|NO. 1 SOUTHLAKE: Sixty percent of the families here have children under 18, the most family-centric in our survey. Photos by Dave Shafer|
1.Southlake 2. Parker 3. Highland Village 4. University Park 5. Highland Park 6. Colleyville 7. Trophy Club 8. Flower Mound 9. Hickory Creek 10. Murphy
But what happened to University Park (No. 1 last time around) and Highland Park (No. 2)? How could they have slipped beneath Highland Village, you ask? It came down to the crime data. No, Highland Park and University Park haven’t been overrun by pirates and highwaymen; crime stats in both towns actually improved over two years ago. But Southlake, Parker, and Highland Village simply had even less crime.
For this year’s rankings, we tackled more burbs than ever before—63—crunching the data on their schools, crime, housing, and ambience. We interviewed residents and logged many miles having a look around (oy, the cost of gas!). For a detailed explanation of how we did it, see the end of our report. But here are some important points to keep in mind about this year’s list:
Yes, ranking the suburbs is inherently unfair. Parker (No. 2) has 2,450 residents. In the data we used, the city had not a single violent crime. Irving (No. 59) claims 201,950 souls and 910 violent crimes. It isn’t so much apples to oranges as it is apples to hammers. Understanding that big cities are different beasts, we broke them out in their own ranking (see “The Big Boys” sidebar).
We altered our methodology this year, and it did affect the ranking. Realizing that property tax rates don’t vary much from city to city (and that taxes paid don’t necessarily indicate anything), we dropped that factor from our ranking formula and shifted weight into the safety and ambience factors. For ambience, we added a new stat: air quality. Again, for a more detailed explanation, see the end of our report.
Finally, this year, in addition to profiling the top 10 suburbs, we also took a look at six towns that we felt deserved a little attention: Prosper, because Jerry Jones thinks it’s the next Frisco; Sunnyvale, because it’s such a surprise that a bucolic burb can lie just 15 minutes from downtown Dallas; Keller, because it’s one of the most wired cities in America; Ennis, because it moved up more spots than any other burb; and Rockwall and Heath, because Rockwall County is the fourth-fastest-growing in the country.
Click HERE to see our ranking in PDF format.
THE BIG BOYS
You can’t compare a tiny village like Parker to a major city like Irving (even though we do). Here’s how the cities with 80,000 people or more measure up. 1. Frisco (15) 84,600 2. Plano (18) 252,950 3. McKinney (22) 103,800 4. Richardson (33) 97,300 5. Lewisville (35) 118,700 6. Carrollton (37) 118,700 7. Garland (48) 222,400 8. Mesquite (51) 135,900 9. Grand Prairie (52) 156,050 10. Arlington (56) 363, 050 11. Irving (59) 201,950
Annual growth since 1990: 8.3%
Average home sales price in 2005: $513,439
Median age of residents: 36.7
Families with kids under 18: 60.5%
Median household income: $131,549
WHAT RESIDENTS AND REAL ESTATE AGENTS SAY: The empty city streets on fall Friday nights give you a clue about what makes this town tick. All the local sports teams are the Dragons, not just the high school football team (which won the state 5A division championship last season and was named the No. 2 football team in the country by USA Today). The good news is local football brings people together; the bad news is winning is so important that less athletically gifted kids don’t get to play. The schools are great, but some say they’re full of rich kids with competitive, meddling parents. The Grapevine Lake Equestrian Trail gives a glimpse of what Southlake used to be like, but most residents think the growth has been handled well. The city often surveys its residents, listening and responding to their comments. Considered an elite area, homes can easily get up to more than $1 million.
