LEGACY WILL BE “AUTHENTIC”

A passionate apostle of the New Urbanism describes his vision.

Dallas developer (and former Cowboy) Robert Shaw helped plan the Legacy project in Piano, and has been a key figure in Uptown’s redevelopment. Shaw also oversaw the early stages of the city of Addison’s new town center, called Addison Circle. Shaw discussed New Urbanism with D Magazine editors Mary Brown Malouf and Stephen G. Michaud.



SHAW: Dallas has a great example of New Urbanism-the Park Cities. Andres Duany, who planned Legacy, studied the Park Cities as he created his model, his perspective. The Park Cities are probably the best example of what New Urbanists seek that you will find anywhere in Dallas-Fort Worth.

D: Tell us more.

The street pattern is a grid, very important. There is mixed use of land. You have Preston Center and Snider Plaza and Highland Park Village, modest-scale retail connecting directly into single-family housing. You have some mid-density apartment housing. You have granny flats-garage apartments-throughout the Park Cities, That is one of the things that 1 always talk about in New Urbanism, a variety of housing to address people’s needs at different stages in their lives.

Also, smaller lot sizes, 45 by 150, which make for a very modest street frontage. Garages are reached from the rear, or they are detached and entered from the front. You do not see two big garage doors becoming the primary focus.

Street trees. Sidewalks. Relatively modest street widths. In most suburban plans, the streets are much wider.

Street parking is another very important component of New Urbanism. There are neighborhood schools. You can walk everywhere.

Most city planners here have totally forgotten about pedestrians. The automobile drives everything. You can’t plant a tree near an intersection, but pull up to one in your car and you’ll find telephone polls and electric light boxes and you can’t see a thing!

But back to the Park Cities. Look at the valuation the market places on it. New Urbanism is really good business practice. It’s developing and building in a way that best meets people’s needs.

Some would debate whether the Park Cities’ sustain ability is solely because of the school district. I would say it’s all these issues we’re talking about.

What about population? New Urbanists talk a lot about density.

The Park Cities are fairly dense. Forty-five-foot by 150-foot is a modest-scale lot. There could be more density. Some New Urbanist plans have even narrower lots.

The Park Cities once had more of a mix of the new and the old, some very modest houses and grand ones, too. Fewer and fewer people can afford to live there.

You’re exactly right. Those places where the tenets of New Urbanism have been best observed end up being loved to death. Key West is another example.

New Urbanism means different things to different people. What’s your definition?

I have been focused on the creation of neighborhoods that are responsive to how most people live today; mobile, non-traditional households, which means single, divorced people, childless couples and leading-edge baby boomer? who already have raised their children, A lot of these people don’t need a single family detached in an outer ring suburban community.

I’m very practical. Some New Urbanists want to ban all franchise stores, and all big-box retailers. You see stories about groups banding together to prevent a Wal-Mart from coming into the neighborhood. There’s a whole movement out there trying to stop that.

! actually think you can have livable, walkable communities and also have that big box. There are efficiencies that come from the big box retail approach.

Also, if I were king, I’d have all land owned by the public sector, under long-term ground leases. That would take the ownership issue out of planning, leaving you to figure out how best to create a livable, sustainable community, maximizing the total value, rather than value for one individual.

Another idea is a tax system that taxes raw land at a higher rate than real property. We want our land built out, not held out for some speculative reason.

You sound un-American. What went wrong with everyone owning their own homes? Did we lose community?

People wanted to escape the harshness of urban existence. It was extremely crowded. They lived right next to heavy manufacturing. Life was noisy and smelly.

So they moved to the suburbs, responding to the problems of their time. Now we’re responding to the problems of ours?

Yes, and they include social isolation, the waste of resources, too much dependence on the automobile, and the changing profile of America. The suburban neighborhood was a physical form we created to respond to a certain family structure. It worked, but now it doesn’t work anymore.

Let’s talk about New Urbanism on the prairie, Addison and Legacy.

Addison is an ongoing attempt to create an urban form in a suburban context. In the early ’90s we began to look at where that couldhappen.

Concurrently, the leaders of Addison wanted to establish some goals. Out of that came a desire to create a town center-a there therein what is very much a model suburban situation. So they had a vision and a location.

