I was honored to show Rick Cole, executive director of the Congress for the New Urbanism, some of Central Florida’s best urban environments—perhaps some of the best you’ll find anywhere.
I would like to extend my appreciation to Winter Park Mayor Phil Anderson, Rollins College Professor of Environmental Studies Bruce Stephenson, and Winter Garden Community Development Director Steve Pash for helping to lead our tours. Thanks, too, to Trevor Fraser, and the Orlando Sentinel for the front page story.
Orlando Sentinel article by Trevor Fraser
On Park Avenue, bricked and improved in the 1990s. The City implemented recommendations of New Urban planner Victor Dover, down to the design of the traffic light and pole. Looks like it’s been this way forever. (Photo by Ricardo Ramirez, the Orlando Sentinel)
According to the Dover Kohl website: “Sidewalks were widened for retailing and outdoor dining, vehicular travel lanes were narrowed, and a prescription was provided for the design of main street buildings and civic buildings based on enduring principles of traditional civic art.”
Rick Cole at Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida, ranked among the most beautiful college campuses in America. (Photo by Ricardo Ramirez, the Orlando Sentinel)
Rick Cole with Winter Garden Community Development Director Steve Pash, in Downtown Winter Garden. The West Orange Bike Trail, part of the Coast-to-Coast Connector, goes through the gazebo and played a catalyzing role in Winter Garden’s renaissance.
L to R: Rick Cole, Executive Director of the Congress for the New Urbanism, Tory Parish, architect of the City of Charleston, SC and a Winter Garden resident, and Steve Pash, Community Development Director of the City of Winter Garden, Florida.
Trevor Fraser, business and real estate reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, interviewing Rick Cole, CNU executive director, on our walking tour of Baldwin Park. Behind them is one of many “live-work units,” where people can live above their ground-floor businesses.
Bruce Stephenson and Rick Cole on New Broad Street, Baldwin Park.
Trevor, Rick C., and Bruce, in Baldwin Park
CNU Orlando leadership group. After our dinner at the Alfond Inn, Winter Park
Last week I finished up my Florida sojourn with a visit to Seaside and two adjacent developments on the Emerald Coast, Alys Beach and Rosemary Beach. It was my first visit to Seaside, the iconic town that Time Magazine called “the most astonishing design achievement of its era, and one might hope, the most influential.”
You can find my impressions of Seaside (An Everyday Town of Extraordinary Impact) over at Public Square, CNU’s blog, edited by Rob Steuteville. I’m committed to write more about what I learned in Florida about the evolution of New Urbanist developments and will be sharing those in the weeks ahead.
Walking tour of Rollins College with Winter Park Mayor Phil Anderson (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel)
Today, I want to talk about chapters.
We have nineteen of them – but not all are currently active. Chapters thrive on in-person meetings and events, so the pandemic has taken a toll on local activism. It takes consistent effort to persist through the tough times we’ve endured, especially since chapter volunteers lead busy professional and personal lives.
Yet meetings with our leaders in Tampa Bay and Orlando inspire me with confidence about the strength and importance of our grassroots. They are key components of CNU Florida, our strongest state chapter. For our movement to meet the moment on Climate, Equity and the vital issues of our time, dedicated volunteers like the ones I met with will be the ones who will make the greatest impact.
New Urbanists have always thought globally, but we act locally. Whether it is zoning code reform, stopping mindless freeway expansion, pushing for complete streets or practicing community-based economic development, chapters on the ground provide the fulcrum for making a difference.
For three decades, our annual Congress has been the hallmark of our movement. And that will continue as we plan for the best ever Congress in Charlotte next May. But we need to be organizing, advocating, teaching and advancing the cause of New Urbanism week in and week out. There is strength in numbers, strength in diversity, strength in coming together to reclaim our cities and towns for walkable urbanism.
In Downtown Winter Park with CNU-Florida Chair Rick Geller and Rollins College Professor Bruce Stephenson (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel)
If you used to be active in a local chapter, we need you back! If you’ve never been active, we need you now! If there is no chapter in your city or state, start one! It’s not as hard as you think – we all know half a dozen people who share our passion for the architecture of community – invite them or dinner or drinks and get organized! We’ll be happy to help . . .
