Wednesday, December 19, 2007

8 Years Ago... Plano, Tx: Prairie Town Turned Boomtown Ranked Among Nation's Best

4 Years Ago...

Plano, Tx: Prairie Town Turned Boomtown Ranked Among Nation's Best
by Courtney Ronan

The results are in, and Ladies' Home Journal has named Plano, Texas, one of America's best cities for women. That judgment has been based on such criteria as general quality of life and standard of living, average household income, crime rate, caliber of public school system, unemployment rate and job growth and availability of recreational opportunities, among others. Ironically, Dallas, a city whose northern sector lies a mere 15- to 20-minute drive from Plano's borders, was named America's "riskiest" city for women based on its proximity to "Tornado Alley," a region of the state considered most vulnerable to tornadoes. (Plano, too, lies within Tornado Alley, but the advantages of living here apparently outweighed the inherent risks of it geographical location.)

Plano's growth has been truly remarkable; in fact, the city's growth rate is the highest in Texas. Although incorporated as a city in 1961, 25 years ago the region was mostly open fields, flat prairie land and a few residential streets lined with ranch-style homes. Retail shops and restaurants were present but somewhat limited in variety. A small number of public schools accommodated the region's small population. The center of activity in Plano was along brick-paved 15th Street, which today is comprised predominantly of antique and novelty shops, although real estate developers have been eyeing the spaces above the ground-floor shops as a golden opportunity for conversion to rustic lofts in Plano's most historic district.

Today, Plano's population hovers near 200,000. Businesses who once would have shunned any place other than Dallas have migrated north to Plano -- particularly its Legacy Park district, home to EDS, Frito-Lay, Fina and other multinational corporations. Its public school system, ranked among the state's best, has barely been able to keep pace with the city's explosive growth. Plano's student population is so large, in fact, that its high school system has long been divided into separate schools for ninth and 10th grades ("high school") versus 11th and 12th grades ("senior high school"). Commencement ceremonies for the city's senior high schools are so large that Plano's two (soon to be three) senior highs have routinely held their graduations at Southern Methodist University, where facilities are large enough to accomodate graduating classes of 1,200 or more, plus families and friends.

The growth of Plano's retail sector, too, has been dramatic. It used to be that if you wanted to enjoy an acclaimed restaurant, puruse the shelves of a bookstore or browse a unique retail shop, you headed south to Dallas. Today, Plano sings a different tune. The vast majority of Dallas' most coveted retail stores have chosen to open up additional locations in Plano to take advantage of the city's population growth -- and its deep pockets (particularly in its far western sector). While many of the shops mimic Plano's "clonish" reputation (you're likely to find the required Pottery Barn/Barnes & Noble/Crate & Barrel/Starbucks within spitting distance of a sea of perfectly straight, immaculate residential streets lined with bland red bricks and rooftops so close to one another that neighbors can wave at each other), there's little reason for Plano families to make the journey to Dallas -- that is, unless they crave a little culture or truly innovative cuisine. While Plano does have countless restaurants and its own chamber orchestra and community theaters, Dallas still has the lion's share of world-class museums, theatre and symphonic organizations and cutting-edge cuisine. (That assessment doesn't knock Plano but rather acknowledges the fact that its population is comprised of more young families than nearby Dallas. Plano's restaurateurs have taken note, building more casual, family-style eateries. Upscale restaurants do, in fact, exist within Plano's boundaries, but they're outnumbered.)

Ladies' Home Journal isn't the only entity to take notice of Plano. Among its accolades are the title of "All-America City" in 1994 by the National Civic League and Allstate Foundation, a recognition for Plano's community-based efforts (including an effective Neighborhood Crime Watch program; the Children's Medical Clinic, a center providing free medical treatment and services to children of families living without health insurance; and Practical Parent Education, a program that provides family-support services. Plano was named "Best City in the U.S. for Home-based Businesses" in 1996; the fourth-most "Kid-Friendly City" in the United States in 1997 out of 219 U.S. cities; and the nation's eighth-safest city based on statistics provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigations, and reported in Money magazine's annual ranking of America's safest cities.

To accommodate its continued growth, the residential real estate market is booming in Plano. New homes are popping up everywhere -- some of them located in gated communities in the far west or eastern sectors of Plano. Existing homes are an affordable option for first-time buyers. Relocating families -- particularly those from the West and East coasts who sold their homes for high figures -- can afford four- and five-bedroom homes in Plano and are generally pleasantly surprised by the amount of home Plano gives them for the money. Rents in Plano have crept up steadily. While the average rent here remains lower than in many areas of Dallas, they're still high. Plano has experienced a proliferation of new apartment communities in its western sector and in Legacy Park to the north, and rents for one-bedroom apartments often start at $700 to $750. It's often more cost-effective to buy in Plano if it's within your means. Many single-family homes containing three or four bedrooms are priced at $150,000 and under. But if it's serious money you want to spend, point your compass to the far west, where some of Plano's most elite communities are located. Here, you'll find homes priced at $2 million to $3 million or more. Several local sports figures have taken up residence in some of these communities, giving the locals plenty to talk about, and inviting a steady stream of drive-by admirers.

Plano has been accused of being another cookie-cutter suburb. That's a label that ignores the city's strong sense of community, its admirably low crime rate despite its phenomenal growth, and its quality school system. Its home prices, while climbing, remain low by national standards, and businesses are drawn to its strong local economy. Plano's recognitions, including the one recently given to the city by Ladies' Home Journal, are well-deserved, considering that Plano ranks high in all criteria used to determine quality of life. All signs point to continued prosperity in Plano. This is one city America can expect to see in the news more often in the 21st century.

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Published: January 10, 2000

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