Monthly Archives: October 2010

Seeing Seaside

I didn’t expect to be surprised by Seaside. It was one of those places I’d read a great deal about: as ground zero for the New Urbanist movement, the Florida town’s merits have been hotly debated for nearly thirty years. It’s also one of the most visually familiar planned towns of the twentieth century, as a result both of widespread photographic coverage and its front-and-centre role in the film The Truman Show. From that remote reconnoitring I figured that I already knew its good points and bad points: it would be beautiful, quaint and impeccably planned; but at the same time artificial, overly controlled, and perhaps a little creepy. I was surprised, then, at just how profoundly impressed I was by it.

I think my preconceptions about Seaside reflect a certain blasé attitude towards New Urbanism in the planning profession as a whole. Perhaps planners (and architects, and developers) feel that they have cherry-picked the best ideas from New Urbanism and don’t need to give the movement much more thought: yep, got it, walkable communities, mix of uses, classic design principles… got it, got it, got it. The whiff of unfashionable idealism and nostalgia associated with the movement doesn’t help, and nor does the fact that so many New Urbanist developments – including Seaside – have been occupied almost entirely by the wealthy and white. Seaside’s use in The Truman Show gives it a particularly strong association with these critiques, since the film’s story of a false paradise in a totally artificial environment was the ultimate pop-cultural expression of the anti-New Urbanist position. Yet to see Seaside is to realise the danger of judging New Urbanism only from afar or from its watered-down imitations.

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October 2010Originally published as an editorial in Planning News 36, no. 9 (October 2010), under a joint by-line with Tim Westcott and Gilda di Vincenzo.

In his recorded video presentation to this year’s State Planning Conference at the start of September, the Planning Minister announced that the review of the Planning & Environment Act would be referred to a working group of industry representatives to resolve the outstanding issues “before the end of the year.”1 The Act Review was last sighted in draft Bill form in December 2009, but the outstanding issues, apparently, are the proposed proponent-initiated amendments, the proposed fast track / code-assess permit process, and the assessment process for State significant development. The resolution of these issues, the Minister claimed, would allow other reforms to start to flow.

The significance of this latter point was perhaps easily lost in the context of an announcement ostensibly about the Act Review. Yet in the Minister’s interview with Planning News published in this issue, it is clearer exactly how widespread a policy logjam is occurring here. Asked about the various outstanding VPP reviews – of the Residential Zones, heritage overlays, car parking controls, advertising signs, and so on – the Minister has reiterated that these are waiting on the Act Review. What’s more, he suggests that the working group for that review may even play a part in forging some consensus as to the best a way ahead on these VPP initiatives. Everything, therefore, is now waiting on the Act.

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