Saturday, May 26, 2007


Friday afternoon, I joined throngs of beach goers exiting Mobile, and later, Pensacola, as I worked by way east into the Florida panhandle. It's nice that some stretches of beach are preserved within the Gulf Islands National Seashore, since it provides a contrast to the high rises and surf shops of Gulf Shores and Pensacola Beach. The afternoon light, lack of haze, and perfect weather made the beaches all look like advertisements (some miscellaneous pictures at hshipman).

I reached the eastern terminus of my whirlwind tour early last Saturday morning in Seaside, Florida. This was the first of several planned communities built along the coastline between Destin and Panama City in the last couple decades and is often cited as a prime example of new urbanist principles. Or at least some of them. Seaside did convey a wonderful sense of place. It was pleasant to walk around, it was a neighborhood with a nice central business and civic core, and it was environmentally attractive (more pictures). It has suffered from its success (NY Times article) and from some realities of nature - which is what intrigued me.

The town has just finished rebuilding its dunes which have been eroded significantly since the town was created. People speak of building environmentally sustainable communities - often focusing on public transportation, stormwater, and energy conservation. In Seaside, much has been made of its being set back from the beach and the preservation of the native dune landscape. But this is an eroding shoreline - the beach and the dunes are moving north and the town will be in the way. Seaside, just like New Orleans, is geologically unsustainable - on a scale of decades, not millenia - even if sea level doesn't start rising faster. We know the talk - build green, use less energy, create walkable neighborhoods - but we sometimes lose the big picture. We need to step a bit farther back (figuratively, in time, and literally, from the beach).

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