When you visit Florida's Panhandle along highway A-30, as we did, Seaside becomes a must visit for it has attracted world-wide attention thanks to Time Magazine which described it as "the most astounding design achievement of its era." It has won many prestigious architectural awards over the years and inspired a similar, if not frequently stalled version in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.
The layout was conceived, planned and developed by Robert and Daryl Davis. Robert Davis inherited 80 acres of pristine property here in the 1970's. He wanted to create a pedestrian-friendly community of cottages with white picket fences a la Mark Twain and elevated porches for the inhabitants to sit back, relax and watch beautiful sunsets on the Gulf waters.
It's an impressive development but pricey compared to NOTL's real estate values which enter the $400-500,000 zone. In contrast, here, be prepared to part with a minimum of one million dollars with many properties more likely in the two and three million dollar range. Thus, rabble such I is confined to short touristy visits, capturing the exquisite scene via cameras.
Along brick-laid side streets, I walked through impressive rows of gorgeous homes, a charter school, newly designed chapel and Medical Arts building. The town center supposedly resembles squares in cities such as Charleston and Savannah, but bring deep wallets to take advantage of the eclectic art studios where shops and restaurants have height restrictions that provide a uniform setting. Ruskin Place is named after the supporter of Victorian Art in London's 19th century.
"New Urbanism" is an architectural movement born with the creation of Seaside, located roughly midway between Fort Walton Beach and Panama. The town was designed by Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk who employed minimum lot size to enable densities far greater than in conventional suburban projects. In Seaside, as in NOTL, the large buildings almost fill the lots. Need sugar for your coffee? Just reach across to your neighbour's porch! Of course, at Seaside, residents live there only for a few months at a time as well as vacationers renting cottages and houses; thus the "convenience" of southern hospitality is temporary.
Despite the lavish structures, there is a strange conformity which some refer to despairingly as a "manufactured fantasy." Appropriately, the movie, The Truman Show, was filmed in Seaside. Former Superintendent of Okaloosa Schools and member of the Florida Senate, Don Gaetz, one of the original property owners, allowed his "cottage" to serve as the principal house for the film.
The idea of Seaside germinated with the notion of reviving old wood-frame cottages, well adapted to the climate and enhancing the pleasure of life by the sea, while providing accommodations for generations of family members. (Sounds like cottage life in Ontario.) The cottages enjoyed deep roof overhangs and plentiful windows for cross ventilation.
Seaside's beach is noted for its fine, white sand and clear turquoise waters and at the end of each street, a pavilion welcomes visitors to stroll through its open, inviting gateway to
savour the unspoiled beaches. Nine pavilions here are architecturally unique yet again, a symbol of the oxymoronic lavish conformity of the entire enclave.
Our timing was impeccable. At the huge community "Amphitheatre," a large, bowl-shaped grassy meeting area, there were two events that belied the area's wealth. First, a huge flea market was staged on a sunny weekend afternoon. I expected to witness serious haggling and Monet's and Van Gogh's exchanging hands. Then, there was a Cajun fiddler and his band that played French tunes for the crowd, inspiring spontaneous dancing on the grass. I scratched my head, wondering what time warp I had fallen through.
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.
Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/