That’s what the locals in New Port Richey are going to do after my visit last week. The advice I gave them was from Booker T. Washington: “Cast down your buckets where you are!” They want to join the growing CNU-Florida network and make a difference in their hometown. I hope we’ll all be inspired by their example!
Michal Davis of the Seaside Community Development Corp. walking down a street in Seaside. Photo by Rick Cole.
As a Southern beach town, Seaside is neither utopia nor stage set. Its great achievement is in demonstrating an alternative to two generations of American sprawl.
May 11, 2022
What more can anybody say about Seaside?
Last year, Rizzoli published Dhiru Thadani’s magisterial Reflections on Seaside with essays by 90 contributors, including the Prince of Wales. It runs 846 pages and weighs in at nearly 12 pounds. It surely stands as the definitive account of a place that—whether we like it or not—serves as the ultimate poster child of New Urbanism.
You can’t escape it—the Seaside Post Office is the first photo in New Urbanism’s Wikipedia entry. There’s the gorgeous nighttime shot of Seaside towers and rooftops that fills the cover of Peter Katz’s landmark coffee table book The New Urbanism: Toward an Architecture of Community. TIME magazine called Seaside “the most astonishing design achievement of its era, and one might hope, the most influential” and rival Newsweek claimed it was “probably the most influential resort community since Versailles.” Seaside has earned countless architectural and planning awards—as well as a tsunami of snarky derision from New Urbanism’s critics.
And then there’s “The Truman Show.”
That 1998 movie reverses the usual Hollywood formula of using a movie set to portray a real place. Instead, Seaside is cast as “Seahaven”—a real place portrayed as a fictional background set for a dystopian reality show.
Ever since, critics of Seaside have seized on that celluloid conceit to dismiss New Urbanism as little more than an idealized movie set version of suburbia. The critics agree: It’s fake. It’s creepy. It’s unaffordable.
Yet every year, this tiny beach community of 350 homes with a town square of shops and restaurants draws literally millions of visitors seeking to spend a few hours or days in an authentic place that feels worth the trip.
I’m not an architect or a planner. But I’ve spent the last 30 years immersed in the governance and development of cities. Having never been to the Florida panhandle, I was eager to take the measure of this iconic embodiment of New Urbanism, especially now that I’m the Executive Director of the Congress for the New Urbanism.
So here is my take: what’s so special about Seaside is that it isn’t that special. It’s not utopia and it’s certainly not Disneyland. Seaside has the feel of a quaint Southern beach town swarmed by too many tourists.
Sure, most old-fashioned Southern beach towns don’t have an oversize mural of architectural historian Vincent Scully on a shop wall facing the highway. Obviously the town square is far more elegant than you’d expect in a traditional town. Yes, there are public buildings and a few homes designed by brand-name architects (although many of them weren’t brand names when they contributed to Seaside’s distinctive skyline). But walk along the residential streets and the place feels . . . cozy. Where Seaside’s tidy streets fade into the adjoining Seagrove neighborhood, there’s a subtle shift—but no stark contrast. The most noticeable difference is that in next-door Seagrove, older cottages are giving way to the construction of grotesque three-story “homes” with twenty bedrooms and baths that function as mini-hotels. You don’t see those in Seaside. What you see are some very nice homes and some pretty modest ones—and a few carriage houses tucked behind those homes—or over garages.
There’s good coffee and a great bookstore. Cars have been banished from the town square, but Airstream food venders have been introduced. I attended a 60th birthday party for the proprietor of the Modica Market. His parents opened the business three decades ago. The festivities (which spilled out into the square) featured a three-piece blue grass band and a kaleidoscope of families who live in or regularly visit Seaside. They all seem to love their grocer. Everyone seemed to be enjoying a normal good time.
If Seaside is a work of genius, it is a work of understated genius. On the other hand, if (as the Harvard Design Magazine warned) its pleasant streets harbor an “insidious” and “dangerous” dark side of community that is “oppressive to the human spirit and otiose as a form of sociopolitical organization,” I missed it.
