The New Urbanism and the Seaside Code
Initial sales in 1982 were encouraging — better, in fact, than anticipated. Sales were also helped by early recognition, in both the architectural and popular press, that the Seaside idea was quite appealing and might be a model for changing the patterns of urban and suburban growth. Over time the idea became a movement. New urbanism or “smart growth” began to change planning and development practices throughout the country. Robert Davis emerged as a leader of that movement, serving as chair of The Congress for the New Urbanism, an organization dedicated to slowing the spread of suburban sprawl and to reviving cities and neighborhoods.
The master plan and the Seaside Urban Code were drafted in the summer of 1982. Even as they evolved and changed, these documents still incorporated the original simple and cogent ideas. The goal was to ensure that each Seaside house continued the regional building tradition and contributed to giving Seaside’s neighborhoods the coherence, cohesion, and strong sense of place that characterize such towns as Charleston, Savannah, Nantucket, and Cape May. Seaside’s houses share a common vocabulary of building forms and materials, but there also is a great deal of variety and heterogeneity within the town.
The code was designed to work with the master plan to produce streets, which are comfortable, even delightful, for pedestrians. The streets are designed to accommodate vehicles and parking, but to make walking more convenient and pleasant than driving.
From inception, downtown Seaside has been an important part of the plan. Seaside visitors and residents are able to walk to Central Square, which contains most, if not all, of life’s daily necessities and a good many of its pleasures.
Downtown Seaside started, however, in a very modest way, as a collection of tables under canvas where people gathered to buy and sell fruits and vegetables, handcrafts and flea-market items. It was not unlike the daily or weekly markets, which formed the embryonic beginnings of most ancient Mediterranean towns.
Today downtown Seaside incorporates an array of delightful restaurants, eateries (many in vintage airstreams) and interesting shops, including Northwest Florida’s most unique food market.
A Town for Generations
Since its beginning in December 1981, Seaside’s success has been remarkable. Now there are more than 480 homes, many of which are available for rent. The cottages range in size from small and cozy for a couple, to large and rambling, big enough for several generations to gather together.
Houses are close to the street and their porches are a comfortable conversational distance from the line of picket fences. (By the way, no picket fence design may be duplicated on the same street.)
Another quality that adds to life in Seaside is the visual harmony among the houses. The houses are quite different from one another, but they all speak a common language since they use similar building forms and materials. In places such as Nantucket, this type of harmony was accomplished through a community consensus on the right way to build for that locale and climate. This kind of consensus existed in Northwest Florida until the 1950s.
Seaside’s code outlines the essential rules of this region’s building tradition. Seaside houses are well adapted to the local climate and use indigenous materials in a simple, straightforward way. Seaside houses have porches, roof overhangs, and ample windows that make them comfortable in this climate and allow their occupants to enjoy balmy breezes.
Whether it is for a weekend, a week, or a lifetime, Seaside must be savored long enough to let time slow down, to allow cares to float away on a balmy breeze. This can only be done through extended porch-sitting, leisurely strolling and sharing time with those you care most about in a way that current urban existence rarely allows.