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Rating the Suburbs

You may be tempted to lump together all suburbs as one faraway strip mall with hoards of SUVs and soccer moms. But the best of the Dallas burbs have come a long way, baby. Which have the best schools, lowest crime rates, and mos
By D Magazine |

The suburbs are often lumped together as one faraway strip mall with hordes of SUVs, soccer moms, commuting dads, and as much color as an episode of Leave It to Beaver. But the Dallas burbs are growing up and coming into their own. Some of them are, anyway. The best of the bunch have begun to develop their own characters. They’ve learned from their neighboring cities that grew up too fast. Others are ameliorating their past mistakes. Consider this:

Plano’s downtown has been reborn, with DART rail service, a German beer garden, and apartments and condos. Grapevine has a real French bakery (with real French people running it) and its own Wine Pouring Society. Southlake gets that urban feeling from its Town Square, full of architecturally interesting high-end shops, restaurants, and new brownstones. Parker Square in Flower Mound isn’t far behind. Frisco Square sounds like something out of New York rather than Dallas. The planned development (probably a decade away) is designed to be a place where people work, live, eat, and shop—all within walking distance.

Suburbs these days come in every shape, size, and—yes—color of SUV. (Diversity is still not big in the burbs we studied.) Here, then, are 53 cities and towns around the Dallas area, examined from every angle that a prospective resident would consider.


FUN AT THE TOP: University Park residents get their gas from Clark Lenhard’s Texaco station, which has been open since 1929.

1. University Park

Estimated population: 22,950
Average annual growth since 1990: 0.2%
Average home value in 2003:  $608,848
Median age of residents: 31.2
Families with kids under 18: 40.8%

The official spiel: “The city is the home of SMU and is also known for its attractive homes, beautiful parks, and numerous churches. The location of University Park in north central Dallas provides easy access to a broad range of cultural, recreational, shopping, and business activities.”

What demographers say: Not surprisingly, considering UP surrounds SMU, these residents are the most educated of our top 10 suburbs, with 80.5 percent having earned at least a bachelor’s degree. The median household income is $92,778 (oddly, the third lowest of our top 10 suburbs; perhaps the students bring down the average), yet 28 percent of households bring in more than $200,000 a year (the highest of all 10). Sixty-three percent of the labor force holds a professional or management position, and 94.3 percent of residents are white.

What residents say: Like their Park Cities neighbors in Highland Park, University Park residents love the school system, amenities, and central location. Kids here go to Highland Park schools, which draws many a parent fleeing DISD. Though some disdain the tear-down trend (which isn’t happening as much in Highland Park), others like the idea of buying a new home in the Park Cities.

What Realtors say: Home prices here are still strong, although higher-end homes sit on the market longer than they did a few years ago. More plentiful land makes it a better deal than Highland Park—which is why Dallas residents generally pick UP when it’s time for a more upscale home. You’ll find lots of new construction, tear downs of older homes that simply weren’t worth the taxes on the land they sat on. Recently, tear downs have gone for $500,000 to $900,000.

What we say: While most people lump the Park Cities into one well-schooled, well-funded, well-manicured area, there are differences. University Park is a younger—and slightly less expensive—version of Highland Park. The median age here is 31.2, the youngest of the top 10, and more than a decade younger than Highland Park. Locals frequent Snider Plaza, where the shopping is great—although your toddler could graduate from SMU before you find a parking spot. Oh, and let’s be honest: this ain’t a suburb.

2. Highland Park

Estimated population: 8,800
Average annual growth since 1990: 0.0%
Average home value in 2003: $977,243
Median age of residents: 42
Families with kids under 18: 33.6%

The official spiel: “Highland Park is one the most prestigious neighborhoods in the Dallas area and is home to the upscale shopping area of Highland Park Village, with fine dining and fine couturiers.”

What demographers say: Highland Park tops the other 10 suburbs in two categories: at 97 percent white, it’s the least diverse of our top 10 suburbs; with a median household income of $149,389, it’s the wealthiest community. Nearly 67 percent of those working do so in professional or management careers (topping our list), 74.7 percent hold at least a bachelor’s degree, and 38.4 percent of households bring in $200,000 or more.

