Observations about places, planning and architecture, as I accompany client RobertsDay on the Great Places Tour 2013. More detailed posts, with video, will appear at www.robertsday.com.au.

Place: Seaside
Walk Score: 55

If your ideas about Seaside - the coastal town on the Florida Coast made famous by movie and magazine - have been informed by either The Truman Show or Eastern Airlines mag, then that's probably a pity, as it's definitely a place with a lot of subtle nuances that may take several days or visits to be apparent.

First, it needs to be seen in context. In the distance as we stand in one of the Seaside pavilions, looking down the coast, are the towers of the developments that aren't successful; those eyesores we drove past yesterday sitting cheek by jowl with gargantuan bath and bench top emporiums and lock up storage complexes; the result of planning codes less stringent than those in Walton County and an utterly misplaced idea of what it takes to create place - or even a good time at the beach. Up the coast in the other direction, are the villages of Rosemary and Alys Beach.

According to RobertsDay cofounder and our Great Places tour leader MIke Day, one way to look at these villages is as a progressive 20 year evolution towards personal privacy. At Seaside, shell grit paths run closely between the houses and trees; you're looking well over thigh-height picket fences straight in at the small yards and screened verandas. At Rosemary, the planners introduced Charleston side homes, and front porches as well as semi-private side courtyards. And in Alys Beach, which we're to visit in a moment, they created inside courtyards reminiscent of Bermuda.

But Seaside is far more than just the house. It's a place that conjures gentle beachside holidays; a walk to the beach and back; a read; a siesta; a stroll and a coffee. And it does it through a myriad of little things. Here are 9 to consider.

9 little big things at Seaside.

1. The highway. Seaside is bisected quite close to the beach by Highway 30A, and apparently, the developers had the option of actually having it moved: to the back of the site. They didn't take that up because they wanted to have the energy and numbers of the passing traffic to help boost the retail area.
2. The roads. They're unkerbed and instead a naturalistic edge runs along each side that allows water infiltration. While this may seem technical, it's one of those little things that really makes an impact - or should I say, an under-impact. The effect is to soften the edges of the roads, blending them into the swales then the vegetation in the front yards but that lack of definition also has the effect of making both drivers and pedestrians alike, take more care; it is very apparently a shared zone. (Water Sound, a nearby development similar in some ways to Seaside, opts for rollovers - sort of between a kerb and not to my eye -, and the effect is less one large zone and far more streets and homes; suburban if you will.)
3. Punctuating the view. Pavilions - quite modestly designed - mark the entry to the beach at regular intervals, and each road leads to that point. At the other end, another structure anchors the return vista. Unlike many other coastal developments, no small group of people own the view, and access is managed.
4. Using high density. Seaside is apparently the size of Renaissance Florence. But there's a lot packed into this small area just 35 hectares (just half the size typically considered the workable neighbourhood unit).  According to Day, it's a great demonstration of how a town doesn't have to be big to thrive (and it was enough to spawn a whole movement too). While some blocks are up to 600sqm, many are far smaller - down to 200 sqm.
5. Starting slow. OK, I've already had one lesson on property economics today (more on this later) so I know that the scenario I'm about to paint isn't the reality of the majority of developers - certainly not in Australia anyway. But Davis could afford to be patient. Those  who bought land in Seaside early on were encouraged to experience the place without having to rush into building the home to avoid high penalties (like those that apply today in nearby Als Beach for example). They were encouraged to almost camp here: to build a screened room for instance, and come down to the amenities block for showers. What developer would do that today?
6. 'Incentivising' community. Incentivise is an ugly, corporate word for something really so subtle, I know, but I can't think of another just now. The point though, is that interaction was designed in from the beginning. For instance, no one has a mailbox at Seaside. You come down to the US Postal Store and pick it up. (You'll just have to talk to the postmistress at least when you do, apparently the fount of all local news too.) Modica Market - the General Store went in early too, with store owners handpicked with 27 off years of general store retailing behind them n another town.
7. No lawn! There's no lawn on any private property - and there's only lawn in two other places in the development: the town centre has the largest expanse. The reason is to encourage the recolonisation of the natural species.
8. Money not civic structures. Davis out his money into the public structures like the pavilions, the town hall and the non-denominational church.
9. Think like a hotel, but not. After that rather contradictory beginning, let me say that as Mike describes it, Seaside is a bit like a hotel turned on its side: at the front, near the beach, is the rental agency handling the rentals of houses (only about 15% of the owners are permanent residents). in the middle are the rooms; at the edges polls, tennis court and fitness centre, and at the back, maintenance facilities. Think of it really as an open air hotel. 

There are a host of other things that make Seaside a place to relax in (and Mike will probably shoot me that I've just detailed nine). We've more captured on video which we'll share with you soon. In the meantime though, given that it's a tour with Australian developers, I'm interested to know: could the principles of Seaside work in Australia? I know that Mike believes that there are some great coastal development opportunities in Australia that could really take some of these ideas to heart. But over dinner, I'm going to find out what the rest of the group thinks...

AuthorAmanda Falconer
Categoriesgreat places