Legacy Town Center planners say they want to build a new kind of town amidst the suburbs of Plano. Will it work?

It’s easy to be skeptical about Legacy Town Center. In fact, based on what you see now in P!ano”s mammoth corporate park, you’d be crazy to believe an “urban village” could ever be built in this quintessentially suburban setting.

Take the entrance to EDS. As you pull into the entry lane, a voice floats toward you from a box that holds a camera behind a sheet of dark glass.

“Welcome to EDS. May I help you?”

You stare into the camera and explain your reason for visiting, then cautiously glance to the tire-shredding spikes protruding from the pavement 20 feet in front of your car. Once your presence has been approved, the bar in front of you rises, the menacing spikes recede into the pavement, and you are free to drive the 100 yards to one of EDS’ many parking lots. This is not a friendly way to enter a corporate campus, and it is the antithesis of everything Legacy Town Center is supposed to be. Here at the gates of EDS, the eye sees only manufactured landscape and wide roads, sparkling buildings, and rows of parked cars. Here, the car is king and security is everything.

But town center planners say that directly across Parkwood Boulevard, in the shadows of the sprawling EDS monolith, they are going to build an urban village. Here, they are planning a new kind of town, a place where people will walk to their favorite restaurants and take leisurely strolls past locally owned shops. Using the popular language and ideology of New Urbanism, planners here say they want to create a town of mixed residential and retail properties, a place where locals live and work together, something clearly different from the suburban sprawl of much of Dallas-Fort Worth’s northern corridor.

Judging from the sterile entrance to the corporate park that spawned it, the town center will not be an easy development. Right now, the 150 acres where it will be built is nothing but flat prairie dotted by bulldozers and trucks. The horizon is composed of distant corporate buildings and four-lane roads. A dense, pedestrian-friendly village here seems almost impossible to imagine.

But Marilyn Kasko, director of Legacy and spokeswoman for the planned community, has little trouble imagining it. She speaks about the project in reverential tones, and her optimism is obvious.

“We have a vision of creating a quality environment for our people,” she says. “That’s the reason we bought Legacy in the first place-we wanted to be at home in the business community. And we wanted to create that environment. And we’ve certainly followed through on that.”

Kasko may perhaps overstate the case since there’s nothing actually in the town center yet, but her optimism could be well founded. The Legacy Town Center has the substantial weight of EDS behind it, and the land has already been zoned for the town’s purposes. More importantly, the town has the imprimatur of planner and architect Andres Duany, among the foremost pioneers of New Urbanism.

Duany is a hero to New Urbanist town planners. He lectures extensively around the world and has developed projects in locales from Turkey to Rhode Island. One of his first developments-and still his most famous-is the town of Seaside, Florida, a community that features mixed residential and retail space, an open town plaza, and wide streets that encourage walking. (The town gained fame last summer with the release of die Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show, which was filmed there.)

In many ways, Duany’s work is an antidote to the suburban sprawl that has engulfed places like Piano, where Legacy is located. The planner is passionate about “his work, and he acknowledges that much of what surrounds the development is awful-he calls it a “mutation in the suburbs.” Duany is part of a growing movement to reform urban-ism, to develop a more integrated system of building towns. When he develops a place, he is in effect fighting the detached insularity we’ve created in the suburbs, where every aspect of life-shopping, home life, entertainment, school-is at least a car trip away. Uuany leads the movement, and his followers are changing the way many of us will live.

This name recognition is not lost on the developers of Legacy. Simply having Duany design the Legacy Town Center. Marilyn Kasko and others at EDS have pulled a coup-they are on a course to do something different in the middle of the suburbs, and they have the new urban movement’s most prominent advocate ai the helm. They have the name, the money, and the clout-all they need are the people.

The original plan for the Legacy development always called for a high-density residential core. The idea that EDS’ workers could live close to the office was ont of the primary reasons the technology company built its headquarters here in 1985, beginning a growth process that would eventually lead to a 2,655-acre business community with more than 32,000 employees. That process benefited from Piano’s explosive growth and brought the development face-to-face with the possibilities inherent in a healthy real estate market and an unprecedented economic boom.

As it stands now, planners at Legacy have only one firm development commitment for the town center-a 401-room Doubletree Hotel that will break ground soon. But Marilyn Kasko and her team of town center advi-sors-a group composed of Piano officials, Legacy corporate residents, executives from Post Properties (developers of much of the Uptown area in Dallas, and for that reason picked to build the residential phase at Legacy) and others-are confident enough to envision a full and thriving town. Legacy’s urban center, they say, will include 2- and 3-story office buildings with retail stores on the ground level and an entertainment district with a movie theater and restaurants. They envision a fitness center with an indoor pool and a 400-unit apartment complex. Everything you need in a town will be here, all of it spread out over 150 acres in a pedestrian-friendly design.

