I’ve heard Seaside, Florida, lauded as the first great project of the New Urbanism. I’ve also heard it ridiculed as new-faux urbanism. So what’s the truth, at least as I see it? Well, during the scant few hours I recently spent there I saw a lot to like. Dozens of wonderful pathways for bikes and pedestrians that connect everywhere to everywhere, many of which feel like something to discover instead of simply travel. Residential roads eschewing sidewalks in favor of shared space. Relatively tall buildings on relatively narrow lots. Architecture with integrity. Loads of trees and shady places (critical given the town’s latitude). Seaside feels like it was designed by people who care.
On the other hand, it’s still just a tiny resort town. Many if not most of the homes seem to be seasonal. A town center somewhat negates mixed-use zoning, as the tiny population can’t really support truly mixed-use neighborhoods (like the Garden District in New Orleans, which I’ll be writing about soon). And it certainly seems as if little employment beyond the service industry is available. Seaside is not a city. It’s a beach resort/community. It isn’t really urban, and it isn’t supposed to be. Which, in my opinion, hinders its impact as a model of urban planning. The needs of a resort town are just too different from those of a city. It is an odd foundation upon which to build a movement espousing urbanism.
New Urbanism too often strikes me as New Suburbanism, but I’m curious as to what a legitimate city would look like if DPZ or its ilk had free reign to build one. Seaside might not have the scale, or even the attitude, to provide a viable alternative to automobile urbanism, to bring about the sea change Duany might have hoped for, but 30 years after its founding the place is still a source of inspiration for planners and planning enthusiasts and an undeniably pleasant place to ride a bike.
The video below is a bit slow, but for those who haven’t visited Seaside it provides a good introduction.