Friday, December 26, 2008

What’s on Tap for 2009

Well, 2008 was certainly a year that’ll linger in my memory. Few would argue that the election signaled a turning point in America – and in Frisco, Texas as well. The process itself was certainly a spectacle. Start with the requisite discussions of qualifications. Mix in a few accusations of ethical conflicts. Then, toss in a hot-button “values” issue to stir up the grass-roots types. Yes folks, this year’s Mayoral election was all that and a bag of chips! (Oh, there was that other election in November. But hey, this is “The Frisco Line” not “The Beltway Blog”!)

Outside of politics, Frisco residents have some other highlights to remember from the year gone by. We’ve seen the first sections of the SH-121 tollway open. Centennial High School got its first win over the Raccoons, even if it did take overtime. And Babe’s Chicken House opened in the Heritage Center. Mmmm…

But let us not dwell on the past. Instead, let’s look into 2009 and see what the crystal ball has in store for our sleepy little suburb.

Another Election – Before we have a chance to catch our collective breath from last year’s contests, we’re faced with another pair of open City Council seats. Both Tony Felker and Joy West face the reality of term limits and will step down in June. That leaves wide-open races to replace them. We certainly had no shortage of candidates for the two positions claimed by Bart Crowder and Scott Johnson last year. Here’s hoping that an equally qualified slate registers for the next contest. In particular, I hope we’ll see a collection of minority and female candidates to provide some much-needed diversity to our government.

Another New High School – It just wouldn’t be Frisco if we didn’t have another new high school open its doors. Heritage High – located on Eldorado Parkway near Custer – will be the fifth high school in the Frisco Independent School district. Incoming principal Mark Mimms is already facing the most daunting task of his new administration: what’s the mascot going to be? Raccoons, Titans, Wolverines and Redhawks already have a place in Frisco lore. What’s next?

The state of Frisco high schools is more than an academic interest for me. The eldest of the Frisco Line offspring is set to enter ninth grade next year. Which makes me happy for…

The Renovated StarCenter Opening – For too many years, Frisco’s high school seniors and their families had to trek to Garland and other neighboring cities for their graduation ceremonies. That ends this year as the Dr Pepper StarCenter’s Deja Blue Ice Arena is being expanded to handle, among other things, commencement ceremonies for all our local schools. In addition, the center is poised to become a top notch venue for concerts, sporting events and other activities. This, along with Pizza Hut Park and Dr Pepper Ballpark (home of the Rough Riders), should help cement Frisco as a hub for these events in North Dallas. And that, of course, should help insulate us from…

The Impact of the Economic Downturn – Thus far, Frisco has been spared the brunt of the economic turmoil that rocked the nation – and the world – in 2008. We’ve seen a drop in the growth rate from a peak of 300 new homes per month, down to a current level just under 100. But we’re still growing, and that has helped soften the blow. To date, the city has been able to keep tax rates flat, while maintaining current service levels. If, as some expect, the worst is over and we see an uptick as 2009 progresses, then we should weather the storm well. If not, then we can hope that the City Council, including its two newest members, will continue the fiscal conservative policies that have gotten us this far.

Last year I wished for a “real” bagel shop in Frisco. My pleas were answers when The Bagel Factory opened on Preston Road. Sadly, my wish for an FC Dallas playoff victory was dashed. So, let’s toss that one out there again. C’mon Hoops… how ‘bout it?

And finally, as with last year – and all-too many before that – it is my fervent hope that all of Frisco’s sons, daughters, mothers and fathers serving our country overseas make it home safely. As the son of a career military man who served in Vietnam, I know only too well the burden borne by the families left behind.

Frisco continues to be a great place to call home. I’m sure the coming year will have its share of ups and downs. Here’s wishing you and yours a prosperous 2009 and beyond.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Community Design with the Congress of Neighborhoods

Dr. Frankenstein had it easy. He knew exactly what he needed to build the perfect monster. Arms? 2. Legs? 2. Nose? 1. Brain (abnormal or otherwise)? 1. The checklist was there in Anatomy 101. Toss it all together; add a carefully timed lightning bolt and voila!

No, if you want a real challenge, try putting together the perfect neighborhood. The first thing you’d need to do is figure out what goes into such a civic construction. There is no handbook with a complete reference. In fact, bring together a group of twenty or thirty people and you’d likely get a wide variety of features.

This is just what happened last Saturday morning. Greg Carr, Frisco’s Code Enforcement Administrator, hosted the first “Congress of Neighborhoods” as a forum to explore just what makes for a good place to live. An open invitation went out to all the residents of Frisco, and thirty or so people answered the call. I was fortunate enough to participate in the event, and came away with some ideas I hadn’t originally contemplated.

So what goes into the recipe?

Right at the top of most lists is Amenities. This is good news considering the amount of money Frisco spends building dandy community parks. It’s gratifying to know that these efforts are appreciated. Of course, the challenge comes in defining what those amenities should be. If your family has two pre-schoolers, having a swing set, slide and jungle gym are a must. But older families might prefer a spray ground or basketball courts. If there are large numbers of empty nesters, then tennis courts might be desirable. Things would be much easier if a neighborhood were more homogenous, wouldn’t it?

Not so fast! It seems another desirable trait for Frisco neighborhoods (according to the folks in the Congress) is Diversity. A phrase usually reserved for ethnic distinctions, diversity also refers to having a range of age groups. Studies have shown that having this kind of age-based variety has a distinct impact on safety, as it’s less likely that everyone will be gone at the same time of day or evening. Having some retirees puttering around their gardens during the middle of the afternoon can deter ne’er-do-wells from hanging around. And as you might suspect, Safety was another feature people look for in their neighborhoods. So those two complement each other quite well.

One of the items I hadn’t considered was street design. A good neighborhood, so the theory goes, has shorter, winding streets, as opposed to long, often active thoroughfares. The latter encourages people to find a short cut through your front yard to cut a few minutes off their commute – even more if they pick up the speed a bit. And yet, this Yin has its Yang. It seems the shorter streets lead to the proliferation of “rolling stops.” For some reason, a few of my fellow Congressians found this minor traffic indiscretion akin to heroin trafficking. I’m not sure I’d put that much emphasis on it, but I can see their point from a safety perspective.

But just as Dr. Frank had to crank his creation up to capture that bolt of lightning, so too do Frisco neighborhoods need a spark to take them from being a pleasant collection of houses into a community. The consensus of the Congress of Neighborhoods seemed to be that Communication was just that catalyst. Whether it’s effective communication from the Home Owner’s Association to the residents, or just the ability to knock on your neighbor’s door, the more people can discuss things, the better the environment. Minor annoyances – a barking dog or a mis-parked car – don’t blossom into hillbilly-esque feuds. That late night party around the corner is a little more tolerable when you know that they’re celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.

Sadly, while good communication was at the top of the desirable list, it also rose to the top of the challenges list. How do you make sure everyone knows about the latest HOA meeting? How do you get neighbors talking across the fence? I’m fortunate to live among a group that prizes these things. We get together three or four times a year for a block party. We stand and chat in our front yards. We get together for a game of cards every once in a while.

If you’re looking for a way to improve your neighborhood, perhaps you should start right next door. The next time the neighbor’s out mowing the yard, stop over and say hello. Or if she’s hauling a big load of groceries up the driveway, offer to lend a hand. Just like the wacky doctor discovered, a little spark can add some real life to a collection of parts.