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» » Ambitious Tome Chronicles the Rise of a New Urbanist Community (Video)
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By Joseph Flaherty


Visions of Seaside is an upcoming 608-page hardcover book that documents how the theory of New Urbanism was put into practice in the construction of a small town in Florida in 1981.

The book will contain over 1,000 drawings, photographs and diagrams created for Seaside, the first fully New Urbanist town, along with academic essays by Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Paul Goldberger, Yale professor Vincent Scully, and Andrés Duany, one of the visionaries behind the community.

New Urbanism is an urban design philosophy that holds that "neighborhoods should be diverse in use and population; communities should be designed for the pedestrian and transit as well as the car; cities and towns should be shaped by physically defined and universally accessible public spaces and community institutions; urban places should be framed by architecture and landscape design that celebrate local history, climate, ecology, and building practice."

According to the book's Kickstarter page, the volume "recounts the history of the making of the town, chronicles the numerous architectural and planning schemes that have been developed for Seaside, and outlines a blueprint for moving forward over the next 25 to 50 years."

The book's author, architect Dhiru Thadani, originally conceived of the book as having 224 pages, but the overwhelming amount of materials he uncovered, along with critical essays that were generated, caused the page number to swell. This concerned his publisher, who asked Thadani to raise funds to offset production costs so that the retail price of the book would be affordable.
 

The book, Visions of Seaside, explains the strengths and weaknesses of the development in great detail, but the author offers an abridged version to potential backers.

"I believe that the story of Seaside lies not only in the fact that over a million people have stayed there, that many tourists continue to visit there every year, or that the average real estate value has increased twenty percent each year, but in what did and did not get built." says Thadani. "At Seaside the constituent parts that commonly support daily life are included in an integrated mix — housing, office, retail, and civic institutions such as schools, churches, post office, and community meeting hall — all arranged in a memorable block structure with walkable streets where pedestrians are given priority over cars."


Seaside has become the text book example for New Urbanist design — so why the need for a new book on the subject? "I became aware of the numerous projects that had been designed for sites within the town but had never been built." says Thadani. "Many architects, urbanists, and builders have been drawn to be part of Seaside, to build there and share in its success. There were many untold stories, and I worked with contributors to encourage them to tell their stories."


Seaside was one of the first developments to model New Urbanist principles, but it wasn't the last. Architects and planners around the world have tried to emulate Seaside's humane architecture in different contexts — Prospect in Denver, Colorado; Celebration in Orlando, Florida; the Kentlands in Gaithersburg, Maryland; Poundbury in Dorset, England; Val d' Europe outside Paris, France; Cayala in Guatemala City, Guatemala.

Thadani also is emphatic that New Urbanist concepts aren't just for the rich. He points to the the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Hope VI program which aims to transform distressed public housing developments into low-rise, mixed income, multi-use spaces modeled on New Urbanist principles. So far, the program has distributed $5.8 billion through 446 block grants which have improved over 100,000 housing units across the country.


According to Thadani, part of the genius of Seaside is the fact that it's a vacation destination. "As a resort town, Seaside has exposed over a million people to New Urbanist principles, and many have returned home with an understanding that it is still possible to build places of beauty that foster community." says Thadani.


Thadani points out that the town has also served as a role as an important educational space since its founding. "The Seaside Institute has been a leader in educating a generation of architects, planners, developers, and civic entrepreneurs in the techniques of traditional town building and in the theory and practice of the New Urbanism, a movement with its genesis in Seaside." says Thadani. "The Institute’s goal is to expand its educational programs to allow students to learn these techniques, theories and practices in an immersive environment."

Plans to add permanent student and faculty housing have been in discussion for decades, but are constantly evolving based on resident feedback and architectural brainstorms.

Architecture enthusiasts who want an immersive experience can get a weekend stay for four in a Seaside cottage by pledging $500 or a week-long retreat for $1,500. Airfare and Pina Coladas not included.
All images: Dhiru Thadani

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