Thread: Seaside Story
07-18-2012, 07:42 AM #1
The town that changed America — Seaside — is celebrating its 30th birthday.
Seaside is touted as the first New Urbanist Community and is credited with inspiring mixed-use, walkable development across the United States.
In the early 1980s, the live/work/play concept was considered revolutionary and over time, the development of Seaside caused many architects, developers, home builders and planners to begin to rethink the way people lived.
“Driving everywhere for everything wastes time and energy. Strolling through the regional mall is a poor substitute for being able to walk for most of our daily needs and encounter our friends and neighbors along the way," said Seaside town founder Robert Davis. "Civility and civilization are at risk in an auto dependent culture. I am proud of the role Seaside played in reviving the idea that we can live, work and play in humane and urbane places.”
Since the early 1980s, the Seaside model and the New Urbanist movement have had a significant influence in bringing walkable downtowns back into style. According to a recent study by the Demand Institute, today’s development growth now is centered in cities and towns that offer a mix of uses within easy walking distance. New Urbanist towns have now popped up across America with popularity increasing with rising gas prices and commute times.
Built on 80 acres, today, Seaside has more than 300 homes, 12 restaurants and eateries and 41 shops and galleries.
County Road 30A boasts several communities that are following in Seaside’s New Urbanist footsteps.
Recently, The Sun asked Seaside's Town Founder Robert Davis to reflect on what South Walton looked like when he founded his town and where he sees it headed. This is his response in his own words.
"Thirty years ago, South Walton County was an ideal place to found a new town since it was not only beautiful and relatively pristine, but also a place with no planning department or building department. Thus, there was no bureaucracy to object to plans for a town with narrow streets, shallow setbacks from those streets for the houses, only on-street parking, commercial activity nearby, etc. All these things were illegal in most jurisdictions, and many of them eventually would become illegal here after Walton County developed the bureaucratic impediments considered essential for civilization.
"Robert Campbell wrote a tongue-in-cheek article for the Boston Globe called 'Outlaw Town.' It described his pre-zoning neighborhood in Cambridge which, like Seaside, had narrow streets, houses too close together and too close to the street, and all the other qualities that made it so appealing and so impossible to replicate because of all the regulations that had grown up by the mid-1980s.
"Today, Walton County has an opportunity to take stock and perhaps learn from the excesses of the bubble economy of 2000-05. (Our bubble burst three years earlier than that of the rest of the world, as a result of several hurricanes in ’05, just as the 1926 hurricane burst a previous Florida real estate bubble and led to the 1929 collapse.)
"But real estate is coming back, if somewhat slowly and soberly. The era of 'irrational exuberance' is over, fortunately. The tourist economy has come back more robustly, thanks to an influx of dollars from BP to atone for the sins inflicted on us in 2010, which have been spent quite effectively by the Tourist Development Council.
"Now that tourism is back, it is important to remember what the long-term economic strategy of tourism should be.
"Twenty years ago the South Walton Conservation and Development Plan’s economic consultant warned us not to overdevelop the tourist economy, lest our piece of paradise suffer the fate Yogi Berra described as “a place no one goes to anymore; it’s too crowded.” It is not hard to imagine what he was describing; we need only to drive a few miles in either direction to see tourist towns that are no longer as attractive as they once were.
"The correct strategy for tourism, we were told, should be to use it as a magnet, to attract affluent entrepreneurs and professionals to relocate here and create more employment opportunities that pay well and could buffer our economy from the aftereffects of hurricanes, oil spills and other sometimes unforeseeable upsets. The key to attracting entrepreneurs here is education, health care, infrastructure (especially transportation) and quality of life (which includes culture as well as the maintenance of a pristine natural environment.)
"I met a young couple from New York who had spent their childhoods in Seaside. (They grew up in Birmingham.) He was CEO of a marketing company, and they were already worrying about where their unborn child would go to school. They seemed interested in moving to South Walton, if the Seaside Neighborhood School, one Florida’s highest-performing middle schools, would open an elementary school and (a bigger if) they could get their child into the school.
"These are the entrepreneurs who will build the next economy for our community, but we must make sure they can get their children into first-rate schools here and that there is a trolley system so their employees can get to work and only need one car per household. They will not expect the New York City Opera in South Walton, but it would help if its touring company would perform here every winter, as it did in the early years of Seaside. These people will be supporters of the Rep Theater and revivers of the Chamber Music series and initiators of other cultural activities we haven’t thought of. We need them to move here and we need to make sure there are all the elements necessary to attract them and keep them here.
"The schools and cultural offerings will also be essential to the people moving here to staff think tanks and develop some of the most interesting parts of higher education. These knowledge workers will also need relatively affordable housing from which they can walk, bike or take a trolley to work. The houses will not need to be big, but they also cannot be boring or in the boondocks.
"We also need to reinvent retirement. My generation will resist moving into the age-segregated ghettos for the elderly that have been a mainstay of other parts of Florida. South Walton’s villages are walkable, warm and flat. We can get on here long after we can no longer drive. But we will need support from people to drive us and look after us in other ways. We will need the assistance of “assisted living” without the “facility.” And we will want them to be caring and careful in the ways they deal with us. Training a new generation of caretakers to be mindful as they undertake the heroic and often grueling work of caring for the difficult and querulous people some of us will become could be another economic driver of our new economy. It could become a new school for doctors, nurses and others who need to learn new approaches to keeping us younger longer and helping us die with dignity.
"The new retirees, along with the young people who will help us and the young people creating new businesses, will help move our economy beyond its excessive dependence on tourism. I hope that our leaders on the School Board and on the County Commission can understand the opportunity we have to create a better future for our descendents as well as for ourselves."
Thanks Robert! What's planned for the near future?
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