WHAT WE SAY: Southlake combines city and country life. Sure, more than one Kerry sign was stolen here during the last presidential election, but the downtown brownstones and soon-to-open Central Market give the city a hip, urban feel. This is our most family-centered top suburb, with 60.4 percent of families having kids under 18. The city’s bike paths and sidewalks, which will allow kids to ride their bikes to the new Harkins movie theaters, are a definite suburban bonus. That said, the recent battle waged by parents whose daughters didn’t make the varsity cheerleading team (eventually the school board allowed all girls who had tried out to be on the team) shows that the Park Cities aren’t the only local bubble in need of perspective.
|NO. 2 PARKER: Tucked away to the east of Plano, it still offers wide-open spaces. Photo by Dave Shafer|
Annual growth since 1990: 4.5%
Average home sales price in 2005: $453,004
Median age of residents: 40.8
Families with kids under 18: 33.8%
Median household income: $101,786
WHAT RESIDENTS AND REAL ESTATE AGENTS SAY: There’s no easy way to get in or out of Parker, a main difference between it and Murphy, its nearby top-10 peer. Some residents are looking for a bit more progress, hoping the town will try to attract new businesses. Most of the homes here are custom, averaging about $550,000. Most are new, built in the late ’90s, ranging from $300,000 up to $1.3 million. What people often want but can’t find here: land.
WHAT WE SAY: You can’t talk about Parker without mentioning that it’s the home of Southfork. So there. It’s mentioned. Parker’s low crime rates make it the second-safest suburb in our entire survey. In 2005, the town had zero violent crimes, two burglaries, and 30 larcenies.
|NO. 3 HIGHLAND VILLAGE: Jennifer Lewis and daughter Macy live not far from the tony homes on the shores of Lake Lewisville. Photo by Doug Davis|
3. Highland Village
Annual growth since 1990: 4.6%
Average home sales price in 2005: $282,586
Median age of residents: 37.7
Families with kids under 18: 53.3%
Median household income: $102,141
WHAT RESIDENTS AND REAL ESTATE AGENTS SAY: Residents are cheerleaders for their town of grand homes along Lake Lewisville. They like to tell stories of how Highland Park residents used to weekend here in the true lakeside bungalows in the older part of town. (No one knows if that’s true, but it’s a good story.) Locals are excited about a Southlake-like retail area, which will open in the fall and feature Coldwater Creek, Ann Taylor, and the like. Highland Shores is the most popular and pricey subdivision here, with many homes along Lake Lewisville priced at more than $1 million. Though you should expect to spend about $300,000 on a home, some starting in the upper $100,000s can be found in the older sections of town.
WHAT WE SAY: In addition to the lake views and mature trees, we love the small-town politics. Recently, the town has been in an uproar over the City Council’s approval of a Wal-Mart. In the May election, mayoral candidate Dave Bunnell told his opponent—who voted for the Wal-Mart and ended up barely winning the mayor’s race—it was “evil to disregard what the majority of citizens tell you to do.” Dianne Costa’s response: “Where would Moses be if he took a poll in Egypt? Where would Jesus Christ be if he took a poll in Israel?” Where but small-town Texas would someone invoke the name of Jesus to defend Wal-Mart?
4. University Park
Annual growth since 1990: 0.3%
Average home sales price in 2005: $926,133
Median age of residents: 31.2
Families with kids under 18: 40.8%
Median household income: $92,778
WHAT RESIDENTS AND REAL ESTATE AGENTS SAY: A small town in the midst of a huge metropolitan area is a rarity, and it’s one of UP’s best attributes. The city is clean, and trash pickup runs like clockwork. Yet the structure that make everything run so well also drives some locals crazy. Town employees actually drive up and down alleys to make sure your garbage can lids are attached to a fixed structure and chained to your trash cans. You’ll also be busted if anything is growing within eight inches of that alley. The shops are great; parking, not so much. If land comes up for sale (generally from a tear-down), it’s gone within 24 hours. Real estate agents estimate land value here and in Highland Park has increased by 15 to 30 percent in the last year. A 70-by-160 lot will go for $1 million to $1.5 million. Low-end housing here is $450,000 to $500,000; high-end is more like $5 million to $6 million (unless you’re talking about Boca Estates, where homes push $20 million).