Of course, what makes Seaside truly extraordinary is that it is neither gated (like the nearby Watersound mega-development), nor soul-crushingly ugly and dysfunctional (like the haphazard sprawl that has sprouted along Florida’s coastal Route 30A from Destin to Panama City Beach), nor stunningly exquisite and even more stunningly pricey (like Alys Beach which has racked up a cool billion dollars in land sales for a 158 acre development). It is simply a well-planned, well-executed place that feels like it has grown organically over the past forty years—precisely because it has.
The original conception of building a great place to both grow up and grow old in has been eroded by Seaside’s runaway success. The expected balance between residents and vacationers has been scuppered by Seaside’s magnetic appeal to visitors. Prosperity and maturity have brought intractable challenges. The entire 100-mile stretch of Florida’s “Emerald Coast” long ago ceased to be affordable. Traffic can be hellish. The workers that Seaside and its neighbors rely on are condemned to long commutes. The threat of climate change looms. Local and regional governance are overwhelmed by growth pressures.
None of this is to diminish the significance of Seaside. In fact, in all of America, it had been two full generations since anybody thought to build like this— following countless generations in which nearly everyone built like this. That it took such extraordinary vision, courage, and tenacity to pull it off is a tribute to the founders Robert and Daryl Davis and designers Andres Duany and Lizz Plater-Zyberk. Seaside also stands as a condemnation of the willful blindness, greed, and fecklessness of the titans of American building and development who churned out America’s sprawling crudscape instead.
Truly, the worst you can say about Seaside is that there aren’t enough places like it. What a failure of the imagination that we can’t all have nice things. My takeaway from visiting Seaside is that it is neither an unattainable ideal community nor an unaffordable bastion of nostalgic fakery. Instead, it’s the kind of inspiring place that we can all learn from. After all, if Seaside is such a nice place to visit, why can’t the millions who do take those lessons and apply them at home?
- Rick Cole
Rick Cole is executive director of the Congress for the New Urbanism. He was mayor of Pasadena and city manager of Azusa, Ventura, and Santa Monica, California. He was Deputy Mayor for Budget and Innovation for Los Angeles.
Recommendations for the section of University Avenue from NW 6th St to NE 3rd St include a cycle track, narrower vehicle lanes, and, in some areas, wider sidewalks, more landscaping, and some added medians. The CNU Florida board of directors authorized the following letter to the Florida Department of Transportation, urging the plan’s swift implementation.
Hon. Greg Evans Secretary FDOT District 2 1109 South Marion Ave. Lake City, FL 32025
Dear Secretary Evans:
I am writing on behalf of the Florida chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism, an organization dedicated to creating great urban places in the State of Florida. However, I am also writing as the parent of Max Geller, a University of Florida freshman who resides at West University Avenue and 13th Street in Gainesville.
I am asking you as District Secretary to adopt, move to the top of funding priorities, and swiftly implement the HDR Engineering plan to slow motor vehicles on West University Avenue and create a “complete street,” safe for all users.
We understand that FDOT Secretary Thibault has raised the bar through his focus on the “Vital Few” of reducing pedestrian crashes. We see the HDR plan as necessary to achieving the Secretary’s goal along this corridor.
The tragic deaths of University of Florida students, including Sabrina Marie Obando, who was attempting to cross West University Avenue while in a crosswalk, are painful reminders that the existing design speed is far too fast for an urban area populated heavily by students walking back and forth to the University. The context of this corridor has changed over the last several years with construction of many multi-story apartment complexes, each housing hundreds of students, like my son.
On Saturdays in the fall, tens of thousands of screaming fans fill the University of Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. But what about the other three hundred and fifty some odd days?
Stadiums, the modern expression of antiquity’s amphitheater, rank among the most inefficient structures of all time. Depending on how the governing organization operates them, stadiums may only host eight to ten events annually and sit vacant for the rest of the year. The versatility of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, however, enables its use year-round.
Located in the middle of an historic college campus, it stands tall as a landmark for the city. The stadium seats 88,548, making it the largest in Florida. The intentional omission of parking immediately adjacent to the stadium (with the exception of one lot) is a critical design element, blending the stadium into the urban fabric of campus and the city of Gainesville. Steve Spurrier Field sits in a bowl below ground level, raising temperatures to swamp-like conditions (hence the moniker, “The Swamp”). This feature lowers the stadium’s outward profile to West University Avenue adjacent to the commercial activity of Midtown. For game days, roads are largely closed off in order for fans to walk safely to the game.
