Richard Sexton says ’s Seaside's genius is in making the other side of the street desirable by Anne Lewis
Richard Sexton, famous photographer and essayist, first visited Seaside in 1987. He soon became involved in the Seaside experiment. As a photographer, he focused on architectural subjects, including town planning. In “Parallel Utopias: The Quest for Community” (1995), he focused on Sea Ranch, Calif., and Seaside because he was intrigued about the two communities and their connections to the ocean and a shared economic purpose, stating, “Beyond that, planning really does control and influence the character of a place.”
And the character of a place is, in part, established by its beginnings.
Everyone would agree that Seaside had the beauty of the landscape as its main attraction, but it might be surprising to realize how undeveloped this area was. Sexton recalls that his relatives had to build Oyster Road to access their Inlet Beach cottage from U.S. Highway 98. He likened being at the beach to camping. There was no public water; his family had a well. From Colquitt, Ga., every summer they drove 100 miles with food in tow for their stay and returned with all of their garbage because there was nowhere to leave it. However, in the ’60s, Sexton remembers a private resident — a retired military man — began a garbage pickup in his Jeep for a whopping $10 a month. And 30A was a brand new road in 1961.
Sexton visited his family cottage at Inlet Beach from boyhood. Remembering how desolate the beach was then, dotted with a few cottages and at that time ‘fancy’ ranch houses in Seagrove, he noted that Seaside accomplished what no one had before. The planners created a destination by taking the 80 acres with one sliver on the beach and making it desirable. “Before Seaside, everyone wanted to be on the beach or a coastal dune lake,” Sexton says. “Because of the accessibility to Seaside’s beach and its built-in-the-cake design, there was no longer a wrong side of the road.”
Seaside’s planning made the beach accessible in a very desirable way, according to Sexton. “By including the dedicated pavilions for each street, everyone would share the same beach access and the same beach. Community beach access represented a revolutionary idea, considering that previously the homes that sparsely necklaced the coastline had full rights — not very democratic,” he says. “The common asset the beach provided further established the community feel and allowed all to rediscover small town life.” Indeed, community has been in the forefront of Seaside’s vision from the beginning.