WHAT WE SAY: It would just be embarrassing to surround a major university and not have the most educated population in our top 10. UP pulls it out, though, with 80 percent of residents having at least a bachelor’s degree. Schools here and in HP rank the highest on our chart, boasting a 4.8 score out of 5. Students in HPISD have the highest mean SAT scores of all our suburbs at 1163. UP has just about everything HP does at a lower price. No brainer.
|NO. 5 HIGHLAND PARK: Mark and Grace Jolas live in a neighborhood where moms feel safe letting their kids roam. Photo by Doug Davis|
5. Highland Park
Annual growth since 1990: 0%
Average home sales price in 2005: $1,347,657
Median age of residents: 42
Families with kids under 18: 33.6%
Median household income: $149,389
WHAT WE SAY: Not surprisingly, HP has the highest median household income of our top 10 suburbs at $149,389. Surprisingly, it has the lowest tax rate of all our 63 suburbs. (Of course, with an average home sales price of more than $1.3 million, a town can probably do that.) You may scoff at the near-perfect 98 ambience score we gave the town, but that’s just because you’re jealous you can’t live in Highland Park. Honestly, is there another entire city that’s as idyllic, small, and inviting?
Annual growth since 1990: 3.4%
Average home sales price in 2005: $415,273
Median age of residents: 40
Families with kids under 18: 49.8%
Median household income: $117,419
WHAT RESIDENTS AND REAL ESTATE AGENTS SAY: People here like the country, but they also like convenient luxuries. (One mentioned is the new Bob’s Steak & Chop House, opening soon in nearby Grapevine.) Sure, the schools are great, the dearth of apartments means little riffraff, and Colleyville is close to urban conveniences. The true perfection, though, may be Colleyville’s proximity to DFW Airport without the bother of being in the actual flight pattern. “I don’t have to say anything to sell Colleyville,” one real estate agent says. Homes here are less expensive than in Southlake yet more than in Grapevine. Not many homes are more than $1 million, with the higher end being more like $800,000 and an average home going for around $400,000. About 10 percent of homes are new construction, with most being pre-owned and built in the early ’90s.
WHAT WE SAY: Colleyville was No. 40 in Money Magazine’s Top Places To Live survey. In the nation. The city just feels nice. Maybe it’s the design. The sidewalks. The landscaping. The beautiful construction. The swath of undisturbed nature that runs straight through the middle of the city. It’s a place where you can think you live in the land of milk and honey—yet buy that milk and honey at the Kroger down the street.
|NO. 7 TROPHY CLUB: An entire burb built around a country club, it offers great golf (and golf instruction with Rosey Bartlett, the 2004 LPGA T&CP National Teacher of the Year). Photo by Doug Davis|
7. Trophy Club
Annual growth since 1990: 3.9%
Average home sales price in 2005: $233,731
Median age of residents: 37
Families with kids under 18: 43.2%
Median household income: $92,492
WHAT RESIDENTS AND REAL ESTATE AGENTS SAY: People who don’t live in Trophy Club usually just drive past Trophy Club, never entering its city limits. And residents are fine with that. “Trophy Club is like a neighborhood on steroids,” one resident says. Kids’ baseball and soccer are big here. So is the Trophy Club Country Club, which sits in the center of town. Northwest ISD attracts many families who say the schools seem more private than public because of the small classes and personal attention. High-end homes go over $1 million (many along the country club’s golf course, which was designed by Ben Hogan). You can also find well-crafted homes from the ’70s and ’80s in the upper $200,000s. Lower-end housing in the low to mid-$100,000s draws more singles than you’d find in Southlake or Colleyville, yet Trophy Club is still mostly families.
WHAT WE SAY: It’s difficult to say whether Trophy Club is planned perfection or contrived community. The town started as the state’s first entirely planned community back in 1973 and was centered around the country club (with the very “clubby” name). Families go to the community pool or walk to the lake to feed the ducks. A second-grade class recently won the town’s “Name the Fire Truck” contest. (“Smokey” it is.) It’s a bit Stepford Wife-ish to urbanites because it looks so pleasant. But we’re jaded by the smog and shootings.
