Seaside Florida USA a seaside vacation town 1981 to the present

Seaside is an example of a tightly controlled all-of-a-piece urban design. It is also an example of what was called Neo-Traditional urban design but now goes by the name of the New Urbanism. The developer was and is Robert Davis who inherited 80 acres (32 hectares) on the panhandle (Gulf of Mexico) coast ofFlorida from his grandfather in 1970. Davis wanted to create a vacation town based on his memory of those he knew and loved as a boy. He recalls: The idea of Seaside started with the notion of reviving the building tradition of Northwest Florida which had produced wood-framed cottages so well adapted to the climate that they enhanced the sensual pleasure of life by the sea' (Davis, 1989: 92). He engaged Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk to design the town.

Seaside has become an important case, for good or ill, of urban design because it asserts the primacy of the public realm over the private (Katz, 1994). It is a resort community with a small, but increasing, number of permanent residents. The master plan - a layout with a small-scale City Beautiful core and with an emphasis on access to the beach - was drafted in 1982. Construction has proceeded since then. Today Seaside is a fully functioning town with a town hall, school, chapel, post office, retail stores and commercial tenants, and a wide variety of housing types.

The site has an irregular shape with a county road running across it almost adjacent to the waterfront (see Figure 8.5). The guiding objective in the design is that everything residents could want on a daily basis should be within a 5-minute walk of their homes - a hallmark of New Urbanism.

The core of the plan is a 'semi-octagonal' square where the post office, shops, library and other communal facilities are located. This area is connected to a square to the northwest where the town hall is located. The link is the town's main commercial thoroughfare. The plan consists of a hierarchy of street sizes depending on their perceived functions in a concentric network that spreads out from the centre and links it with the neighbouring town of Seagrove. While the plan, building codes and design guidelines for the buildings are clearly the work of Duany and Plater-Zyberk, the ideas were framed during a 2-week-long charette with other designers, local officials and consultants. The construction of houses had actually begun before the master plan was completed; by 1994 the first phase of Seaside was 70% built. It continues to evolve.

The public buildings and spaces of Seaside include pavilions on the beach, buildings in the central square, the town hall and buildings on the periphery of the town. The pavilions sit on the southern (beach) end of each north-south street. The private building types include a number of mixed-uses: residential/retail/lodging, residential/retail/ office and residential/workshop. Seaside also has a special district (large lots to the south of the county road that could contain a variety of uses) and two types of residential development. These types are not necessarily restricted to a specific zone but are scattered throughout Seaside. The code also includes the building design guidelines.

Davies sold the plots at Seaside to individual purchasers who could build what they

Figure 8.5 The Seaside, Florida plan.

liked provided it met the requirements of a stringent code. The Urban Code of Seaside specifies the requirements for eight types of buildings, explicitly enough to create a visual unity in the development, but flexibly enough to give architects creative freedom (see Figure 8.6). Type 1 is for those lots that define the central square or are located on the main streets throughout Seaside (see Figure 8.8). Similar specifications exist for the other seven types of buildings.

Each residential building must have a porch facing the street (see Figure 8.7a and b). The goal was to have residents using them and being aware of passers-by in the hope of establishing acquaintances. Each house must have a roof of wood shakes or be of metal. Most residential buildings must have white picket fences and on any given street the fence must be different from all the others. Garages must be in the rear of buildings. The gardens should contain no sod; only indigenous plants are allowed. In all, there are 19 general construction requirements that specify design details from wall cladding to the location of house numbers. These specifications have not stopped houses from running the full range of present-day styles. Internationally renowned architects designed many of them. A sense of unity is, nevertheless, clearly achieved because the design guidelines were clearly written with that goal in mind.

Seaside has been a marketing success. It is increasingly a resort for wealthy people. Land prices have soared well above inflation levels. Lots purchased in 1982 for $15,000 commanded $300,000 in 2001. Beachfront lots go for as much as $1.5 million. Home prices are approaching the $1 million mark. As an urban design, it has become an icon of the New Urbanism, striking a balance between the needs of vehicle drivers and those of pedestrians. It demonstrates that an approach to design integrating planning, landscape architecture and architecture can result in fine living environments. Critics find the town 'too cute' but they are outsiders not residents. It is well loved by the latter.

Form Based Code Seaside
Source: Staff of New Urban News (2001); courtesy of Duany-Plater Zyberk & Company
Figure 8.8 The specifications for Type 1 buildings (housing above shops) for the central area (see upper drawing).

Seaside is the antecedent of a large number of later developments. Celebration in Florida is Seaside writ large! There have also been attempts in other countries to look at their own traditions and to take what has worked in the past and adapt those patterns to deal with the present and the future. Poundbury on the outskirts of Dorchester in England, for instance, draws heavily on the design patterns of the traditional Dorset village.

Major references

Davis, Robert (1989). Seaside, Florida, U.S.A. GA Houses 27: 90-123.

Duany, Andres and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk with Jeff Speck (2000). Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream. New York: North Point Press.

Katz, Peter (1994). The New Urbanism: Toward an Architecture of Community. New York: McGraw Hill.

Mohney, David (1991). Seaside: Making an American Town. New York: Princeton University Press.

The Town of Seaside (1985). Center 1: 110-17.

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