These Five Texas Suburbs Are Towns Again


Grapefest in Grapevine, Texas is one of the great attractions for the town. Photo: Alex Butterfield on Flickr

Enjoying a waking path in McKinney, Texas. Billy Bob Bain on Flickr

The historic Denton Courthouse is the architectural centerpiece of its intact 1896 town square. John Vance on Flickr


In the July 2018 special issue of D Magazine on New Urbanism in Dallas, town planner Scott Polikov describes the renaissance in more than a dozen Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs that have “good bones” as former small towns, notably walkable old main streets and historic courthouses or railroad depots. As these places return to their roots as villages—described by Polikov as “place[s] that offer interdependent opportunities for daily living,”—they are rediscovering the “walkability, connectivity, neighborhood businesses, and a variety of integrated housing [that] make a village possible.”

For commercial districts especially, Polikov draws the important distinction that historic buildings and walkable streets are not enough to ensure that a suburban place can return to being more of a townscape. “Quality growth comes from redesign, planning, and careful cultivation of retail,” he says. “People will only go where there is activity, and seeding that activity with the right local restaurants and stores takes time and investment and, above all, patience.”

Here are five suburban Dallas-Fort Worth communities that Polikov cites as returning to life as towns. Some have become small cities in their own right, demonstrating that townscapes can survive in a larger urban—or suburban—context:

Grapevine, pop. 51,971 – This former agricultural town in the shadow of DFW airport took advantage of its rail depot and main street to reinvent itself as an entertainment destination with two annual festivals, a wine industry, and ample local and national businesses. The key is a longstanding design overlay that was put in place in 1991 to encourage downtown redevelopment. Now the city is investing in Grapevine Main, a transit-oriented, mixed-use development near the historic rail depot on the Cotton Belt Rail Line. Grapevine is also committing to build outward along similar lines to the downtown, incorporating walkability and mixed uses into new development.

Plano, pop. 286,057 – Plano’s rebuilt 1881 downtown has helped earn it a designation as one of the Great Places in America by the American Planning Association. As an early bedroom community of Dallas, Plano has plenty of suburban-style development, complete with a major shopping mall. But intentional reinvestment back into Plano’s core has brought its historic downtown into greater use and prominence as a distinctive part of this now-city’s character. Now the mayor’s “New Frontier” strategy is redefining traditional boundaries in the city, aiming to connect the historic downtown to the redevelopment of Collin Creek Mall, so that both serve a new live-work-play neighborhood, Heritage Creekside. Plano was also one of the first Dallas suburbs to opt into the DART regional light rail system, which has made all the difference in its ability to support compact development in key areas.

McKinney pop. 172,298 – McKinney’s beautifully preserved historic downtown square, surrounded by walkable streets and abutted by a world-class collection of Victorian homes, offered a graceful backdrop for long-term redevelopment that has brought back jobs, entertainment, shopping, and diverse residential development to the downtown. The effort took more than twenty years to realize, beginning with new interest in development during the 1990s and following through with a building-scale master plan, changes to city zoning, and a revised capital program for infrastructure.  A future rail station and transit-oriented development east of the historic downtown supplement these changes.

Roanoke, pop. 7,804 – Tiny Roanoke, Texas came to a literal crossroads a few years ago when it was deciding whether to eliminate residential zoning to create more commercial uses along Oak Street. The town did an abrupt pivot instead, focusing on improving the street itself, making it over as a true, walkable Main Street and continuing to permit mixed uses along the corridor. Today, Oak Street is a commercial success, generating $11 million in annual sales. The City Hall is relocating to one end of the street, which is also soon to be anchored by the Peabody Hotel, a luxury chain based in Memphis.

Denton, pop. 133,808 – Home to both Texas Women’s University and the University of North Texas, Denton is an intellectual and artistic center in North Texas. With the creation of a commuter line to Dallas, Denton has been addressing some of its historic isolation from the nearby city. Ample opportunities for mixed-use redevelopment exist in an underused Union Pacific rail yard and nearby industrial properties, while Denton’s intact 1896 public square and downtown serve as “ the cultural and political center of life in the city,” according to Polikov.

Polikov also commends eight communities that are poised to reclaim their centers as villages, now in the midst of planning or development:

Duncanville, pop. 39,457

Irving, pop. 238,289

Burleson, pop. 45, 016

Waxahachie, pop. 34,345

Richardson, pop. 113,347

Frisco, pop. 162,656

Grand Prairie, pop. 190,682

Garland, pop. 234,943

For the full article, see D Magazine’s North Texas’s Suburbs Are Becoming Towns Again.

Want another example of a suburb returning to town? Check out our post on Parson’s Alley in Duluth, Georgia, outside of Atlanta.

Are you rediscovering the small-town or rural roots of your suburb? We want to hear from you. Tweet #Burb2Town on Twitter or drop a line to let us know.