8. Flower Mound
Annual growth since 1990: 9.0%
Average home sales price in 2005: $270,303
Median age of residents: 33.3
Families with kids under 18: 56.8%
Median household income: $95,416
WHAT RESIDENTS AND REAL ESTATE AGENTS SAY: While many people in Flower Mound certainly have money, it isn’t obvious. The high school parking lot is filled with cars that look like what a high school kid could afford. People cut their own grass. Locals have been demanding retail and restaurants and are now getting it, enjoying the new Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Target. The city is trying hard to control growth, to its own detriment, some residents say. While Southlake’s retail district booms, Flower Mound’s Parker Square is limited to only local stores, most of which don’t last long. As far as housing, you can start with a small, older garden home for $120,000 and go up to multimillion-dollar properties along Lake Lewisville.
WHAT WE SAY: Flower Mound is the largest of our top suburbs, so it’s not surprising it has so many urban conveniences. The city is a nice mix of cul-de-sacs with stay-at-home moms, kids on bikes, and nearby horse stables and rolling green hills—although we wonder how long the developers will let that last. The city does mandate that trees stay put during development, which helps. Almost 13 acres of the original mound of wildflowers after which the city was named (next to the Tom Thumb at FM 3040 and FM 2499) belong to a nonprofit citizens’ organization, safe from the bulldozers of developers.
|NO. 15 FRISCO: The intimacy of the Dr Pepper Ballpark helps the fast-growing city feel small. Photo by Dave Shafer|
9. Hickory Creek
Annual growth since 1990: 1.5%
Average home sales price in 2005: $208,843
Median age of residents: 39.8
Families with kids under 18: 33.5%
Median household income: $69,313
WHAT RESIDENTS AND REAL ESTATE AGENTS SAY: Residents hope their town hall will be the beginning of a central business district, the closest thing to a downtown Hickory Creek probably will ever have. “It used to be our downtown was Lake Dallas,” one resident says. Hickory Creek boomed in the early ’90s and still has the feel of a small town. While there is no central gathering place, residents say they always see someone at Wal-Mart they know. Ten years ago, the town’s annual sales tax revenue was $30,000. It’s projected to be closer to $1 million this year, thanks to a Wal-Mart, IHOP, McDonald’s and other businesses that started when the town got water on its west side. (The town is divided by I-35.) Homes here start at around $200,000, going up significantly around Lake Lewisville, and average around $500,000.
WHAT WE SAY: While a bedroom community with a Wal-Mart and no real downtown isn’t generally our kind of place, this one looks great on paper. In fact, it wins our best value for quality of life contest (see “Best Deals”). Hickory Creek has the lowest median income of our top suburbs at $69,313. (The national average, by the way, is $41,994.) It also has the least-educated residents, with 25 percent having earned at least a bachelor’s degree. The smallest of the top 10 (Parker has about 50 more people), Hickory Creek is a safe bet for quiet, hassle-free, safe living.
Annual growth since 1990: 13.2%
Average home sales price in 2005: $271,056
Median age of residents: 33.9
Families with kids under 18: 47.1%
Median household income: $83,547
WHAT RESIDENTS AND REAL ESTATE AGENTS SAY: Murphy is a quiet town. But residents who once heard tree frogs, owls, and coyotes are now serenaded by the sounds of new construction. Longtime residents miss the feel that inspired the town’s slogan: “Country living at its best.” There was a day when city employees would return your escaped dog to your backyard. Now they’re hiring hunters to kill the coyotes who were killing local cats. Still, residents feel they can drop in on City Council members, and many know the names of local police officers. Minimum lot sizes here are 9,000 square feet, with most being closer to 12,000. Murphy is a bit lower-end than Parker, with homes averaging about $280,000. You can’t get in for less than $150,000 and can pay up to $800,000 in the Rolling Ridge subdivision. Homes here must have side-entry garages, meaning there are no alleys and a minimum of 20 feet between each home, giving everyone a bit of elbowroom.