Why go to all the trouble? Why not do what other companies do and simply build nice headquarters in a city with affordable housing? Why take the risk of building a town? Because the town itself will be a commodity by virtue of its distinctiveness. It is ironic that Legacy should exist where it does, in the very middle of classic suburban sprawl, yet that location may turn out to be its strongest asset. The people living nearby in cookie-cutter developments based on the old ideas of modern life-houses on large lots, streets designed for heavy traffic, a separation of residential and retail space-those people will see something different in Legacy, and they will want to live there-or so goes the conventional wisdom on this project.

Marilyn Kasko doesn’t necessarily subscribe to this concept of town as commodity, but her ideas on the modem lifestyle support it. “People aren’t just working nine to five anymore,” she says. “They don’t have time to drive long distances between work, home, play, shopping. Our lives are integrated now: we leave work to do volunteer work. We go to the health club or to school to see our children. On the other hand, we work weekends or late at night. New Urbanism provides an efficient way to live.

“Our corporate residents were asking us for these types of amenities. They were looking for restaurants or for a daycare center within Legacy. That pushed us to look at the town center sooner rather than later.”

Sooner, in this case, may be eight to 10 years away. That’s how long Kasko predicts it will take for the project to be completed. But if, by then, the Legacy Town Center has become a true example of New Urbanism, it will mark a significant change not only in the Piano residential landscape, but also in the movement itself. As Kasko points out, the Legacy project is the first New Urbanism town Duany-or anyone, for that matter-has planned within an existing business comrnunity. Most New Urbanism communities develop the residential space first and wait for the businesses to follow. Legacy is the direct opposite of this. “Ordinarily, Duany has to go in and form the district and create as the businesses came,” Kasko says. “In this case, he had a built-in population of over 20,000 people. So we were able to be responsive to the residents’ specified needs.”

If that pre-existing business atmosphere is a benefit for Legacy developers, it is also the main reason the town center is so difficult to envision right now. The dichotomy between the two entities-the business park and the community-to-be-is a significant one. One is a carefully landscaped sweep of grass and trees and imposing corporate buildings; the other will be a mix of local stores and inviting streets. One favors distance and open space; the other will emphasize closeness and proximity. In the business park, the car is king; the town center will discourage driving.

According to Kasko, it is exactly that dichotomy that will make the town center a success. “I think it’s the best of both worlds,” she says. “One offers more human interaction, where in the corporate campus you’re in your own home, like our homes in the suburbs. In the town center, you have more street life. You interact with the humans because you’re passing each other. You’re in a condensed area. It’s really the difference between the city and the suburbs.”

The challenge for Legacy will be how to bridge the two. Where planners such as Kasko see an opportunity for completeness, for a comprehensive development offering two distinct environments, others see as an unnatural imposition of one development style onto an existing business park.

Dennis Stacy of Stacy Architects Inc. says that the Legacy development has corne too far to change, that it should retain a wholly subur-ban-not urban-atmosphere. “Those corporations moved there because of what they perceived as tranquility and a way to develop a campus-like setting. The appeal of Legacy is the fact that it has large amounts of landscape around the office complexes-even though that land is to a large degree artificial. The suburban characteristic-not necessarily building on every square inch of land-is what creates areas of refuge and peacefulness that help people’s well-being.”

For Legacy planners, though, what is paramount is the people they envision living there, and they believe they know what those people want.

According to Kasko, Legacy will provide an alternative, and in providing it will ensure the success of the town. “When you drive by a suburban campus, you don’t see peopie,” Kasko says. “You see buildings and beautiful land scaping. But it’s really the people inside that give life to a corporation. And it’s those same people who will give life to the town center. Otherwise it’s just bricks and mortar.”

INSIDE THE IMPRESSIVE EDS lobby is “Oculus,” a sculpture that looks like a hybrid of a telescope, gyroscope, and compass.

Standing in the wide lobby, catching light from both glass walls to the west and east, it is the perfect piece of art for a company such as EDS. To one side of the lobby lies the peaceful, sprawling acreage of the corporate park; to the other, the flat, empty prairie where the town center will take shape. Here, in the middle, the sculpture points skyward.

An inscription at the base of “Oculus” reads like a cross between an Orwellian vision of the future and a New Age corporate mission statement: “From the very beginning, mankind has created instruments to help steer and stay a course on open oceans, across unknown territories, even into the immense vastness of space. This sculpture, inspired by the instruments of discovery, serves to remind us~the men and women of EDS-that what we do helps our customers achieve a clearer sense of where they are and where they need to go.”

The town center at Legacy isn’t strictly an EDS-designed project, but it could never take place without the company. The project is an experiment, an exploration into “unknown territories,” an attempt to create out of vast prairie an environment that will change the way people there will live. The ambition is impressive, and it has the backing of a corporate culture that makes a practice of turning will into reality. The challenge of building Legacy might one day bring great rewards.

In the meantime, the planning continues. The land has been cleared, the maps drawn, and die marketing strategies organized. If the people follow, Piano will be home to the world’s first New Urbanism environment designed around a pre-existing business park. The town center-like the city of Dallas itself-will have been bom of imagination, gumption, and persistence.

That mixture has served Dallas well. Legacy planners hope it will do the same here.


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