I met with the Addison mayor, Lynn Spruill, and we began to create the plan. They were very intimately involved-the city manager, mayor, city council members, their planner. Out of that I think we came up with a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts.

How complete is it?

We’re in the second phase. There’s probably $150 million invested, and there’s probably another $350-$4OO million left to be invested. At the end of the day you will have the urban neighborhood with 5(300 people living and working there, a significant amount of various neighborhood-based retail.

You’ll have a hotel, offices, rental housing, and housing for sale. They are all generally urban in form; a grid street pattern, quality public infrastructure, small pocket parks, civic uses. There will be a theater center, a conference center, and this wonderful park that will become the venue for all the events that Addison has, such as fireworks on the Fourth of July, and the Taste of Addison.

This is not rocket science. All that Duany and the other New Urbanists really are saying is that we need to go back and rediscover the way successful cities always have been built.

How about Legacy?

I was involved in creating the plan for Legacy. It was fascinating. You have a total, suburban Big Brother model office park, the epitome of low density, spread-out campus style. Yet they also wanted to have some type of urban center. They saw it as an amenity for the campus users. We helped sell them on that. We said, “If we create this urban center, this is going to help you sell land for your campus-style development.” They have tons of land to sell out there.

It’s ironic to see legacy planned for the middle of Plano, the quintessence of suburban sprawl.

The juxtaposition of an urban center inside the ground zero of a suburban campus is going to make for a fascinating interplay.

Was it your idea to bring in Duany?

Yes, Duany had done work for us before. We actually started on Legacy about five years ago, but the real planning started about a year and a half ago. It is another great plan. It will create one of the largest downtowns or urban areas in Texas when it’s all built out

It will be a place where people will live. They will work there. They will have retail and restaurants and great public space. Very possibly there will be a YMCA. It will be authentic. It’s only a market timing issue as to when it all gets built out.

The basic idea is to build a town center as the seed from which the community grows?

Yes, you wish you could do it by fiat. Duany’s got a book of laws he’s given to us. He says, ’Follow these rules and everything will be okay’ I think that absolutely will happen. Someone’s going to come in and link and continue the development pattern that we created.

Are there special problems associated with building new urban villages?

Zoning ordinances can be barriers. Issues such as wide streets for the local fire department. Or communities where if you want to rebuild your garage with a garage apartment, you have to request a zoning change.

What about political considerations?

We need a trade between (he public and private sector. The public sector wants more density, more quality, more durability. Buildings that can be re-used. That’s what Addison told us they wanted.

The trade is that if we do the private space, they’ll do the public space, the streets and sidewalks and the trees. That’s a good bargain, because they’ll get higher revenues from this denser, more sustainable community.

That’s different from what’s happened in the past. Developers told cities, “You don’t tell me what to do, and I’ll give you tax revenues, and I won’t ask you to spend any money.” That might work for five years, but you end up with poor construction and no sustainability.

How do you adapt New Urbanism to local conditions?

Well, we don’t need tunnels, or sky bridges. We’re not Minneapolis. We do need street trees. It gets really hot here. Walking down a local street without shade is an entirely different experience than walking down a wide sidewalk with beautiful live oaks casting wonderful dappled light and shade over you. That does not happen easily. You have to invest in good trees, provide drainage and irrigation, pruning. You’ve got to cherish trees.

Is flat land a problem?

No, it’s great. I love it. It allows the New Urbanism to work. You don’t have the imposition of hills and drainage, natural barriers and engineering issues that precludes you from laying out a grid.

Did Legacy present any unique challenges?

Probably the most difficult thing to program into Legacy was the retail space. You didn’t want to do a traditional development with surface parking. Yet you couldn’t do urban-form retail without the population density to support it. The solution was to create surface parking at the start, and then later come back and convert it to main-street retail, with street parking and structure parking.

Why do New Urbanists emphasize public transportation? Nobody in Texas takes a bus unless they have to.

Because public transportation allows you to inch up the density. You can’t do it with cars. I mean, you can buy everybody a car. That’d be fine with me. But you don’t have to use a car for everything you need. People want to walk. Let them.

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