The key for the University to activate the stadium when the football team isn’t playing is to simply open it up to the public, offering many different uses. These include office space, a site for campus tours to conclude in impressive fashion, study space enabled by offering wi-fi, and a club area which can be rented out. Concerts and other events are held intermittently. The University of Florida has also recently begun testing students and faculty for COVID 19 and administering vaccines to combat the virus out of the facility. But the most common use of the stadium throughout the year is for exercise. The infamous “stadiums,” as students call them, involve running up and down the stairs. It seems easy enough until you actually try it for yourself.
Ben Hill Griffin stadium is a case study for making the most of an enormous space in an urban context. Could a stadium in your area be made more available to the public? Could Ben Hill Griffin stadium add a greater variety of uses beyond what it currently offers? Enjoy the accompanying video.
Scott Gann of ‘The Bold Cities Project’ is a fifth year student at the University of Florida majoring in civil engineering and minoring in urban and regional planning.
With the adoption of a new Form-Based Code, the City of Groveland pivots all future development in the direction of smart and sustainable growth.
The City of Groveland adopted a new Form-Based Community Development Codeon October 5, 2020, solidifying a vision of smart and sustainable growth and providing a new frontier for New Urbanism in central Florida.
The newly adopted Future Land Use Element and Community Development Code is the City's first steps toward creating policies and plans that incentivize quality, traditional town development while highlighting Groveland’s existing natural and agrarian charm.
The City’s Community Development Director Tim Maslow adds, “Our goal is for Groveland to become an oasis for the best planners, developers, and builders in the country. Instead of just talking about new concepts and ideas at conferences such as ‘Missing Middle Housing’, ‘New Urbanism’ or ‘Agrarian Urbanism’ – people will actually be able to experience them in Groveland. As a result, we aim to see enhanced quality of life for residents and increased economic opportunity for new and existing small businesses. Groveland is positioned to be the new frontier for people that want to create cutting edge, thriving and inclusive communities that will stand the test of time.”
In conjunction with the City’s updated Future Land Use Element, which conserves more than 50% of natural land within about 53 square miles, the Community Development Code features the new Future Land Use designations and community types of Towns, Villages, and Hamlets. Each Community Type features a minimum Open Space percentage requirement: 15%, 30%, and 50% for Town, Village, and Hamlet, respectively. Similarly, there is a series of permitted “Open Space Types” for each Community Type.
The Open Space requirements for the Open Space Types ensure that small park-like spaces are incorporated into all new developments. Aside from the Open Space requirements, developments will include shade trees, on-street parking, wide sidewalks and active building frontages to enhance the pedestrian experience. Prioritizing pedestrians and bicyclists, the new standards outlined for thoroughfares will create more complete streets for all users.
In a year characterized by constant change, new challenges and general unpredictability, CNU Florida addressed the heightened need for New Urbanism during the 2020 CNU Florida Statewide Virtual Summit, held September 21–25. Through virtual workshops and collaborative sessions, this year’s summit explored the role New Urbanists play as leaders in our communities, uniquely positioned to help tackle issues from equity to the pandemic to natural disasters.
Beginning with a special pre-summit Complete Streets workshop led by Dover-Kohl and Partners, Hall Planning and Engineering, and the Tallahassee-Leon County Planning Department, the 2020 CNU Florida Statewide Summit continued the tradition of delivering high caliber, practicable content from leaders at the forefront of reshaping our communities to be better places for people. Sessions by Better Block, the City of West Palm Beach and the West Palm Beach Community Redevelopment Agency, and the City of Thomasville with creative firm Fontaine Maury provided tools to equip New Urbanists for their mission to build places people love.
On Monday, CNU President and CEO Lynn Richards kicked off the weeklong summit by challenging attendees to expand their scope to work on both emerging and systemic challenges like equity, racism, and empowering historically oppressed communities. Further addressing both emerging and systemic challenges, a presentation from Chuck Marohn of Strong Towns provided a toolkit for local leaders responding to the pandemic.