What residents say: Parents who live in Highland Park should be paid for the PR work they do for the school district. More and more families are moving in because they’ve decided to spend their money on real estate instead of private schools. Kids here have few of the worries of their urban peers, playing in bathing suits with neighborhood friends, squirting each other with a garden hose. The only things not to like: the traffic on Mockingbird Lane and the mosquitoes that also seem to think Highland Park is the place to live.

What Realtors say: An interesting new phenomenon in Highland Park is the number of people moving in from out of state. HP used to be where Dallas residents moved on up. Out-of-towners who might choose private school if they moved elsewhere like that they can instantly situate their kids in Highland Park ISD. Homes less than $1.2 million or so are selling quickly. After a buying binge in December, January, and February, higher-end homes are now staying on the market a bit longer. Average home value, $977,243, is the highest of the top 10.

What we say: People who can swing the bills of Highland Park are lucky. The place is like a resort: well-landscaped, full of parks, pools, and shops. At 6 each morning, walkers and runners make their way along the sidewalks. The city even has its own helpful cable channel. But affluence breeds snobbiness in many cases, and when it comes to racial diversity, the town looks like a bowl of white rice.

3. Southlake

Estimated population: 24,550
Average annual growth since 1990: 17.6%
Average home value in 2003: $375,095
Median age of residents: 36.7
Families with kids under 18: 60.5%

The official spiel: “Southlake offers an excellent quality of life in a comfortable suburban setting with convenient access to Fort Worth, Dallas, and Denton. Southlake has a robust local economy while also serving as a gateway to … Fort Worth, Dallas, and the Alliance Development.”

What demographers say: Fifty-five percent of workers from Southlake have professional or management careers, and 59.2 percent of residents have a bachelor’s degree. Ninety-five percent of residents are white, the city’s median household income is $131,549, and almost 24 percent of households earn at least $200,000. Southlake has the highest concentration of homes with kids in our top 10 list, with 60.5 percent of families having children under 18.

What residents say: Locals who have experienced Southlake’s growth miss the tranquil piece of country they found years ago, but they do appreciate that there are actual grocery stores these days. Many lament the high price of homes and taxes but believe they are worth it for the Carroll school district, rural feel, and large lots.

What Realtors say: Because of zoning ordinances, most homes here sit on at least half an acre. Most new construction starts at about $700,000, but you can get a home built in the mid-’90s for $300,000. People moving in are usually families from more urban areas looking for a better school system or relocating professionals. The land on the north side of Highway 114, farmland now, is the next to be built up.

What we say: People here love their local high school activities, from Dragon football to the Dragon swim team to the marching band and choir. The city has a plan for neighborhood involvement called SPIN (Southlake Program for the Involvement of Neighborhoods). This nonpolitical body helps residents communicate with the city government (what a concept). Unlike some suburbs, which center around strip malls, Southlake has a community gathering place in Southlake Town Square, an Amsterdam-looking shopping center with Harold’s, Williams-Sonoma, Container Store, and several independent boutiques.

4. Parker

Estimated population: 1,500
Average annual growth since 1990: 1.7%
Average home value in 2003: $344,967
Median age of residents: 40.8
Families with kids under 18: 33.8%

The official spiel: “Parker is proud to offer our citizens country living at its finest. … Parker retains the beauty and atmosphere found only in the country with close-in city conveniences such as nearby shopping malls, high-quality Plano and Allen schools, fire and police protection, city water, and environmental concerns for waste recycling.”

What demographers say: The median household income in Parker is $101,786, with 17 percent of households earning $200,000 or more. Ninety percent of residents are white, 45.3 percent hold at least a bachelor’s degree, and 55.4 percent hold professional or managerial positions.

What residents say: The city secretary did the city’s business on her kitchen table until the mid-’80s, when City Hall was built. But residents don’t necessarily long for the good old days. Longtime residents are glad their yards aren’t used as parking lots anymore, like they were in the ’80s when millions of Dallas fans flocked to see J.R.’s Southfork Ranch. Now, with the President George Bush Turnpike, Parker has access to the amenities of Plano and Allen schools and shops. The bonus? Horses, which are welcomed by the city.

