FULL CIRCLE

The New Urbanism is moving forward by looking back.

I moved to an inner-city Dallas neighborhood, the M Streets, 20 years ago. My street connected to Central Expressway. Twice a day, at rush hour, there was a line of cars from the entrance ramp past my house. No parking was allowed on the street, so traffic moved fast. The neighbors practiced guerrilla warfare, illegally parking along the street so traffic had to slow down to navigate. It was like living on the banks of the Mississippi-you never got to know the people on the other side.

Two decades later, steep road humps slow the traffic down, the city has made street parking legal, and to gain access to Central, drivers have to make a discouraging dogleg turn. Every spring, we all throw a block party and the street is closed.

This is an example of New Urbanism replacing old urbanism. Out in Piano, an idea called Legacy is being planned, a New Urban community to be built from the ground up in an old cotton field.

Once again, the American dream has changed.

The United States started with the immigrant’s dream of owner-ship-every man deserved a castle. As fast as we could, we found our castle in the burbs and fled the big cities which seemed too cold, too inhumane and impersonal.

Younger Southern cities, like Dallas, were built according to our country’s car culture-big, wide streets traversing great distances. Commute to work? No problem. People moved with every promotion and, like a big new car, a brand new house in a brand new neighborhood was a sign of American success. Downtowns started to collapse as people kept moving farther apart.

But now that we’ve escaped the city, we’ve found that the modern suburbs are another kind of threat. Tall fences and acres of green separate us from our neighbors. Streets, built wide to accommodate our car culture, separate us from our neighbors. People miss each other. The suburbs seem too cold, too inhumane and impersonal,

New Urbanism seeks to solve the problems of the future with solutions from the past, Attract a crowd, erase the space, create community.

When EDS decided to move to Piano 15 years ago, the high-tech company added real estate to its resume with its Legacy development. Legacy’s plan was to attract other corporate giants to build in the area, allowing them each the flexibility to build a campus that entirely suited their needs within an overall master plan. EDS, JC Penney, Legacy Bank (80,000 square feet), Dr Pepper/7Up (300,000 square feet), American Southwest Insurance Managers (42,000 square feet), Denbury Resources (100,000 square feet), to name a handful, have built structures that are radically different from one another but that suit each business’ own personality.

But the Legacy vision was broader than business. From the beginning, the plans also included, though vaguely, a Legacy Town Center, a place for those employees (there are 32,000 people working in Legacy right now-it’s a town already} to find a home, to meet each other, to form a real community.

There’s not much to see yet. From the huge windows at EDS, you can look west over the flat tract scheduled to become Legacy Town Center-a small town featuring all the old-fashioned elements of New Urbanism (tree-lined, brick streets, low buildings) as well as the futuristic, high-tech infrastructure thai ties the past with the future (underground power cables, telephone lines, traffic sensors). There’s nothing there now at all. But already, a monthly newspaper delivers news of the community: announcing the opening of the new child care center, that SMU is opening a campus in Piano, that traffic plans are being reorganized for safety. Community affairs people from every corporation have organized to form the Legacy Community Partners, a group that encourages employees-that is, citizens of Legacy-to participate in volunteer activities in Piano, Dallas, and elsewhere. The Legacy Sports League further encourages friendly competition throughout the business park with-what else?-team sports.

In other words, even before construction starts. Legacy is building a town. Recognizing what it takes to keep employees these days, recognizing that short drive times, available child care, knowing your neighbors, the ability to walk to work and shop, are what people want from the place that they live. Legacy, land of corporate giants, is starting where communities should start-with the people.

In the old days, it was the community that attracted business.

At Legacy, business decided to build a community.

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