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Robert Davis honored with Arthur Morgan Award

Posted on Sep 01, 2015 in Robert Davis , Arthur Morgan Award , September–October 2015

Robert Davis

Acceptance speech notes Seaside’s legacy lives on in the memories made here

Seaside founder Robert Davis received the Arthur Morgan Award for community building from Antioch College, his alma mater, during his 50th class reunion held in June.

The following is an excerpt from his speech:

Seaside, the small beach town that has occupied much of my working life may not survive climate change or sea level rise. It may simply be a continuation of the sandcastles I built with my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, all of them adults who were comfortable playing and becoming noticeably more child-like at the beach and even more loquacious and theatrical at night, as they told us, and each other, stories, often about our family.

Even if Seaside washes away, I think it will live on in the stories that people have told their kids and grandkids and in the memories they will carry with them, of a place where kids could run free, where adults were liberated, if only for a week or so, of the daily drudgery of driving everywhere for everything, where everyone seemed to slow down a bit and to reconnect with themselves and the people they cared about.

Seaside’s rental program may be one of its most important aspects, as a city of ideas, as it allows thousands of people to experience small town urbanity and hundreds of people to learn more by participating in a Seaside Institute program on the ideas of the New Urbanism and the ideas on town building that we’ve inherited from thinkers since Vitruvius, Alberti and Howard, whose book on Garden Cities influenced Arthur Morgan and his contemporaries.

The new urbanism is in pretty good shape. It is a little early to declare victory, since the network of conventional suburban developers, investors, public agencies, etc. is still pervasive, even after a global meltdown brought on by the collapse of mortgages that underwrote the “drive ‘til you qualify” market. People drove further and further from work, so that their kids could have big back yards, but a spike in gas prices coincided with a reset of adjustable rate mortgage interest rates and forced many new homeowners to abandon the version of the American Dream depicted by General Motors’ Futurama, at the 1939 World’s Fair that showed how wonderful life could be with personal auto-mobility.

Seaside’s version of the American Dream proposes that we put the car in its proper place, as a device to take us on joy rides into the countryside, not as an appliance that imprisons us and isolates us from our neighbors.

Seaside’s goal was to liberate people of all ages from cocoons of supposed safety and encourage them to rejoin the human race as pedestrians, by liberating those without driver’s licenses from

dependency on those with them, enticing people into the public realm by making strolling more pleasant than driving and by making numerous places where spending time with neighbors was more pleasant than staying home.

Downtown Seaside’s cafés and restaurants were among these places, but so were parks, plazas and pavilions, public places that were intentional and designed, not the formless “open space” of most recent development. Even streets, because they were narrow and were lined with trees, picket fences and front porches, felt like outdoor rooms.

Seaside was started in the middle of one of Florida’s periodic real estate busts, at the end of the Carter presidency. We thought that its pedestrian scale, its small houses that could be cooled with natural breezes, its outdoor showers and clotheslines would point the way to a more sustainable, lower-energy future. Even its landscape plan, which eliminated front lawns and required native vegetation, would reduce the use of petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Restraint, accommodating to the constraints of scarce oil and diminished economic expectations would fit Seaside to a new era. Getting back to basics could revitalize the idealism we shared in the ,60s and the sense of community we experienced in the ,50s.