What Realtors say: The building boom here started about 10 years ago, with homes as big as 10,000 and 12,000 square feet. Houses are built on at least 2 acres; though most rural areas are bending such rules these days to allow for more development, Parker isn’t. In Dublin Creek Estates, land sells for about $90,000 an acre. New homes generally sell for $1 million to $2 million.

What we say: Parker is your stereotypical bedroom community (and not the kind of bedroom community J.R. and Sue Ellen portrayed). The town is all residential, with a Baptist church here and there. If you’re interested, you can download the weekly sermon from the First Baptist Church of Parker.

5. Colleyville

Estimated population: 20,500
Average annual growth since 1990: 4.4%
Average home value in 2003: $313,631
Median age of residents: 40
Families with kids under 18: 49.8%

The official spiel: “To the average person, Colleyville appears to be no more than 30 years old. In reality, this land has boasted of families, businesses, and community leaders for more than 150 years; each generation living, laughing, and loving its atmosphere of beauty and grace.”

What demographers say: Colleyville is 93 percent white, 55.7 percent of residents work professionally or in management, and 56.6 percent have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher. The median household income is $117,419, and 20.8 percent of households bring in at least $200,000.

What residents say: Despite tremendous growth, Colleyville has a down-to-earth feel where children, church, and community are top priorities. The neighborhoods here, unlike many north of Dallas, still feel like somebody’s hometown. Its location, halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth,  near DFW Airport, appeals to many. Despite the noise from the planes, from a population of about 1,500 in 1960, Colleyville grew to 6,700 in 1980 and currently has a population of more than 20,000. City facilities haven’t quite grown with the city’s population, but residents are patient.

What Realtors say: People often compare Southlake to Colleyville, but many say you get a more laid-back feel and more home for your money in Colleyville. The market is good, with homes under $300,000 moving fairly quickly and others hanging on a bit longer, as they are in other nearby neighborhoods. Your choices are houses from the ’60s all the way up to those built yesterday. New homes start at around $300,000 and go up to the millions. The tear-down trend has even moved to the burbs: people are razing old farmhouses and building mansions.

What we say: The city has been named a national “Kid Friendly City,” “Tree City USA,” and “Texas’ Safest City.” And if that doesn’t impress you, 5,000 residents have library cards—a quarter of the population.

6. Murphy

Estimated population: 7,650
Average annual growth since 1990: 28.2%
Average home value in 2003: $205,713
Median age of residents: 33.9
Families with kids under 18: 47%

The official spiel: “The community supports plans to continue to foster the country-living atmosphere, though with fewer large lots. Minimum lot sizes are 9,000 square feet, and the average lot size trends toward 12,000 square feet.”

What demographers say: Twenty-four percent of Murphy residents are minorities (10 percent black, 9 percent Asian, and 5 percent Hispanic), making it the most diverse city among our top 10. Though Murphy has a good percentage of managers and professionals (55.2 percent of the workforce) as well as educated residents (47.8 percent hold at least a bachelor’s degree), only 3 percent of households earn $200,000 or more—significantly less than the rest of our top 10 list. The median household income is the lowest on our list at $83,547.

What residents say: Plano schools without Plano traffic draw many families here. And many families means many block parties in this little town, which is more “citified” than its rural neighbors of Parker, Fairview, and Lucas because of its proximity to Plano. While longtime residents miss Murphy’s country feel, transplants enjoy a bit of country not far from civilization.

What Realtors say: Murphy’s new home explosion started just a couple of years ago and has almost filled the available space. Murphy used to have a 1-acre minimum, but lots on the southern and eastern ends of town are now zoned smaller for more affordable homes. Lots here generally go for about $100,000 an acre. Recently, a home on 2 acres sold for $400,000 while one on 8 acres went for $1.8 million.

What we say: Murphy is a little town trying to position itself as a homestead for Dallas commuters. And it’s succeeding. It has the fastest annual growth on our top 10 list. Until a few years ago, most people probably didn’t even notice Murphy on their trek to take tourists to Southfork. The new homes are nice, but you’ll have to wait a while before any trees in the newly developed areas provide worthwhile shade.

