Saturday, October 13, 2007

Firewheel, Two Years Later

Mom and Dad were in town this weekend, and last night, we went to Gloria's in Firewheel, my favorite Salvadoran place (OK, it's the only Salvadoran place I've ever been to, but it's really, really good.) Seeing as how it's been two years now since Firewheel opened, it was a good time to assess the development's positive impact on the area.

As I said two years ago,
[L]et me reiterate: I'm not a "mall guy." I'll probably never go in half the stores there. But this development (an open-air "lifestyle center" patterned after a small town) is different, because it's going to transform Garland; I could see it happening before my very eyes today. Even the picture in today's paper didn't totally do it justice, because the one thing missing was people. But in real life, there were lots of them, strolling down both sides of the "Main Street" setup, where parking is also allowed, and the streets bustled with car traffic as well. It's definitely not your daddy's mall in that respect.

[...]Walking through the central park, with its fountain and a little stream running through it, I just kept thinking to myself, "I can't believe this is actually in Garland...and less than five minutes from my house." Granted, there were a lot of special things going on--live music, giveaways, etc.--but I don't expect the novelty to wear off anytime soon.
And indeed it hasn't; the dinner crowd was lively last night (we got there around 6:45), and the place was hopping during the obligatory post-dinner walk. It's become quite the gathering place.

I've said before that I'm a big fan of New Urbanism; these developments are both more attractive and infinitely more walkable than the traditional mall setup, and the integration of office space and living space (yes, the Parkside at Firewheel apartments opened recently) makes for a really nice mix of amenities in a single space. (And some might point out that these same things are available all over the place in Old Urbanism areas, but I prefer the environment without the "grit," thank you.)

Any downsides? Well, the place fills up with kids a lot on weekends, which is sure to be a challenge to the Segway-riding security guys on occasion (though as Dad noted last night, the kids are more spread out than at a usual mall), but it's still a great place to take the family. Parking can be a challenge for those who try to drive into the center part on weekends (and the Fourth of July parking plan--or at least the exit from it--still needs major tweaking), but there are enough entrances and exits to the complex that it's usually easy to get in and out. And while the unpredictable Texas weather may keep me from taking The Walk™ on occasion, it's never actually stopped me from doing business there.

In a recent column in the DMN, Russ Sikes of the North Texas chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism suggests that these developments should be integrated into the fabric of the surrounding area rather than simply being "islands." Sure, it could be said that Firewheel hasn't attained that goal yet, but the open space around it has the potential for some connections. And while some of Sikes' ideas ("calming the nearby arterials") aren't realistic for places that are located right next to freeways, I would be the first one to say that a DART rail spur to Firewheel would be an outstanding idea.

So has Firewheel lived up to its promise? My vote is still an enthusiastic two thumbs up. And as I looked around at the crowds of people on a beautiful evening, walking around or eating, I thought the same thing that I did two years ago: I can't believe that this place is in Garland...but I'm really glad that it is.

Catchin' up: Wow--this has been a really bad week for starting blog posts and being too tired (or otherwise occupied) at the end of the day to finish them. But I'm done with all of them now, so feel free to check them out:Please check these out at your leisure.

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