As the week progressed, DPZ CoDesign planner Andres Duany challenged current paradigms and dogma as he shared new approaches to urbanism and design in light of the pandemic. The Tallahassee Downtown Improvement Authority discussed ideas for pivoting in unprecedented times, and lessons were learned from Panama City on rebuilding after natural disasters to be more equitable and more resilient.
With so many new ideas being shared, Florida State University staff highlighted ways to process them through the meaning-making process and demonstrated how places and spaces can be designed to promote meaningful reflection.
These rich sessions, complemented by virtual tours and social hours, coalesced to deliver a successful and inspiring CNU Florida Statewide Summit in a virtual format. With a huge thank you to the sponsors, the speakers, the summit planning team, and everyone who participated, let us apply the tools, expand on the ideas, and leverage the networking from the summit to continue CNU’s leadership in shaping the future of Florida and each of our communities.
As we look ahead, the CNU Florida board is already preparing for the 2021 Statewide Summit. Share your ideas or topics with us at [email protected].
The Congress for the New Urbanism convened for the first time in a virtual gathering last June, focusing on how New Urbanists are adapting to new realities of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now it is time for our annual CNU Florida Summit, September 21 to 25, 2020, hosted by our Tallahassee Regional Group. Please take this wonderful opportunity to focus on critical Florida-related issues of Urban and Transportation Design.
The preliminary Agenda includes items of special interest:
Andres Duany discussing his latest thinking on New Urbanist responses to Covid-19;
Victor Dover leading a Context Classification Workshop, where participants study and propose how to resolve Complete Streets implementation challenges using Context Classification Tools;
Chuck Marohn, Strong Towns discussing how Florida cities and towns can better achieve economic stability and prosperity in these unprecedented times;
Presentation of the Nolen Medal – the Chapter’s highest award.
Unvacant Lot Design Competition with your team submitting plans to activate a lot of your choice!
CNU Florida has reduced Summit registration fees to as little as $50 for members and $25 for students, still with plentiful opportunities to hear from our movement’s brightest minds, obtain continuing education credits, and to socialize. With no hotel or travel costs, this is CNU Florida’s most affordable Summit ever.
In so many ways, New Urbanists can respond to the unprecedented challenges to our neighborhoods, towns, and cities across Florida. What better time to collaborate, share, and encourage one another as we lead the way?
The Congress for the New Urbanism convenes for the first time in a virtual gathering on June 10-13.CNU.28will undoubtedly focus on how New Urbanists are adapting to new realities brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
CNU has reduced registration fees to as little as $250, still with plentiful opportunities to hear from our movement’s brightest minds, to obtain continuing education credits, and to socialize. With no hotel or travel costs, this is the most economical Congress ever.
In so many ways, New Urbanists are uniquely positioned to respond to the unprecedented changes in our street, neighborhoods, and cities across the nation. What better time to collaborate, share, and encourage one another to lead the way to “the new normal.”
Transportation Infrastructure Families in lockdown are retrieving old bicycles from garages and exploring their neighborhoods and local trails in record numbers. New Urbanist planners and transportation engineers are among those most ready with design solutions to meet the increased public demand for new and connected trails, cycle tracks, and other infrastructure geared to those of all ages and abilities.
Neighborhood Architecture The loss of front porches and balconies from our nation’s post-War architectural vernacular has exacerbated the sense of isolation for many. But not at Seaside and other New Urban neighborhoods where these revived architectural traditions are encouraging neighborly connections, even from a distance. New Urbanist architects are among those best prepared to meet new consumer and industry demand when the real estate market recovers.
Reclaiming Parking Lots and Streets The decline of brick and mortar retail has accelerated, with tens of millions more migrating to online purchasing. Motorist traffic and parking demand has diminished, creating opportunities to transform streets and barren parking lots into outdoor dining areas. Orlando, Edgewood, and other municipalities are waiving parking requirements and allowing restaurants to expand into unneeded parking spaces, increasing restaurant capacity and the ability of small businesses to survive. New Urbanists have long stood at the forefront of efforts to right-size, relocate, and share parking lots.
