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Summary

Seaside, the resort town in the Florida Panhandle, is best known for being a compact, walkable, and diverse community, but it has also become known as one of the first environmentally designed new towns. It is now time for it to be recognized as a model for Lean Urbanism, particularly greenfield development.

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Green Design Elements

Of course, the attributes of being compact, walkable, and diverse are fundamental to environmentalism in that they minimize the consumption of land, reduce off-site trips, and encourage walking and bicycling, creating an urban pattern that is inherently sustainable. But in addition to the inherent benefits of the community’s urban design, there are also several explicitly “green” design elements in this now-33- year-old town.

In constructing the town, neither farmland nor pristine wilderness was eliminated. The site itself was ugly and relatively fallow, having been logged a few years prior to development. No large trees existed, and the site vegetation consisted of brush and wild plants. The site plan itself set development back from the Gulf-front cliffs, preserving the site’s natural dunes before legislation made this mandatory. That sort of elementary precaution, which has granted the town natural protection from tropical storms, was usually ignored at that time.


Vernacular Architecture

Florida being hot, the town plan addressed the matter of ventilation at both the community and the building scale. Virtually all the streets run perpendicular to the shoreline, channeling the prevailing breezes deep into the site. The vernacular architecture — particularly of the early buildings — allows windows to remain open even during rainfall by providing overhangs and porches. When possible, the vernacular plans also facilitate the cross-ventilation of rooms, allowing for natural cooling across the houses by the wind. For the wintry days, the earliest houses had Franklin Stoves to provide heating that was picked up and dispersed by the HVAC system. All houses are also raised off the ground, thereby providing the cooling effect of an under-croft.

The galvanized metal roofs — then quite uncommon except on the poorest of rural buildings — pioneered a long-lasting, cost-effective alternative to the less wind-resistant asphalt shingles of the then vernacular. Their very high reflective abilities also assisted in cooling the structures. Beyond that, the rigorous insistence on proper construction and natural materials resulted in a fortified construction well before the newly adopted hurricane codes. This emphasis on quality construction and materials kept Seaside largely unscathed through Hurricane Opal and half a dozen other direct hits that damaged neighboring developments.

Seaside Metal Roofs

Metal roofs better resist wind, and long overhangs provide shade and allow windows to be kept open in the rain. Credit: Duany Plater- Zyberk & Co.


Stormwater Management

The town plan also offered innovative stormwater management techniques at both the large and small scales. Most of the community’s storm drainage flows into the central square, which is depressed, thus acting like a retention pond at peak times in the rainy season, and incidentally forming a very popular auditorium. At the building scale, houses are raised on posts to preserve much of the ground plane for percolation, allowing the existing contours of the land to be preserved intact. The already narrow street pavements are also made permeable by brick laid on sand with slight filtration interstices separating each one, with the beveled edge profile of the brick providing some water detention capacity. The on-street parking throughout the community, aside from at the town center, is placed on gravel swales, which extend the permeable land surface.

Seaside Central Square

Left: The Central Square serves as a retention pond during heavy rains. Credit: Brian Falk


Landscaping

The town’s landscaping consists entirely of native species, aside from the lawns and squares, which are restricted in order to provide a play surface and seating for outdoor events. The original scrub oaks were retained, and a program of supplementary landscaping is confined by code to native plants. This practice both preserves the landscape and minimizes maintenance, as the native plants require no irrigation and little maintenance for months on end. The code also threatens fines to those disturbing the landscape six feet beyond the building footprint. For this reason, builders dug the pier footings of the houses by hand, as larger equipment would have eliminated the contours of the existing ground.

Seaside original scrub oaks pedestrian walkway behind houses

Original scrub oaks were retained, and supplementary landscaping is restricted to native plants. Credit: Duany Plater- Zyberk & Co.


Frugal Environmentalism

Although LEED standards certainly did not exist at the time of Seaside’s founding, the economic rationale, derived from vernacular practice, intrinsically endowed the town with strategies that address today’s most pressing environmental concerns. After all, our ancestors had neither energy nor money to waste. They had to do things right. There is still much to be learned from their lowtech approach to building community, even as high-tech environmental gadgets and building materials become more available and are commonly used by builders and developers.

 

Andres Duany

Andres Duany

Andrés Duany, architect, urban designer, planner and author, has dedicated more than three decades to pioneering a vision for sustainable urban development and its implementation. His leadership can be credited with the plan and code for Seaside, the first new traditional community; the Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND) zoning ordinance; the development of the SmartCode, a form-based zoning code, adopted by numerous municipalities seeking to encourage compact, mixed-use, walkable communities; the definition of the Rural-to-Urban Transect, and Agrarian Urbanism; as well as inventive affordable housing designs, including Carpet Cottages and Cabanons.

