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Now hear this: controversial architect Andres Duany takes a long hard look at Sarasota - and doesn't like what he sees.



"Sarasota is going headlong to the dogs as quickly as any place I've ever seen."

"The United Lemmings Institute says, `Okay, office buildings, everybody,' and all the developers face the same way and jump off exactly the same cliff."

"Houses in conventional single--family developments are `McMansions' -- the fastfood version of the American dream."

"In becoming rich, we became dumb. You're welcome to be rich and dumb, but unfortunately it's destroying our urbanism."

With statements like these, no wonder that when Miami architect Andres Duany talks to Sarasota audiences, he provokes nervous laughter from planners, outrage from some developers and enthusiastic applause from fed-up citizens. Duany, who is best known for planning Seaside, the innovative Florida Panhandle community, spoke here in December and January at the invitation of the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce.

Duany is brutally blunt about how the development of the 1970s and '80s has hurt not only Sarasota, but Florida and the rest of the nation as well. It's clogged traffic and made our towns one continuous urban sprawl, he says. And, it's damaged our society in subtle, insidious ways. The flight to the suburbs has isolated us; the economic segregation of neighborhoods behind private gates has ended the dream of integrating social classes. We seldom meet face-to-face on the street; because of poor planning, we can't walk to our jobs or the shopping center, even if they're close to our homes. Instead we peer at each other from behind the windshields of our cars, ever more alienated and alone.

But Duany does more than talk about all this. He travels the country preaching a revolutionary gospel: Let's return to the way towns grew before World War II. He and his partner (and wife) Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, call this growth pattern Traditional Neighborhood Development. Since they founded their Miami architecture firm in 1980, they have designed some 30 new towns based on its principles. Seaside, with its narrow brick streets, pastel beach homes and white picket fences, is their most famous and, at 80 acres, perhaps their smallest, development. But they've also designed a 10,000-acre project near Orlando and others in Maryland, Virginia, Alabama, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Washington, D.C.'s Georgetown; Old Town Alexandria, Virginia; Marblehead, Massachusetts; Winter Park, Coral Gables and Key West in Florida. These are the great old towns Duany turns to for examples of traditional neighborhood development. Here, neighborhoods are grouped within five-minute walking distance of town centers that contain small mixed-use buildings (a corner grocery next to a dentist's office next to a library, for example). Above that corner grocery is an apartment where the clerk lives. Down the street are townhouses mixed among single-family homes, which are just down the street from the estate of the town's wealthiest resident. People stroll down the sidewalks instead of piling into their cars. When they do have to drive, a network of many small streets moves traffic efficiently. It's a very different notion than the cities we know in Florida, where our shopping centers are isolated from our housing developments, which are isolated from our office parks, all of which spill out independently onto huge four- or six-lane collector streets. Because nothing is connected, everything requires car trips, lots of them, 14 of them a day for a suburban ranch house in Orlando, according to one study Duany quotes.

Duany often refers to the results of a Gallup poll last year that asked people where they want to live. Thirty-seven percent, by far the majority, wanted to live in small towns. "Yet how many developers all over America are providing small towns?" he asks his audiences. "Not very many."

Articulate, outspoken, biting, controversial and charming, Duany is a charismatic speaker who leaves ideas, emotions and arguments simmering in his wake. His appearances in Sarasota were especially timely, coming at the end of a year when the community grappled over growth and intensely debated its future. Here are some thoughts from his two Sarasota speeches; whether you agree or disagree with his ideas, we hope they'll keep the debate going, and we plan to publish readers' responses in an upcoming issue.


"The great victory of planning was in the 1870s in England, when they separated the polluting industries from the housing for health reasons," says Duany. "Every generation of planning has been reliving that glorious day, separating more and more things every time, to the point that now, in sophisticated places like Boca Raton, there's a separation between medical office buildings and regular office buildings. And everything is not only separated, but very carefully cauterized. Here's a shopping center separated from a housing development. The canal runs between it, there's a wall for good measure. Maybe a Marine recruit can make it over. The result is that every single person, even the ones who have the proximity, have to get into the car and get out onto the collector street to drive to the shopping center."

Duany read his Sarasota audience a letter he received last year from a woman in the Midwest that illustrates what such modern-day planning does:

"I'm the mother of four children who are not able to leave the yard because of our city's design. Ever since we moved here, I have felt like a caged animal, only let out for a ride in the car. It is impossible to walk even to the grocery store two blocks away. I want to walk somewhere so badly I could cry. I want my kids to walk to school. My husband wants to walk to work because it is within walking distance. But we must drive for everything. There isn't even a park in three miles. And if you saw my neighborhood, you would think I had it all according to the American dream. Other people don't seem to notice how wacky this lifestyle is."