7. Highland Village

Estimated population: 13,700
Average annual growth since 1990: 6.8%
Average home value in 2003: $229,099
Median age of residents: 37.7
Families with kids under 18: 53.3%

The official spiel: “Highland Village … has committed to the development of a quality community with a top-ranked educational system, upper-income family-oriented environment, and the planned preservation of open space throughout a lakefront community.”

What demographers say: Nearly 95 percent of residents are white (although the mayor is black). Thirteen percent of households earn $200,000 or more, and the median household income is $102,141. About 55 percent of residents hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, and 52.9 percent work in a professional or management career.

What residents say: The town, like most suburbs, is made up mostly of families seeking good schools and a safe community. Highland Villagers, however, have the added bonus of being on Lake Lewisville. While their kids enjoy fishing on the lake, residents say it’s usually too crowded on the weekends to take out a boat.

What Realtors say: Highland Village has a wide range of homes. A new home will run at least $250,000, although you can probably find a lakeside bungalow on a large lot with mature trees for around $200,000. The town has two master-planned communities on the lake: Castlewood and Highland Shores, with prices from $300,000 to more than $1 million.

What we say: This affluent bedroom community on Lake Lewisville used to be a lakeside hamlet. The story is that Highland Park residents used to weekend in Highland Village in the ’50s and ’60s, but that could be suburban legend. The coolest thing the town is doing is creating a 12-foot-wide trail throughout, connecting schools to parks to neighborhoods.

GOOD TIMES: Loomis Agency folks Brandy Cole, Alan Escue, Bari Glover, Tina Tacket, and Cecily Worthy break for a beer at Cafe Express in Plano’s Legacy Park.

8. Flower Mound

Estimated population: 59,350
Average annual growth since 1990: 20.2%
Average home value in 2003: $226,994
Median age of residents: 33.3
Families with kids under 18: 56.8%

The official spiel: “The vision of Flower Mound is to preserve our unique country atmosphere, heritage, and quality of life while cultivating a dynamic economic environment.”

What demographers say: The median household income of Flower Mound is $95,416, and just 8 percent of households bring in $200,000 or more annually. Ninety percent of residents are white, 53.1 percent have earned at least a bachelor’s degree, and 54.5 percent work in management or professional careers.

What residents say: By far the largest suburb on our top 10 list, Flower Mound offers residents more choices in every category, giving it more of a big-city feel. Yet, horse country kicks in here, attracting equestrian lovers. You can get more house for your money than in neighboring suburbs, which draws many young families. (The Lewisville school district is also a big draw.)

What Realtors say: The majority of homes in Flower Mound were built in the ’90s and sell for $150,000 to $350,000, including those in two master-planned communities: Wellington, priced at $250,000 to $400,000; and Bridlewood (with a golf course), priced at $300,000 to $800,000.

What we say: Lewisville’s affluent sidekick strives to maintain a balance between city luxuries and country simplicities. The town draws its name from a historic mound covered with wildflowers, which now is carefully preserved. During the 1990s, the town became the 10th-fastest-growing community in the nation, prompting it to adopt the Smart Growth plan, which will enable it to preserve the area’s natural beauty without compromising growth.

9. Coppell

Estimated population: 38,650
Average annual growth since 1990: 9.2%
Average home value in 2003: $231,033
Median age of residents: 33.5
Families with kids under 18: 54.6%

The official spiel: “Since its opening, DFW has grown to be one of the world’s largest international airports, with almost 60 million passengers annually. Coppell’s proximity to DFW has brought a tremendous potential for new development.”

What demographers say: With 17 percent of its residents something other than white (including 9.3 percent Asian and almost 7 percent Hispanic), Coppell is the second-most diverse on our top 10 list . The city’s median income is $96,935, and 13 percent of households have an annual income of $200,000 or more. More than 62 percent of residents hold at least a bachelor’s degree, and 59 percent of the workforce has a professional or managerial career.

