Sunday, September 20, 2009

These Folks Say "Thumbs Up" to New Urbanism

I've talked a lot about New Urbanism on this blog, and longtime readers will know that I'm an unabashed fan of the concept. (Why? I'll repeat my reasons one more time: 1) I love the old-school architecture; 2) I love the walkability that's promoted by these places; 3) I love the vibrancy of the mixed-use layout--usually some combination of retail, residential and offices--without having to deal with the "grit" of true urban areas; 4) Because there's more land to use in the suburbs, there's often a lot of green space that's not always available in traditional urban settings.)

It seems like New Urbanism is always having to be defended from attacks by snobby city dwellers--let's call them Old Urbanists for now--who tend to believe that anything outside the city center is but a vast expanse of soulless wasteland; they'd like nothing more than to require everyone to live in the same neighborhood density that they do. (Never mind the fact that the suburbs tend to be a much better place for raising kids, and many of these same people will flock there in a [non-] New York minute once little Breanna or Chase arrive on the scene. The urban lifestyle has its appeal, for sure, but kids need space and good schools, which many urban areas tend to lack.)

But even though I'm a big flag-waver for New Urbanism, I can't exactly put my money where my mouth is, because, well, the money part is a little lacking; as a jazz musician and educator, these types of places are beyond my budget at the moment, though that still doesn't keep me from patronizing and enjoying them. (There's also the issue of practicing--something for which I really need my own four walls, at least until I can afford a Wenger module; again, see the money part above.)

Still, the idea is catching on, and yesterday's DMN profiled some couples who have put down roots in one of my favorite New Urbanist oases: Watters Creek in Allen, which I first posted about (and later added some pictures) a little less than a year ago. One couple, Jana and Mike Brosin, like the convenience of the loft lifestyle:
"It's kind of our mini Manhattan," Jana says from her fifth-floor unit overlooking a meandering man-made waterway and the Blue Fish Japanese restaurant. "The greatest benefit in renting is that you don't even have to change an air filter. There's no lawn, no maintenance."

That was the main draw for the midlife couple. They wanted a lock-and-leave lifestyle because they plan to travel and buy a vacation house at Cedar Creek Lake. Wanting to avoid the hustle and bustle of downtown Dallas, they chose the Allen development for its proximity to restaurants and shops as well as their longtime church and Crest Auto Group, which Mike owns.
Meanwhile, their neighbors, the Pates, who have spent some time in Europe, were drawn to the European-style vibe of the place:
"It's so much easier," Nichole says. Watters Creek houses DSW, Ann Taylor Loft, Sephora, Victoria's Secret and Mi Cocina, among others. And, she says, "We don't even have to drive to get groceries." There's a Market Street supermarket on-site.

The Pates share one car. With Nichole's flexible schedule as a personal fitness trainer, she drives Michael to and from the nearby DART rail station in Plano every day.
A lot of the articles I've read about suburbs tend to be of the "bashing" variety, so it's nice to see that there are folks out there who would best be described as "city people" who are thriving in New Urbanist environments. (Again, these two couples are both empty-nesters; I'd be interested in hearing from couples with kids who are living in this way, but again, the suburban school systems such as Allen's would certainly be a draw for a lot of parents.)

As I said, I'm a fan of this concept, so I'm happy to help spread the good news even if I can't quite yet do this lifestyle myself.

I'm down on with the Farm: When I first posted about Watters Creek last year, I called it by its full name: Watters Creek at Montgomery Farm. Remembering the days when there was an actual farm at the site, it didn't sink in that Watters Creek was in fact just a small (if vital) part of a much larger development. But as a matter of fact, Montgomery Farm refers to pretty much the entirety of the area along Bethany Road, all the way to its western terminus at Alma. The area includes several small neighborhoods of homes, an office park that's about to take shape, a ton of open space, and even a partnership with the adjacent Connemara Conservancy (all new residents get a year's membership for free).

Browsing the site last night, the area that looked most appealing to me was The Park. As the site describes it,
Defined by vintage-style architecture and traditional front porches, The Park promises the charm of historic details paired with the livability of modern conveniences. This unique neighborhood of 90 homes offers the best of all worlds – natural green spaces and hiking and biking trails combined with proximity to shopping, dining, entertainment, and employment centers.
The architecture was immediately appealing to me (see a picture at the link), so I knew that I had to check this out on my next Sunday drive (yes, we do research for this blog!). Today being a Sunday and all, that's exactly what I did.

The minute I drove into The Park, I was in love. Enamored. Smitten. Besotted, even. Now this was what I call a neighborhood. I could totally see raising my (theoretical, at this point) kids in a place like this. For one thing, I'm an architecture nut, and these houses are the antithesis of the typical North Dallas Special/McMansion type usually found in the 'burbs. But this neighborhood just gives off a certain vibe to me that says things like "wholesome," "All-American," "reminiscent of a better time" to me. Sure, you'd have to have a car to get around here, but it's also within walking distance of an elementary school (for those theoretical kids)...and, on a good day, of Watters Creek as well. WIthin rock-throwing distance of New Urbanism, but still with your own four walls. Sounds like a winner all around in my book.

Granted, the houses here cost four times what mine does--for more than double the square footage, mind you--so this is not in my immediate future. But my Lottery House has a new address. (And if I were to win said lottery soon, that address might be here or here; visit these links while they're still live--i.e. until someone buys the houses--and see why I fell in love with the area.)

Meanwhile, up the road...: I also took the time to drive by some of the new shopping areas at 75 and Stacy Road--the Village at Allen (mostly open) and the Village at Fairview (mostly still being built), known collectively as The Villages. The Allen side is mostly big boxes with restaurant pads, but it's tastefully laid out and includes a forthcoming arena that will evidently house a minor-league hockey team. The Fairview part looks to be in a mostly New Urbanist design when it gets done, including the obligatory luxury apartments and lofts. I'll post again about this place when more of it is completed.

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