Robert Davis grew up coming to the Redneck Riviera of County Road 30A in South Walton from his home in
In the late 1970s
Quite a lofty idea as this was the 1970s and during the height of the "white flight" from urban towns across
Since this town would be built at the beach,
The first place studied was
He then took to the road, driving and stopping in beach towns up and down the coast of
This research was a project he immersed himself in from 1976 until the founding of
Every house in traditional towns had large wrap-around porches that were particularly useful in creating a friendly facade to the street, and in creating an outdoor living room. Most had a picket fence and all were different.
He found that 18 feet was a good width for a street, just wide enough for two cars to pass, which would also tend to slow cars down. By making streets narrower instead of expansive
"It was a demonstration project to show that suburban sprawl and making everything convenient for automobiles is not necessary," he said.
Furthering the dream
To further slow cars down, a pavilion was built in the middle of Tupelo Street, which all can enjoy at the end of the day. Robert and Daryl Davis were married in that pavilion in 1983.
At the end of every street stands a beach pavilion that serves as a grand gateway to the beach for all who live in the town.
"Those are a merger of what I saw in Point Clear, Ala., where big houses had lawns sweeping down to the bay with places to sit, and in Apalachicola, which had a place where neighbors share a beach walkover. It's a symbol for people that the beach is still theirs without building high rises. You don't need a beach-front lot," he explained. "I felt it important to build those gateways to the beach as a visible reminder to all who would buy into the community that you don't have to own a Gulf-front lot to be assured access to the beach."
There are seven gateway beach pavilions in
The birth of New Urbanism
The concept of walkable small towns where neighbors and families reconnect without the need for automobiles caught national and then international attention.
Regarded as the birthplace of New Urbanism,
"Baby Boomers get bored with the suburbs and the time spent in cars and are moving back to the cities," said
More than 30 years after founding their town, the
"That's what you did in traditional small towns," said
Looking back, is he proud of his creation?
"Very much. Yes, it turned out the way I imagined. Houses are more ambitious, though, but that's normal for towns over time to replace modest homes with bigger ones.
"We arrived home in
"Seaside is important because it energized a movement to revive small towns — to give Southern families the opportunity to be in a place to relax ... where parents and grandparents can be childlike and kids can have a sense of independence that suburbs have failed to provide ... where they can bike from home to school, and scouts, and going to the store without having to be in a vast sea of cars. It has given a couple of generations of kids a place where they can gradually increase their sense of independence."
The way forward
"These days, I just try to keep it in the road and offer new ideas," he said.
One of the visions he is working on is a history of
"He was with me when the town was founded and he considered it his job to take care of me," said