What residents say: Those who moved to Coppell before Fox & Jacobs drew in the masses refer to the “pre-Minyard days.” While Minyard is gone, many other grocery stores have taken its place in a city that spent decades without such conveniences. Coppell residents like the shops, restaurants, and proximity to DFW Airport, and they love their schools. Andrew Brown Community Park—really three parks connected with a trail for walking, biking, skateboarding—is a favorite among residents. Traffic on Denton Tapp Road and along 121, however, is not.

What Realtors say: There is a good inventory of homes, most built in the late ’80s (custom homes) and early ’90s (when the volume builders came in) and selling for $200,000 to $350,000. New construction starts at about $600,000. Many new residents are professionals who have been relocated, although that’s not as common in corporate America as it was a few years ago.

What we say: Residents here are fairly young and conservative. You will be sitting near a child when you dine out. Old Town Coppell features the city’s new Farmers Market and an old-fashioned barbershop. One of the city’s most interesting things is the Coppell Community Garden, started in 1998. Part of the organic gardening venture is Share the Harvest, which brings volunteers together each Saturday to donate their fruits and vegetables to the local food pantry.

10. Sunnyvale

Estimated population: 3,500
Average annual growth since 1990: 4.1%
Average home value in 2003: $189,209
Median age of residents: 40.7
Families with kids under 18: 43.3%

The official spiel: “Sunnyvale has maintained its rural character and expanded its zoning laws to accommodate a changing lifestyle. Today, with more than 3,000 residents, Sunnyvale … has retained its small-town, country-living lifestyle, yet has easy access to neighboring metropolitan shopping, dining, entertainment, and recreational facilities.”

What demographers say: Sunnyvale residents hold the fewest college degrees of those on our top 10 list, with just 32 percent having earned at least a bachelor’s. Only 39.8 percent work in professional or management careers (also the lowest on our list). The median income in Sunnyvale is $86,952, 16.5 percent of households earn $200,000 or more, and 88.9 percent of residents are white.

What residents say: Sunnyvale residents generally want to live in the country but don’t want to be too far away from the city. Families move here in droves because of the schools. (Sunnyvale ISD goes through eighth grade; kids enter Mesquite schools in the ninth grade, which will be a community sticking point until the city gets its own high school.) Locals hear coyotes at night, occasionally get a whiff of a skunk, and keep an eye on small dogs because bobcats have been known to rustle them up for dinner.

What Realtors say: Sunnyvale used to mandate all homes be on at least 1 acre, but now many are on half- or third-acre lots (although locals are trying hard to keep those to a minimum). New homes generally start at $250,000 and go up to $1 million. The inventory of homes is vast, including a new development called The Falls that just opened up to custom builders. If you want an older home on a ranch, good luck. The prices are nice (in the $160,000 range), but these houses rarely come up for sale.

What we say: Sunnyvale is a mere 15 miles west of Dallas, so you don’t have to give up couture for cows. The town shares borders to the north and west with Mesquite and Garland, but try not to hold that against it. There are lots of homeowners’ groups here, lots of money here, but not a lot of attitude. If you like low taxes, good schools, and stars in your night sky—and don’t mind llamas just around the corner from your public library—mosey on over.


Why Addison Is No. 51 (Blame Dallas)

How could Addison—one of the destinations in the Dallas area, with the thriving Village on the Parkway and fun-filled events like Taste Addison—possibly rank so low? Basically, because it’s Dallas. Addison schools are in DISD. Addison crime is Dallas crime, only worse. It had the second-worst crime ranking of all 53 suburbs. (Balch Springs enjoys the dubious distinction of having the worst.) Its score in the housing department plummeted because we factored in the percentage of owner-occupied homes, and Addison is flush with renters. Apparently, Addison really is a nice place to visit. You just wouldn’t want to live there.

Dallas: Even Worse Than Balch Springs

Just for fun, we decided to throw Dallas’ statistics into the mix. Problem was, Dallas’ stats were so bad that they threw off the entire ranking system. Formulas were built using the worst data as the baseline, and Dallas put the baseline so low that, in effect, all the suburbs looked equally wonderful. Dallas has the second-worst school district (congrats, Lancaster, for beating out DISD) and the worst crime. The statistical sampling was weighted so the suburb with the highest crime rate, Balch Springs, would score a 1; Dallas’ crime rate was so much worse that it actually scored a -2.7. So take heart, Balch Springs. You might be at the bottom of the list, but you’re way ahead of Dallas.



