This year my family chose to take two vacations: one with each side of our respective families. Coincidentally, each family chose the same location – Destin, FL. While my personality demands a little more diversity than spending time and hard earned money for similar experiences, I looked at the glass half full and found ways to appreciate the traffic, chain restaurants, cookie cutter beachside condos, and tourist shops that define much of Destin on the surface…especially since our families are heavily geared towards young children and our trips these days are defined less by luxury or unique experiences and more by quality of time spent with each other. On both trips, and to appease my personal interests, I took some time to venture out of Destin to visit a place I’ve looked at and studied for a long time.
Seaside, FL is a mere 20-25 miles from Destin, in between Destin and Panama City, FL. The town developed around a vision by the land owner & developer, Robert Davis, in the early 1980’s with the help and execution from architecture & planning firm DPZ out of Miami, FL. The vision was simple – create a sense of place as an antidote to urban sprawl that had already begun to takeover similar towns and cities in FL (i.e. Destin). Those unfamiliar with the architectural & city planning aspects that make Seaside special are most likely familiar with the constructed reality and idealistic portrayal of modern society in the 1998 movie, The Truman Show, starring Jim Carey.
A community built around the pedestrian with small residential lots, small streets, lack of parking, slower traffic speeds, and mixed residential & commercial uses planned to encourage thoughtful interaction of community amenities seemed foreign at the time Seaside was developed (and still does to many people), but what emerged was the foundation of a new ‘old-again’ movement that many look to emulate today around the country. New Urbanism or Traditional Neighborhood Development was born, and one visit to town makes you a believer in what value good design brings to a place.
Town highlights are shown below, as an excerpt from the Smart Communities Network (http://www.smartcommunities.ncat.org/success/Seaside.shtml). The single best stat that helps paint the picture of the true value in smart, community-based design is reflected in real estate values. A single residential lot could be purchased for around $15,000 in the early 80’s. Those lots are valued over $1MM today, with several homes valued over $10MM. Without much context or specifics (location and a lot of intangibles aside), but for the sake of stats, that’s a 13%-14% increase in value, compounded annually, versus the average historical US real estate appreciation rates hovering at or below the 5% range.
Features of Seaside
- The Seaside plan was designed to optimize waterfront access and views for all of the town’s residents, not just those with beach front home sites.
- The community’s porch-lined streets and walkways all lead to the beach or town center.
- Seaside’s design places an emphasis on the town’s public spaces, which range from its main square to the pedestrian-only footpaths at the centers of blocks.
- Considerable architectural variety exists at Seaside, with designs spanning styles such as Victorian, Neoclassical, Cracker, Modern, Postmodern and Deconstuctivist.
- A network of sand walkways cuts through the middles of blocks, enabling one to walk comfortably to the beach in bare feet.
- The majority of the buildings on the beach are public.
- The town’s market area uses shipping containers for construction. Their industrial character is softened by the addition of gable roofs, wooden columns and fabric canopies.
- Fences must be of a different style than all the others on the block. Front porches are set back about 16 feet behind the fences so that those having conversations with passersby would not have to raise their voices.
- The streets offer pedestrians the feeling of being in a public room. This is accomplished by keeping the streets narrow and having buildings with uniform fronts.
Principles of Traditional Neighborhood Development
Communities like Seaside that are built on the Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND) model feature many of the following:
- Instead of the traditional development model in which residential and commercial zones are typically separated (thus encouraging the growth of transportation infrastructure), the TND model integrates development. All structures fan out from a town center, which is often a square or green, and sometimes a busy or memorable street intersection.
- Shops and offices are located at the edge of the neighborhood, and the shops are sufficiently varied to supply the weekly needs of a household. A convenience store is the most important among them.
- Elementary schools are located within one mile of all residences so that children can walk to school.
- Small playgrounds, ideally within one-eighth of a mile from all dwellings, dot the landscape.
- The streets are laid out in a network, so that there are alternative routes to most destinations.
- Streets do not end in cul de sacs.
- Buildings at the neighborhood center are placed close to the street. This creates a strong sense of place.
Benefits of Traditional Neighborhood Development
- By bringing most of the activities of daily living into walking distance, everyone (especially the elderly and the young) gains independence of movement.
- By reducing the number and length of automobile trips, traffic congestion is minimized, the expenses of road construction are limited and air pollution is reduced.
- By providing streets and squares of comfortable scale with defined spatial quality, neighbors can come to know each other and to watch over their collective security.
- By providing appropriate building concentrations at easy walking distances from transit stops, public transit becomes a viable alternative to the automobile.
One thing is for sure: Seaside has staying power. I’d recommend a visit to everyone, and hopefully, by more people visiting and seeing the benefits in person, more people will see the power of Traditional Neighborhood Development and get behind adaptation of similar concepts to their own sense of place.