WHAT WE SAY: Last year, a Starbucks replaced the Fina station. That pretty much tells Murphy’s story. The local newspaper reports that 50 families a month are moving to the town. The vote to make the city wet comes up more and more often, and some residents expect it probably will pass before much longer. Starbucks. Easy highway access. A Barnes & Noble five minutes away at the new Firewheel Mall. All evidence that Murphy has grown 630 percent in the last decade and a half.
|No. 19 HEATH: It imposes no shoreline restrictions on Lake Ray Hubbard, making it a great place to build that dock. Photo by Dave Shafer|
6 Burbs to Watch
These cities didn’t crack the top 10, but each has something unique going for it.
Best Suburb for the Skittish
How close is sunnyvale to downtown Dallas? It’s so close that you could live there and still be a Metro columnist for the Dallas Morning News. That’s what Steve Blow does.
If you want to dabble in the suburbs, try them on for size yet not truly commit and move all the way out to Prosper, Sunnyvale is your place. It’s maybe 15 minutes from urban Dallas to bucolic Sunnyvale. You get the appeal of a small town—like the Sunnyvale Garden Club, established in 1960—without cutting the urban umbilical cord.
The town borders Garland and Mesquite, as well as Lake Ray Hubbard and the countryside of Kaufman County. If you’d like an older ranch home with space for your horse, you’ll likely have to wait for quite some time for one to come on the market. But there’s lots of new construction here and 1-acre lots are going for $100,000 and up. Locals aren’t thrilled by the new homes, which are not on the acre lots that used to be the norm. Three City Council members lost their seats on the issue in May.
Sunnyvale ISD just goes through eighth grade at this point. Then kids have to go to lower-performing Mesquite ISD for high school. But if your kids can survive with coyotes and bobcats in their backyard, surely a little time in Mesquite schools won’t hurt them.
Fourth-Fastest-Growing County in the Nation
First, Dallas expanded westward. Then north. Apparently, it’s time for suburbia to head east.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Rockwall County was the fourth-fastest-growing county in the nation between 2004 and 2005. On July 1, 2005, 62,944 people lived in the county. That’s 7.7 percent more than a year earlier. (As an aside, Collin County made the top 100, at No. 42, with a 4.9 percent increase; Denton County came in at No. 61, with a 4.5 percent increase; Kaufman County was No. 66, with a 4.3 percent increase; and Ellis County barely made the list at No. 99, with a 3.8 percent increase.)
The cities of Rockwall, Heath, Fate, and Royse City (we didn’t rank the latter two) all sit within the Rockwall County borders. Rockwall ISD’s second high school, Rockwall-Heath High School, is in the works as a 4A school, and Rockwall High School is 5A. The district predicts that by 2015, it will have five 5A high schools.
Margie Hooper, president of the Rockwall County Chamber, moved to Rockwall in 1976 and has been waiting for the crowds to find her small town. Honestly, though, most locals would rather keep the small-town feel, with things like the Christmas parade, which features miles and miles of pickup trucks, trailers, and floats filled with every kid in town. “Everybody who comes here, they want to be the last ones to get across the bridge,” Hooper says.
The New Frisco
This is the first year we included prosper in our survey of suburbs. First time up, it comes in at No. 11. Where it falls next time around depends on how the next few years play out.
In 1990, 1,018 people lived in Prosper. This year, 5,250 people do. In between, all anybody really knew about it was that Deion Sanders built a big house there. Now Jerry Jones is developing 500 acres in Prosper. And the Frisco-based LandPlan Development Corp. is developing 1,300 acres right by Jerry’s place. At press time, Prosper had more than 4,000 “shovel ready” lots, and another 3,500 already had preliminary approval. The average home is going for about $280,000.
The city’s marketing slogan, “All Roads Lead to Prosper,” apparently is true. Preston Road connects the town to Dallas; 380 connects it to 75 on the east and I-35 on the west. Convenience has a lot to do with the sudden interest.
“The challenge facing the developers and the town’s leaders is to ensure that the community’s quality of life is preserved during the transition,” says Karen Gandy, executive director of the town’s Economic Development Corporation. “This means getting the infrastructure in place to meet the demands of growth.”
We’ll see how it goes. Stay tuned to see how all that shoveling works out.