Violent Crime per 1,000 residents
1. Southlake 0.41
2. Highland Village 0.46
3. Colleyville 0.50
4. Coppell 0.54
5. Parker 0.67

1. Balch Springs 6.60
2. Addison 5.49
3. Arlington 5.29
4. Seagoville 4.89
5. Hurst 4.71

Nonviolent Crime per 1,000 residents

1. Trophy Club 6.71
2. Highland Village 10.11
3. Ovilla 10.28
4. Flower Mound 15.16
5. Keller 16.13

1. Red Oak 82.11
2. Addison 68.41
3. Balch Springs 68.30
4. Hurst 65.93
5. Seagoville 58.86



Most Growth
1. Little Elm 1,016%
2. Frisco 982%
3. Murphy 395%
4. Flower Mound 282%
5. Southlake 247%

Least Growth
1. Highland Park 0.7%
2. Duncanville, University Park 3%
4. Bedford & Hurst (tie)  10%

Average Home Values 2003

1. Highland Park $977,243
2. University Park $608,848
3. Southlake $375,095
4. Parker $344,967
5. Colleyville $313,631

1. Seagoville $51,805
2. Cockrell Hill $52,606
3. Balch Springs $57,004
4. Glenn Heights $65,972
5. Lancaster $72,640


How We Did It

We know it’s difficult to compare Parker (population 1,500) with Plano (population 243,300), but, after many hours and many Excel spreadsheets, we did it. We ranked the 53 suburbs by first creating a weighted scale, where a value of 1 was assigned to the lowest performer and 5 was assigned to the highest. For example, when we considered the percent of kids who passed the TAKS test, we created a formula where the lowest score, Addison’s 52.5 percent, equated to a 1; and the highest score, Highland Park’s 96.8 percent, equated to a 5. All other scores fell in between. We did the same with all the other statistical criteria, allowing us to rank each suburb based on myriad factors. Each burb’s overall score was based on five broad categories:

Education: 25%
Compiled from the percentage of students passing the TAKS tests in 2003, the mean SAT score of the class of 2002, the percentage of the class of 2002 taking college admissions exams, and the amount of money each district spends on instructional expenses. Data sources: 2002-2003 statistics from the Texas Education Agency, Highland Park ISD, Carroll ISD

Housing: 25%
Based on the percentage of owner-occupied homes in a suburb (40 percent of housing score) and statistics from local appraisal districts of average home values in 2001 and 2003 (60 percent of housing score). Data sources: U.S. Census Bureau, Dallas County Appraisal District, Collin County Appraisal District, Denton County Appraisal District, Tarrant County Appraisal District, Kaufman County Appraisal District, Rockwall County Appraisal District, Ellis County Appraisal District

Safety: 20%
Based on crime statistics for seven crimes: murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and auto theft. We gave twice as much weight to the first four, assuming that being robbed at gunpoint is more serious than having your car stereo stolen. Data sources: 2003 statistics from the Texas Department of Public Safety and Dallas County Sheriff’s Office Sunnyvale substation

Ambience: 20%
We gave cities credit for the amount of parkland they had per 1,000 residents and whether they had recycling and compost sites. We penalized them for the number of landfills, whether they were active, inactive, or closed. We also considered everything the other statistics can’t: how it looks, how it feels, everything subjective. Data sources: various parks departments, the North Central Texas Council of Governments, and the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission.

Property Taxes: 10%

For ranking purposes, we used city, county, and school taxes based on a home valued at $200,000. Our chart lists taxes based on average value of homes (because good luck finding a $200,000 home in Highland Park). Data sources: 2003 statistics from the Dallas County Appraisal District, Collin County Appraisal District, Denton County Appraisal District, Tarrant County Appraisal District, Kaufman County Appraisal District, Rockwall County Appraisal District, Ellis County Appraisal District.


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