December 03: The Too-Perfect Town

2016/12/03 § Leave a comment

seaside

On this day in 1981 ground was broken for Seaside, Florida.

Although not the first twentieth-century town designed on traditional principles of planning, Seaside quickly became the poster child of New Urbanism for the United States and, for better or worse, maintains that position.  Starting in the 1980s, Seaside’s designers and developers worked in an era that benefitted from decades’ worth of dissatisfaction with Modernist vandalism to American cities and the growing warmth for the return of color and character in architectural design that is one of Post-Modernism’s best legacies.  At the core of Seaside’s planning principles were very old ideas: walkable, pedestrian-oriented streets and places, planned centers of community life, variety in kinds of buildings–both formally and functionally considered.

So idealized was Seaside, apparently, with its perfect Florida weather and candy-colored houses, it was chosen as the site of the fictional-fictional town that is the huge set of The Truman Show.  This designation was a double-edged sword: both acknowledging the ideal and pretty nature of the place, while at the same time suggesting it was dangerously divorced from the reality of life: a creepy nostalgia lay behind all those apparently welcoming white-washed porches.  Granted, critics might make that point, and also argue that New Urbanism is quaint architecture for very rich people, as there are observable trends  of very high-priced real estate associated with New Urbanist developments.  But, there is nothing inherently expensive about the architecture: it is a matter of supply and demand.  The quality of life found in beautiful and walkable communities is highly prized, and there is simply not enough of it to go around. The resulting soaring prices are not a problem of New Urbanism, but rather with the hoards of city planners, developers and architects who continue to build too much boring cookie-cutter suburban crap and soulless, high-density urban stonkers.

Image: Jim Carrey in The Truman Show

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