Well, I’ve taken a pretty long vacation from posting for a couple of reasons. Most importantly, for me, I was on vacation in Florida with the family. Now that I’m back, I’d like to post a little recap of the New Urbanism that I was able to see in the panhandle and suggest that you go take a look for yourself sometime. First, don’t let the reports of oil scare you. I didn’t see one tar ball on the beach, we visited Pensacola Beach, Seaside and Deer Lake State Park. BP has cleanup crews covering the beaches pretty well. Second, if you are at all an enthusiast of New Urbanism and you have not ventured to the beaches of South Walton, aka 30A, aka SoWal, you must go. There are five major developments that incorporate principles of New Urbanism along a 10 mile strip of 30A. These are Seaside, Water Color, Rosemary Beach, Seacrest and Alys Beach.
My parents live in Gulf Breeze just between Pensacola and Pensacola Beach and while I was there, I wanted to check out Aragon Court and Downtown Pensacola. Unfortunately, I did not take any pictures while I was driving around. Aragon is probably Pensacola’s best attempt at developing a New Urbanist community. It a small plot of 20 acres that is located adjacent to the historic downtown on property that was formerly a blighted housing project. It is probably about 75% complete now and there is one small building with some retail. It looks like the retail piece of the project has suffered tremendously due to timing. The community connects seamlessly to the street network of the historic downtown and the development fits in beautifully.
As you drive into the historic district, you find that many of the old residences have been turned into professional businesses with a couple cafes. There is park access and you can walk to some of the night clubs and restaurants in the historic district. I like what they are starting to do in the downtown with the programming but there is still a very big lack of residential in the area. At night before the nightlife takes off, you can really feel the dead zone. It’s unfortunate too as there is ample opportunity to turn some of the space above retail and office space into condos or lofts. I’m not sure if the market is ready for that though. The last thing that I’d like to say about downtown Pensacola is that the proposed Maritime Park is in my opinion a huge disappointment. They originally wanted to add residential, office, park, museum and a ballpark. However, that has been scaled back considerably in the revisions and now does not include any residential. I think this is a huge mistake and will continue to give the downtown area an empty/professional feeling.
Moving east down the panhandle, we drove over to Seaside. We were fortunate enough to spend a week in a cottage there. Seaside is known as the birthplace of New Urbanism and the 80 acre town couldn’t possibly serve as a better ambassador to the movement. Our small rental cottage (virtually all of the homes in Seaside are cottages though not all of them are small) was a stone’s throw from the town center.
We stumbled upon a tour of Seaside put on by Mark Schnell of Seaside Walking Tours and Schnell Urban Design via the free seasonal newspaper the Seaside Times. The tour was informative and gives a great history of Seaside and a quick primer on New Urbanism. Bring a drink if you are going during the summer.
I have so much more to talk about from this trip but for brevity's sake, I'll just recap each town with a couple bullets and pictures starting with my favorite.
- Fantastic Town Plan
- Great Mix of Merchants in Town Center
- Perfect Size and Amenity Mix
- Too Many Bicyclists not Paying Attention
- No Street Connections to Water Color
- Beautiful Architecture
- Great Layout
- Prices Must be Outrageous
- Unfortunate Gated Access to Beach from Public Square
- Gorgeous Architecture
- Unbelievable Pool and Restaurant
- Probably Only Half Way Finished
- This Will be Beautiful if They Can Finish
- Very Comfortable Feel in the Neighborhood
- Much More Corporate Than the Others (St. Joe Co.)
- Smaller but Functional Town Center
- Strange Town Layout