"The problem with the suburbs is not that they're ugly; because many of the suburbs are beautiful," says Duany. "The problem is that they don't work. They are actually damaging to society in rather subtle ways. Palm Beach County [like counties all over Florida] contains pods of units selling for $350,000 segregated from pods of units selling for $200,000 and pods of units selling for $125,000. In each pod, people have been isolated by economic class. In fact, the developments are advertised this way; if you buy within the gates of the $350,000 project, you can be a snob relative to the people in the $200,000 project. And if you try to put a $125,000 unit within the gates of the $200,000 project, people would scream as if they were being tortured. You'd think the homeless were moving in.

"No other society is fragmenting itself along economic lines to this extent. There is not a country in Europe, even with all of its nobility and titles and associated snobbism, where housing is built this way.

"This (he points to a slide of a planned golf course community) is a fantastic, unneccessary aberration of the 1980s, and we have not seen the end of its negative results."


"In a study we just did of a pod development on the east coast of Florida, we found out the housewives who stayed home were making four trips to the grocery store a day. Why? To see other humans. We all have a need to be in public. When you're in Disney World, you're only on a ride for three percent of the time. The other 97 percent, you're standing around with your fellow citizens and feeling pretty good about it. And that's one of the reasons people go, for God's sake, to be in the public realm, which is completely absent in the suburbs."


"How do the wealthy live in a traditional town? Many live in houses that are very nice -- big rooms, beautiful details, good trees and so forth. But what is being sold in most conventional developments is pure size. There seems to be a confusion about quantity. Quantity is not luxury. There are other things that are as important. For example, a sense of community and a sense of privacy are highly desirable.

"How do you provide affordable housing where land is expensive?" Duany asks. For the answer, he points again to the traditional towns begun in the 1920s.

"One example is the ancient American system of the outbuilding, or the cottage apartment, to the rear of the main house. This is illegal in most places and usually does not even occur to developers. Yet it is a terrific amenity. It permits such things as the maid to live at home rather than to need to commute back to wherever she would otherwise live.

"The other way of supplying affordable housing is the apartment over the store. The only problem with this is that it is virtually impossible to keep it affordable because so many people find it desirable. In Miami Lakes, we found that seniors love living in the center of the action, and they are taking up those units above the stores."


"Americans love their cars, they're attached to them as prosthetic devices. The first amendment to the constitution built into most communities' codes is that cars have the right to be happy. They have to flow freely, they are to take very slow curves, they are not to stack up very much. Cars seem to have a constitutional right to parking. That accounts for the shopping centers surrounded by a sea of asphalt, mostly unused except during the 10 busiest shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

"But in a traditional neighborhood, few auto trips need to hit the collector street, because there's a whole capillary network of secondary roads.

"Why do our public buildings, such as schools and shopping centers, look so horrible today when during the 1930s, when we were an absolutely impoverished nation, they looked beautiful? It's because we used to spend our public purse in the building of human infrastructure, not automotive infrastructure. We have been spending our riches throughout the 1960s, '70s and '80s in building gold-plated highways instead of buildings that human beings can use.

"One generation after the self-destruction of Los Angeles, and half a generation after the self-destruction of Miami, why is Sarasota going down the same road? You can excuse Los Angeles; Los Angeles was a terribly exciting experiment, the automobile was glamorous and the American love affair with the car was in full bloom. In fact, it is not the least bit romantic to live in the city of Los Angeles. The only part of Los Angeles that works is the old part, and it was designed as a traditional town. The suburbs are all choked.

"Compare our system of interstates with the boulevards of Paris and see how the traffic lanes and parking spaces can be arranged to enhance real estate values. Instead of cloverleafs the size of Florence during the Renaissance, which cost $7 and $10 and $20 million each (all just so stupid American drivers do not need to apply the brake or make any sudden movements with their automatic steering) why not have intersections that require right turns and don't waste any land?

"More and more, developers are being asked to provide infrastructure. Spend money for infrastructure in ways that will enhance the value of the real estate. Try hard not to build the huge, unnecessary streets in residential neighborhoods that leave the developer too impoverished to provide human infrastructure."


"Most people have arrived at the conclusion that our development is going all wrong. Their response is, `Well, let's stop growth, because we know that growth is bad.' The problem is, growth never stops. In those cities that have decided to stop growth, like San Diego back in the 1920s, everything goes off-kilter. The housing becomes outrageously expensive, people start establishing duplexes and illegal dwellings. Then a new political slate is voted in, and they open the floodgates and the growth that would have occurred on a reasonable basis just floods out as the most fantastic trash. And then they say, `Oh, it's terrible,' and they stop growth again.

"What we have in Florida is only the first-generation construction. What we have learned from experience is these buildings will molt, they will begin again. When that happens, the vision you have for these towns should be different. "We have to remember that even Rome looked like hell at one point, even Athens looked like hell. But at one critical point, they decided to get serious and grow up and put on long pants and become a decent city.

"Those of you who are involved in stopping growth, do not waste your time. Spend your time instead guiding growth along healthy principles."
COPYRIGHT 1991 Clubhouse Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Denton, Ilene
Publication:Sarasota Magazine
Date:Apr 1, 1991
Previous Article:Untamed.
Next Article:Shopping: strolling down Palm Avenue.

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