Most Improved Suburb
Two years ago, Ennis ranked 48th on our list. This year, it’s No. 32. Still no Highland Park, but a 16-spot jump is certainly worth noting.
Actually, Ennis, which is about 30 miles south of Dallas, along I-45, moved up in our rankings mostly because all the towns under it had a bad crime year. But Ennis does have a lot going on. It has primarily been known for its high school football (the Lions have been state champions four times), Motorplex, bluebonnets, and annual Czech festival. Now, though, the city is going for another label: a haven for businesses.
“Today, Ennis is big business,” brags its web site. “Over 5,400 people work in 64 diverse, SIC coded industries. The ‘Bluebonnet City’ produces electric power, plastic storage containers, clothing, furniture, steel, electronics, custom rifles, as well as business and computer documents. We are home to a state-of-the-art AT&T communications center, and Ennis hosts world-class racing events at The Texas Motorplex with speeds reaching an incredible rate of 326.91 mph!”
Every town needs its niche. Drag racing and rifles sounds good. So do kolaches.
Wired and Ready to Roll
In May 2004, Verizon used keller as a testing ground for its first large-scale advanced FiOS fiber-optic technology. What that means to those of us who aren’t high-tech geeks is that they replaced copper wires with cooler electronics previously used just for the telecom industry. As defined by Verizon, FiOS brings “laser-generated pulses of light, riding on hair-thin strands of glass fiber,” generating broadband connections with “blazing-fast speeds.”
Yes, they actually said “blazing.”
Suddenly, everyone in town had access to connections 10 times faster than your typical broadband speed. Verizon billed it back then as the “most significant transformation in the technology used to carry phone calls, data, and video to and from homes and businesses.”
City Manager Lyle Dresher said the move would “not only enhance the way Keller residents and businesses communicate, but will also help spur economic development and growth in our city.”
Two years later, about 21 percent of Keller’s residents use FiOS video service and one-third use the fiber-optic Internet service. But it gets even better. In February, the Federal Communications Commission came to Keller to hear national testimony on TV competition.
“It’s been wonderful,” says Mayor Julie Tandy—who uses Verizon for phone, Internet, and television service, of course.
HOW WE DID IT
First, an admission: the criteria we use to rank cities favor small towns. A small town will have less crime than a big one. That’s why we created a separate ranking of cities with more than 80,000 residents (see “The Big Boys”).
Calculated from the percent of students passing the TAKS tests in 2005, the mean SAT score of the class of 2004, percent of the class of 2004 taking college admissions exams, and the amount of money each district spent on instructional expenses for the 2004-05 school year. Each of the preceding was given equal weight. Where a city is served by more than one district, we accounted for that. Source: Texas Education Agency, Highland Park ISD, Carroll ISD.
Based on the percent of owner-occupied homes in a suburb (40 percent of overall housing score) and statistics from average home sales prices for 2005 (60 percent). Source: U.S. Census Bureau 2000, North Texas Real Estate Information System (NTREIS).
Based on statistics for seven crimes: murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and auto theft. We gave twice as much weight to the first four under the theory that being beaten to a pulp might be more traumatic than having your car stolen. Source: 2005 statistics from the Texas Department of Public Safety, Dallas Sheriff’s Department, Murphy Police Department, Oak Point Police Department.
Ambience & Air: 25%
Some towns have ambience; some don’t. If you’ve ever been to Waxahachie and Wilmer on the same day, you know what we mean. This is subjective. We assigned each city an ambience score on a 100-point scale. Air quality statistics are a combined analysis of levels of ozone, carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen oxide, and particulate matter. Ambience accounted for 70 percent of this score; air quality was 30 percent. Source: Lycos, using EPA data.
D Magazine thanks the following, without whom this story would have been impossible: North Texas Real Estate Information Systems Inc.; North Central Texas Council of Governments; Becky Washam with RE/MAX; Jordan Hashem with Boulevard Real Estate; Melanie Welch with RE/MAX; Nicky Sheets with Coldwell Banker; Amanda Phipps with One Source Real Estate.