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Town Founder’s Vision is Becoming a Reality

Posted on Mar 01, 2013 in Academic Village , Construction , March-April 2013

The Seaside Institute’s academic village, due to be completed this spring, will be devoted to education and student housing, providing a collegial atmosphere for a wide range of disciplines. Illustration courtesy The Seaside Institute.

Construction on Seaside’s New Academic Village is Underway By Lori Leath Smith

“My grandparents’ dream of their Florida property becoming a center for learning has been part of Seaside from the beginning,” said Seaside town founder Robert Davis. “The idea of an academic village in Seaside predates the founding of our town by a decade.”

And, thus, a creative vision was inherited by Davis and over the years shared by others. Now it is becoming a reality. The Seaside Institute, a leader in educating architects, planners, developers and civic entrepreneurs in the techniques of New Urbanism, has begun construction of a new academic village in the Lyceum, an area within Seaside already devoted to education and civic activities. “In the earliest plans,” said Davis, “the Lyceum was at the heart of Seaside.”

The project, in development for almost two years, involves installing seven renovated cottages within the Lyceum. The cottages will house students and instructors who will travel to Seaside to participate in courses, seminars and workshops primarily in the areas of the arts, architecture/planning and health and well-being. After all, “recycling older buildings, elevating shacks, airstreams and humble houses to positions of civic dignity has been part of Seaside’s genius loci — its distinctive spirit and sense of place — since the early eighties,” wrote Davis, in a 2011 essay. “Downtown Seaside started with a half-dozen picnic tables under canvas and an 8-square-foot plywood shack, the first Shrimp Shack. (The original Shrimp Shack is now Pickles.) The current Shrimp Shack, and the bar of Bud & Alley’s were two sharecroppers’ cabins, moved to Seaside in 1982 to frame Seaside’s central axis from the chapel to the Gulf. A third sharecropper’s cabin housed Seaside’s first town architects. The Great Southern Café was an old house on its last legs, moved to Seaside from Chattahoochee, Fla.,” he continued.

The academic village was formally included as part of the Seaside plan in late 1998, although, the inclusion of the educational component for Seaside has been discussed by Davis and his wife, Daryl, since the early 1980s. Several charrettes have been held during the last several years in an attempt to jumpstart plans for this phase of the Lyceum, but financing proved elusive. Earlier designs for an academic village included plans for a performing arts center, student housing and hotel-like suites.

With construction of the village expected to be completed this spring, long-overdue plans and programs will be initiated. Seaside Institute director Diane Dorney said, “Academic village programming will be geared to a wide range of people — from high school, college and graduate level students to senior adults — and course offerings will be open to both boarders and day students.” In addition, she said, “the village will provide much-needed housing for students and teachers, while allowing participants to enjoy a collegial living environment where discussions can continue after class is officially over.”

While many classes will be intended for students who have already embarked on a course of study, other classes will be designed to awaken new interests. This spring, the institute will launch a series called “Discover Your Inner Artist,” which will offer five-day courses in photography, plein air painting, drawing and room design.

To help pay for renovations of the cottages, the Seaside Institute has launched an “Adopt a Cottage” fundraiser. Those who adopt a cottage will become founding members of the academic village and have naming rights to a cottage, including other benefits. Thus far, four cottages have been slated for adoption under this program.

Seaside is considered the first new urbanist town and has been made famous for both its design and architecture. All but a handful of homes in Seaside are second homes to people living elsewhere; two-thirds of the population rent their properties to an average of 60,000 people per year. Close to a million people pass through town on an annual basis to visit the shops and restaurants or attend an event.

The completion of Seaside’s academic village will further allow the institute to focus on its mission of providing continued leadership in the multi-disciplinary field of new urbanism and educating other practitioners in the fields of planning, architecture and development. After all, Seaside has been the inspiration behind the founding of numerous new towns both here and abroad. “It is our belief that the new, academic village environment will easily allow a diverse network of professionals to collaborate with the mutual goal of creating better places to live,” said Dorney.

“Seaside’s founding vision has begun to be realized through the talents of many people from all over the country: planners, architects, builders, business owners, homeowners and others,” said Davis. “It is a vision that has not yet been fulfilled and should never be, because renewing and reinvigorating the vision provides the energy that keeps a place vibrant and strong.”

For more information about the Seaside’s academic village, the Seaside Institute or the adopt-a-cottage program, please contact Seaside Institute director, Diane Dorney, at

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