There appears to be a sort of seesaw effect between creating environments that cater to cars and those that are pleasing to people.
As you give on one side, you take on the other. Take the road outside your house for instance. If your main priority was traffic flow, you might choose to widen the road, add lanes, and remove trees on the shoulder that might imperil drivers veering off course. However, in doing so you would make the traffic noise deafening, the sidewalk less shady, and the situation more dangerous for any person daring to cross the street.
Similarly, if you want to make it ultra-convenient for drivers to stop right in front of their desired destination, you might surround each individual destination with its own parking lot. But now you’ve created a problem where each building is spaced out from its neighbors to the degree that it’s no longer convenient to walk between them.
On the other side, take 30A where it meets downtown Seaside. There is parallel parking on either side of the road, which always slows down traffic because of the risk of a door opening or a car pulling out. There also are numerous crosswalks, and many people who create their own.
This situation puts every driver on high alert, because they don’t know when a person or bicyclist will appear in front of them. The environment makes navigating Seaside stressful and slow for the drivers, but comfortable and secure for those outside of a vehicle. The reduced speed of the vehicles not only creates less noise disturbance, but also contributes to a feeling of safety.
The streets in Seaside are intentionally narrow to slow down car traffic as it winds its way through the town. This is less convenient for the driver, but much better for the human or bicyclist.
New Urbanism is a return to a human-centric way of organizing environments that prioritizes people, not cars. However, the movement has not yet totally succeeded in shifting society away from suburban sprawl.
One of its greatest challenges is that many people can’t remember or even imagine a way of living that doesn’t revolve around driving a car every single day. All of us have grown up in a world transformed by automobiles. Unless you have seen the alternative, however, that can be a difficult fact to grasp. You might come to believe that because things are a certain way they should be that way.
That’s where our town comes in. We have an opportunity in Seaside to both give folks a reprieve from the car centric environs they are forced to spend the majority of their time in, and to educate them about the humane way of building towns and cities. Hopefully, we can convince them that walkable places aren’t just for vacationing. You can move to one or create one yourself. Eventually, we will reach a tipping point in which more people embrace this idea than don’t, and we will begin to see far more places that cater to people, not automobiles.
Micah Davis currently serves as President of Seaside Community Development Corporation in Seaside, Florida. Born and raised in Seaside, Florida, Micah grew up in a New Urbanist community which afforded him the kind of childhood unheard of in today’s age. Micah attended St. John’s College and received a bachelor’s degree in the liberal arts, with a focus on philosophy and on the history of science and mathematics.