BLESSED WITH MORE RISE AND fall than is common in North Texas, the Circle T Ranch has dramatic hills and lookouts, several peaceful lakes, an abundance of mature pin oak trees, and acres of rolling green meadows.
Just a few miles away lies the creeping "loopland" environments of Dallas, Fort Worth, and the DFW Airport. In a recent national meeting of architectural educators, Dallas got singled out as a real center for ugly suburban building.
Unfortunately, the marketplace, if left to its own devices, creates these anonymous wastelands in the blink of an eye. Legislation, ordinances, and codes just don’t seem capable of producing beautiful, well-designed environments.
And yet, there are wonderful exam-pies, both from the past and present, of gracious, amenable, and very handsome communities at the same densities and with very similar land uses as these suburban wastelands.
What is the key to the success of these places? The answer, I think, lies in the fact that all of them were built with long-term investment in mind-not short-term profit. The founding fathers in Granbury or Waxahachie were building towns for their grandchildren and greatgrandchildren. The forces behind Highland Park had deep pockets and staying power. They were looking at returns and property values in 20 to 30 years-not at turning a quick buck.
The good news for Circle T Ranch is that it seems to have landed a developer who has long-term investment in mind. Shortly after acquiring the ranch. Alliance Development Company commissioned architecture programs at three universities-Berkeley, M.I.T., and the University of Texas at Austin-to challenge them with innovative ideas for the development of the ranch. They synthesized many of these ideas into an innovative draft of a land plan. Then, in early August, they gathered an extraordinary group of 23 designers and architects from 12 different firms around the country to spend three-and-a-half days at Circle T creating an architectural character for the place.
The design team focused on three parts of the ranch-a residential and retail area called the "North Quarter-Section," an entertainment/shopping district termed the "Lakeside Marketplace," and a unique mixed-use office, retail and residential neighborhood dubbed the "Texas Town."
Huge tracts of land were preserved in their current form. The most beautiful and prominent hill was left as parkland. The lake at its base remained much as it is. Several fields visible from the highway stayed pastures complete with longhorns and white fences. The sense of neighborhood that is so admirable in many Texas towns with courthouse squares was commandeered for several neighborhoods on the ranch.
Can Circle T Ranch beat the odds and become a model of civilized, humane community in harmony with the North Texas landscape? I hope so. But it will take determination and resolve on the part of Alliance Development Company to resist market forces that play to greed and short-term profit rather than long-range vision. If they stick to their guns, the people who live in or visit Circle T Ranch will get an alternative to the sprawling tangle of cars and commerce that forms a ring around most of our cities. And Alliance Development will get a much greater long-term payback on their investment in the corridor than they could ever have gotten from piecemeal short-sighted profit-taking.