Wednesday, May 31, 2006

As Malling Of America Slows, History-Challenged Land Of The Brave Sprouts Dozens Of Gleaming 'Faux Urban Downtowns'

"On a recent Friday night, Bishop Road was hopping. Land Rovers and Lexuses inched down the two-lane street. On the brick sidewalks, a steel band played Bob Marley tunes as couples strolled past boutiques, bars and restaurants, lines spilling out the door.

Until a few years ago, Bishop Road was a grassy field in the midst of a gargantuan office park. Today, it's the main drag of Legacy Town Center, a 75-acre development 20 miles north of Dallas that's home to 4,000 people. The project has been such a hit that developers are building on an additional 75 acres across the street.

Legacy Town Center is one of dozens of faux downtowns popping up across the country, from Kansas City to Washington, D.C., spurred by a demand for urban living scrubbed of the reality of city life. A careful mix of retail, residential and office space built with traditional materials such as stone and brick, Legacy looks like a city but has neither panhandlers nor potholes. Many residents rarely venture even to downtown Dallas, which has been trying to turn itself into place to live for almost a decade.

A view of Bishop Road, part of Legacy Town Center in Plano, Texas.
"There's too much riffraff down there," says Ron Pettit, a 36-year-old contractor, as he snacks on brie and grapes at a table outside Bishop Road's Main Street Bakery and Bistro.

In Flagstaff, Ariz., buyers have snapped up almost all of the 125 residential units on offer at Presidio in the Pines, a town center under construction on 91 acres of forest. North of Charlotte, N.C., on the site of a former dairy farm, is Birkdale Village, which consists of 52 acres intended to recall a New England coastal town. It features 320 apartments, most of which are stacked above shops and restaurants.

Even though these faux downtowns contain tinges of suburbia, they're taking advantage of a growing backlash against the sprawl that rings Dallas and other U.S. cities. The reaction began in the 1980s with the rise of New Urbanism, a movement of architects and planners calling for a return to traditional towns where people work, shop, live and play.

Among the most prominent of those theorists was Andrés Duany, a leading figure behind Seaside, a planned pedestrian community on the Florida Panhandle that was the setting for the 1998 movie, "The Truman Show." Suburban growth, Mr. Duany argued, was unsustainable because it consumes land at a high rate while creating horrendous traffic.

In the 1990s, Americans started venturing back into cities that had emptied out in prior decades. Basking in the glow of falling crime rates and glamorized by television shows such as "Seinfeld" and "Friends," cities themselves began to woo residential and retail development.

For a developer, however, it's much easier to make a fake city than it is to work on real downtowns with their patchwork landholdings and planning restrictions. The developers of Legacy were able to carve up the land pretty much as they pleased. The result: more than 1,500 apartments and town houses, some 80 shops and restaurants, two mid-rise office towers and a Marriott Hotel.

The concept also attracted developers looking for alternatives to malls, a concept rapidly losing favor among shoppers. Only one mall has opened in 2006, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, a New York City-based trade group. By contrast, more than 60 so-called lifestyle centers -- outdoor shopping areas with plazas, fountains and pedestrian streets -- are planned to open this year and next." ...

Thaddeus Herrick "City Lite: Fake Towns Rise, Offering Urban Life Without the Grit" Wall Street Journel, May 31, 2006.

The 750 Year Old 'non-faux' downtown of Lviv, Ukraine, Europe.

The center of Lviv, Ukraine is on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. L’viv is an outstanding example of the fusion of the architectural and artistic traditions of eastern Europe with those of Italy and Germany. The medieval urban topography has been preserved virtually intact (in particular, there is evidence of the different ethnic communities who lived there), along with many fine Baroque, Neo-Classical, and Style Modern buildings.

Each Spring, tens of thousands of Ukrainian students take advantage of the free train passes offered by the Government of Ukraine to travel by sleeper cars to Lviv and other Ukrainian historic urban centers; where the students stay in hostels, the gymnasiums of local high schools, or campgrounds if weather permits, after full days of exploring their European artistic, architectural, historic, and civic heritage.

UNESCO World Heritage Site list and interactive map:

Photo credit: With thanks.


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