The City of Winter Park allowing socially distanced tables for dining on Park Avenue, expanding restaurant capacity beyond the state’s 25% indoor limit. Photo credit: Clyde Moore.
Giving the Elderly Community COVID-19 has battered seniors and the elderly living in nursing and assisted living homes. New Urbanism’s aging in place strategies can reformat the senior independent and assisted living paradigm into true urban neighborhoods, enabling seniors and the elderly to maintain greater independence and healthier lives for longer.
Transit-Oriented Development Transit-Oriented Development arose out of New Urbanism and, hence, New Urbanists are among our nation’s most articulate advocates of thoughtfully planned transit expansion. People with battered savings in a deep recession will need public transportation more than ever as the economy recovers. Health and safety protocols—frequent disinfection, riders required to wear masks, the availability of hand sanitizers, and capacity limits to enable social distancing—will figure into the new norm.
Understanding Viral Spread and Population Density Close human proximity enables virus transmission. But Robert Steuteville hasdocumented that disease prevalence does not necessarily follow density. Suburban Westchester County, New York has a higher infection rate than New York City. New Orleans (aided by Mardis Gras) exceeds the infection rate of larger and denser San Francisco (mitigated by an earlier lockdown).
Internationally, due to a strict lockdown, Argentina has had fewer than 320 COVID-19 deaths (as of this writing), an astonishingly small figure given the enormous scale and density of Buenos Aires.
Lesson learned: More densely populated areas require closures and crowd avoidance as early in a disease cycle as possible. Due to the exponential spread of infectious diseases, a small reduction in disease transmission early in the cycle translates into massive disease reduction over time.
In Conclusion… In the long run, COVID-19 will not likely empty out our denser cities and towns anymore than the trauma of 9-11 ended airline travel or skyscraper construction. When this national emergency ends, the amenities, economic opportunities, and beauty of urban cities and neighborhoods will again attract people. Cities, towns, and urbanizing suburbs can adapt safely, and New Urbanists, who are taking COVID-19 as a serious public health threat, are well positioned to credibly help lead the way.
During this uncertain time, community is more important than ever. the Congress for the New Urbanism is all about building communities where people can interact--even if virtually. For now, CNU Florida and our regional groups are suspending programming—except for online streaming—until after the COVID-19 emergency has passed. We need to brace ourselves for an invisible threat in our cities, suburbs, and towns that could last for months, not weeks. (China’s new infection rate is declining after 3 months, according to the Associated Press).
We have never seen anything like this in our lifetime—mandated and voluntary restaurant, bar and coffeehouse closures, travel restrictions, sports cancellations, and colleges sending students home. The intertwined economic ripples are hitting the economy hard, especially small businesses. These are the businesses that often incubate in New Urban and traditional urban communities. In order to support them and their employees, consider purchasing take-out and delivery meals, or ordering their merchandise online.
Non-profits, like the CNU, which rely on galas and conferences for their annual operating revenues, will also need your support. If the CNU transforms the national Congress in St. Paul-Minneapolis in June into an online experience, please participate and do what you can to help the organization financially.
CNU is about creating places that inspire the human spirit and create a real sense of community. CNU members planned, engineered, and constructed the towns, neighborhoods, and streets where we form strong bonds with, help, and care for others. The paradox of COVID-19 is that, in a pandemic, we help others by avoiding them. Avoid unnecessary travel. Practice “social distancing.” We do not know who is and is not infected, but we do know that the infection rate is doubling about every three days. Avoidance is the only way to “flatten the curve” of viral infection to a point where we do not overwhelm our hospitals, physicians, and healthcare workers.
The last historical precedent, the Spanish Flu epidemic, rampaged through American cities in 1918, according to an article in Popular Science. Attendance at a parade in Philadelphia spread the epidemic, resulting in 12,000 deaths, compared to St. Louis, whose mandatory business, government, and church closures held deaths to 1,703. Let's learn from the example set by St. Louis to help protect the vulnerable in our communities.
Please do everything you can to keep yourselves and your loved ones healthy and safe. When this passes, we will look to all of you to help CNU Florida resume its vital mission.