Place: Alys Beach
Walk Score: 26 (Low because it has only one corner shop and two places to eat.)
After the lead up on Alys, that it was the culmination of a twenty year journey towards personal privacy along this beachside strip that runs from Seaside to Rosemary Beach, I was prepared to be wowed. However, the reality was more exclusive magazine than a place I'd be comfortable to call home. (The fact that I'm also unlikely to have $7million to splash out might be a barrier too.)
While town architect Marianne Khoy-Vogt's explanation of the Alys vision was eloquent (the video of her presentation will be available soon), on the ground, today, the place left me cold. Or actually hot and cold: emotionally I didn't respond at all; physically, I was boiling, a fact not helped by the highly reflective white masonry walls and sparse shade.
Don't get me wrong: the houses themselves look beautiful, and seem very climate-appropriate with their internal courtyards cooled by water (which also acts as sound barrier to the neighbours). And the white isn't just there for glamour: apparently both a white and a green shade of paint were heat tested and the white walls meant it was 30% cooler inside.
Mike says that the central spine, with the pedestrian passages and the communal fire pit, "oozes character" and that in the future he can see that acting as a hub for social activity - as someone else says when the days are warm and the nights are cold. The car courts are works of art: they're detailed beautifully and they're inviting to walk in. And in 10 or so years the trees will have grown - and they'll be just like the leafy car courts that now work so well at Seaside.
Others noticed that the entry to every house is subtly different; the edible landscaping adds not only herbs but also colour to soften the white. Colour has been used in other ways too: some buildings use the aqua of the water and others a strong desert red. Hard landscaping elements have also been taken from outside to inside like the stones used to make the rug in the Moroccan styled pavilion at the pool and steel ball-bearing curtains in another.
Finally, you feel very safe - something that's the case at all of three of the towns. The fundamentals are there: you can walk and ride and don't feel you'll be run over by a truck. And, as people are basically tribal, and like to be like with like (something I might argue with but later), Alys Beach adds choice to the mix. With Seaside, Alys and Rosemary on offer, there's something for everyone (as long as you're white and wealthy).
Everyone's getting passionate now - Mike believes that this is getting close to the immersive urban environment, the ultimate he says, the urban corollorary of an immersive natural environment. Most European cities are an immersive urban environment; and the result is that you want to walk every street.
But back to real life in Alys today: in the absence of people today - 15% of the development has been built and a low proportion of those who've built actually live there - Alys is more like a glamorous photo shoot than a vibrant place. Given the clientele they're targeting - you can't even look at the homes without providing proof of ability to buy we heard - perhaps this air of insularity, and exclusivity and unnatural quiet and hotel-like facilities is just what they want. It's also a slow build; even with a sales rate of 27 this financial year so far (7 above target), it will be many years before Alys is alive.
But here's where Mike Day is adamant that I need to be patient.
"You can't judge it overnight; in fact you can't judge a great urban place in under 10 years and Alys, isn't that old and has faced a GFC to boot. Corporate players aren't permitted to be patient. And that's why they can't create great urbanism. Them's fighting words: I must investigate that one over dinner later...