Overall... - 2/18/2012
I have a love-hate relationship with Texas as a whole so this may be tough, but I'll try to break it down and give you my honest opinion. (Warning: This will be long.)
I live in northeast Plano, on the edge of Plano, Frisco, McKinney and Allen. The whole area is generally affluent and people are typically well educated. Everything is new, clean, and consistent, albeit a bit homogeneous. Neighborhoods are safe for sure and I sometimes go jogging by myself at 12am without feeling at risk. It's a peaceful and quiet place but not laid-back per se, since Dallas as a whole is a business-oriented city and people are generally operating at a faster pace. Overall, Plano has a high standard of living and is definitely a great place to raise a family.
Housing here offers high quality for very low prices. Big houses. (Bigger than necessary, really.) Just don't bother investing in property here. My uncle was thinking about moving his money over here but reconsidered when he found out our house has barely grown in value in the past 10 years. So yes, great to live here, not to invest.
Also, since the Plano/Frisco area is the fastest growing city in America, there is unavoidable construction with new buildings and malls popping up everywhere - again, because the land is so inexpensive. It’s been very apparent in the last couple of years that we’re quickly expanding north, which may be a problem for commuters who work in downtown Dallas. Luckily, traffic is not too bad here but you do have to drive everywhere. It's nearly impossible to walk anywhere in Plano, partially because everything is so spaced out and partially due to the weather.
Speaking of weather, IT IS HOT. The first year we moved here from South Carolina, we could barely stand it. After 10 years, we have gotten used to it but for newcomers, be prepared. Weather in the 100s for 2 weeks straight is not surprising at all, and people here flip out when anything besides rain falls from the sky. If we're lucky, we get ONE day of snow a year. That's if we're lucky. (And apparently a couple of flakes without even any white on the ground counts too.) Plano is dry/hot, so luckily it's low in humidity here, but the sun just beats down on this city nearly every day. It really lowers peoples' motivation to go outside sometimes, not that there's much to do, which brings me to the next point.
Where I live people mostly gravitate towards Stonebriar Mall in Frisco and that's honestly about it. I've definitely spent a good portion of my life around the heart of Plano but it is admittedly older and doesn't have as much to offer in comparison with Frisco in this department. But if you don't like Stonebriar, you're kinda out of luck, because though it's a gigantic mall (I still get lost every time I go despite my good directional sense) and has everything from restaurants to an ice rink to a theater to a multitude of brand name stores, there's really not much else outside of that area besides a few movie theaters unless you go to Willowbend or the Shops at Legacy which are the smaller, upscale strip malls. Yes, admittedly, life here is rather boring and repetitive.
With regards to schools, Plano has some of the most competitive and best education systems in the nation. I actually went to Frisco ISD since I live on the edge of Plano, and it's not nearly as competitive but still a very good district. However, Plano in particular spits out Ivy-league students left and right every year. Competition is through the roof and most who go through the Plano system say college is ridiculously easy in comparison, but that their high school years were indeed very stressful. The programs in Plano have been around for ages, and the teachers are mostly very qualified. You will get what you put in, but it is cutthroat, with the top slots dominated by Asians/Indians. Yes, the top 8% is not easy to squeeze in. (In Texas, the top 8% gets automatic admittance to public universities, regardless of how difficult/easy the high school curriculum was.) Now as the north is developing, even Frisco ISD, which used to be so laid back (I managed to graduate in the top 3%), is becoming more competitive as families of younger Plano kids are moving with the development.
Lastly, Plano is probably one of the most socially conservative cities in the US. It’s a haven for conservatives. Most everyone is Republican, whether for religious or economic reasons (though I think it’s more the latter). It’s not that people aren’t nice, but this is not a city where people chat with the grocer or say hello to their neighbors every day. People are very focused on their own lives and there is also this very backward mentality rooted deeply in the culture here. The majority of people here are white, heterosexual, Christian, Republican, and wealthy so anything outside of that is generally frowned upon or viewed as some sort of strange specimen. These people are educated, yet many have never even been outside their zip code and lack an open mind about other cultures, religions and thoughts. I would not say this place is racist, but some of the incidences I’ve witnessed consistently throughout the past 10 years are just baffling. Of course, this is generally true for Texas as a whole. The fact that an embarrassment like Rick Perry can get elected governor for so many terms should clue you in on that. But I digress. I think the only reason I survived here for so many years is that I live conservatively as well and am rather low-key. I’m perfectly fine with others’ different opinions as long as they don’t tell me what to do, but the majority of folks here seem to either itch to preach to others, or are very unskilled at hiding their uninformed judgments. Even if you live minding your own business, that doesn’t stop some people from flooding your surroundings with their ignorance. With that said, it certainly could be worse and I guess you can’t have everything. Plano is for the most part a great place to live with a decent job market, you just have to decide for yourself what matters to you.