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  Publications

October 31st, 2017

Savannah Pilot Project – Pink Zone Workshop

Savannah is hosting one of five national pilots by the Project for Lean Urbanism. The project sponsor is the Savannah Development and Renewal Authority, with support from elected officials, municipal staff, nonprofits, and neighborhood leaders. In Phase 1 of the pilot, a team from the Project for Lean Urbanism visited Savannah multiple times to identify obstacles to small-scale economic development. In Phase 2, a week-long workshop was held to establish an Action Plan and Lean projects in two Pink Zones within the city. This is the final presentation from the workshop.

November 23rd, 2016

Tool Survey – Existing and Proposed

Lean Urbanism is a way to restore common sense to the processes of development, building, starting small businesses, community engagement, and acquiring the necessary skills. The Project for Lean Urbanism is collecting and developing tools and daylighting techniques to enable and encourage those activities. This collection is the result of a survey to identify tools developed elsewhere and to track ideas for those that are needed. As tools are developed by the Project for Lean Urbanism, they will be made freely available on this website.

November 4th, 2016

The Pink Zone – Where Small Is Possible

Summary

The Pink Zone is a powerful tool for concentrating resources on the task of enabling small-scale, community-centered development and revitalization. It defines an area of focus, leverages a suite of available tools, and provides a platform for the community to gather resources, make commitments, and work together on projects that enhance community character and allow existing businesses and residents to remain and profit from the improved quality of life. The Pink Zone tool will be developed and refined in a series of pilot projects, and then released to the public.

August 18th, 2015

Lessons from PHX – Embracing Lean Urbanism

Summary

The City of Phoenix has become a model of Lean Governing, demonstrating the benefits of community revitalization when a municipality enables and encourages the work of creative entrepreneurs, small developers, neighborhood leaders, and community organizations. Along the way, it has employed and refined a number of principles and techniques that other cities can use to revitalize their neighborhoods. Phoenix is demonstrating that small projects can lead to big results.

August 13th, 2015

The Lexicon of Lean Urbanism

Summary

The Lexicon of Lean Urbanism defines the “terms of art” and other useful words and phrases that have emerged from extended discussions on the online Lean Urbanism discussion group and at Lean Councils. The first section is dedicated to these terms, and the second presents a selection of helpful quotations.

July 29th, 2015

The Katrina Cottage Movement – A Case Study

Summary

Appealing, context-aware designs for small-scale homes in small-scale neighborhoods grabbed national attention during the 2005 Mississippi Renewal Forum after Hurricane Katrina. Though it took far longer for the ideas to find traction than anyone imagined, trial-and-error progress has produced models worth emulating, and just in time to address new realities in housing demand in post-recession America.

April 15th, 2015

Lean Urbanism and the Right to the City

Summary

The potential for a natural partnership between Lean Urbanism and social-justice groups is self-evident and should be explored. A growing movement of social-justice organizations across the world are coalescing behind the concept of “the right to the city” as a means to garner support for a wide range of social issues that can be characterized by a belief that everyone has a right to design and shape their community. These groups have the energy and determination to alter the status quo of financial and regulatory structures that prevent people who lack access to resources and capital, such as millennials and immigrants, from becoming active in small-scale development. But these groups often also lack the technical knowledge to achieve such goals. Lean Urbanism can provide tools and know-how that these groups need.

April 15th, 2015

Regulatory Barriers to Home Construction and Rehab

Summary

Regulatory barriers make housing less affordable to millions of households in the US and abroad. If regulatory barriers were reduced, small developers could provide housing at more affordable prices. This article assesses the current state of knowledge about the effects of federal, state, and local regulations on the supply and cost of housing.

April 7th, 2015

Low-Fat Vanilla Finance – A Simple Financial Model

Summary

New developers should create their own financial models. Only by doing so will they truly understand the variables and how each affects financial performance. This paper attempts to walk new developers through a financial model that includes development budget, annual return, and capital return. It is simple enough to create but sophisticated enough to present to investors and lenders. It represents one small residential rental building — not condo, and not office or retail.

April 6th, 2015

Lean Financing – Alternatives to Institutional Capital

Summary

Financing Lean Development requires both institutional and non-institutional sources of capital. This paper focuses on project equity from non-institutional sources. Years of observations and anecdotal conversations with developers of small, innovative projects suggest that Lean Development is coming of age, but it has significant hurdles to realizing its potential, and financing is among the more difficult to overcome. Understanding the motivations, requirements and techniques for working with non-institutional investors is critical to overcoming one of the primary hurdles for Lean Development.