to hold a homecoming parade, we had to go to Grapevine and borrow Main Street. When Town Square was finished, they had their first homecoming parade actually in Southlake. It was phenomenal--people pushing baby carriages and kids in the parade and bands playing and antique cars going down the road."

Southlake had an instant history. Thanks in large part to Schwarz, it doesn't seem so short-lived. This is why many of his critics accuse him of being little more than a nostalgia rapist, pilfering from the past to create his vision. Instead of lending authenticity, they say, it adds the fakeness of which Marshall speaks.

Schwarz believes he's doing things the right way and doing right by the people and cities that hire him. In Frisco, in Flower Mound and here in Southlake, there is a development war going on, and he wants to be on the winning side.

"There are those people who are building big-box retail in a fashion that defeats pedestrianism," Schwarz says from his Washington, D.C., office. "It doesn't even deny it--it defeats it, makes it impossible and really locks you into development patterns that have been postwar development patterns throughout the Sun Belt. And there are those forces that are pushing to look at Texas traditions of towns from the 1890s until some time in the 1940s and say, you know, Texas has a great tradition of pedestrianism and town-building and actually has some of the finest towns in the United States, I think, and trying to build on that."

Barb Cominoli has already drunk the Kool-Aid that Frisco Square is offering, so to speak. The company she works for, Quantum Custom Homes, is one of the companies that has signed on to build homes in the development. Quantum believes in the project so much, it doesn't sell homes anywhere else. Cominoli is, let's just say, enthusiastic.

"That's where we want to be," Cominoli says. "We've decided that we want to be a part of that community, and we've got both feet in there. We're staying for the long haul! It's getting back to where neighbors know neighbors. Kids can play stickball in the street. The neighbors are on the stoop and hi-de-ho and having a barbecue. It's everybody being around in a community, being able to sit in parks together and take long walks to the library, and you can walk to a restaurant and meet your friends and walk back home and not have to keep driving in your car and messing with traffic."

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