Seaside Institute Inc.

Charity Footprints Partner - Seaside Institute Inc.

168 Smolian Circle, P.O.Box 4875 Santa Rosa Beach, FL. 32459 | Program Focus: Arts, Culture and Humanities


Inspiring Livable Communities

The Seaside Institute was inspired by Chautauqua, a cultural and social movement that began in upstate New York in the 1870s. The movement that Teddy Roosevelt called the People’s College brought adult education and entertainment to various locations, usually in large tents, throughout the country. In 1884, the Pensacola and Atlantic railroad formed a Chautauqua chapter to draw attention to its new town of Lake Defuniak, 40 miles north of present-day Seaside. Chautauqua posited that a resort community that offered more than recreational activities would be a healthier, self-sustaining community over a long period of time. Almost a century later, we formed the Seaside Institute. In 1984, the Institute began a series of small cultural events for the community of Seaside. These events were free and open to the public. There was a concert by the Alabama Symphony, dual piano recitals by visiting professional musicians from University of Alabama, a two person play named Talley’s Folly, a traveling operatic quartet. Foreign films were screened in Ruskin Place and Southern orators told tall tales at sunset at the Tupelo Pavilion. Carmel Modica served as Director of the Institute as well as marketing director of Seaside. When we returned from a sabbatical in Rome in 1991, we recruited homeowners to join the Board of the Institute and expand the Institute’s role. With their help, the Institute engaged a full time Director, Richard Storm, who was succeeded by Richard Norris. In 1996, Phyllis Bleiweis took the Institute in a more educational direction by providing seminars in New Urbanism. Leading lights of the embryonic New Urban movement came to Seaside to lecture and lead tours to help architects, developers and public officials understand the principles of an approach to land use that built on five millennia of building towns and cities. Immersive education was a result of situating these seminars in Seaside; walking tours of Seaside were part of the curriculum. The Seaside Prize, awarded annually since 1993, became one of the best ways to gather experts in New Urbanism to learn from each other while celebrating the accomplishments of people who were leaders in building better communities. The Institute also hosted symposia to challenge public policy. “The State of the New Urbanism” brought together planning experts to discuss new, less centralized approaches to Growth Management for Florida and ways to encourage and incentivize local governments to plan for compact, walkable settlements. In 2000, HUD, ULI, CNU and the Institute organized a symposium to help the Hope VI program evolve and expand into building more mixed-use, mixed income neighborhoods. (It would likely have become the urban agenda for a Gore administration.). In 2003, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation sponsored a symposium on public health and the built environment. Richard Jackson, who was then Director of the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health, spent much of his subsequent career on drawing the connection between environments where walking is rare and epidemics like childhood obesity and diabetes. As neighboring New Urban towns inspired by Seaside—Watercolor, Alys Beach and Rosemary Beach—mature, we find similar challenges within our communities: the sustainability of our communities and adaptation to our natural environment, and the need to decrease traffic congestion and dependence on cars by offering other, more “fun” forms of mobility. The Aging with Grace program is a new approach to aging in place. Starting with Seaside’s walkability and mixed-use, with all essential daily needs in easy walking distance, Aging with Grace strives to provide the services of assisted living without the requirement of moving to “ghettos for geezers.” The Aging with Grace program would engage some of the best medical expertise through telemedicine and emphasize “wellness medicine” rather than just treating diseases. (Jackson, the environmental health expert mentioned above, returned to Seaside recently to help design this new approach to geriatric care, a major public health challenge with the aging of the boomer generation.) Cultural and educational events are important to our community; the Institute should be the cultural center of NW Florida. We should continue to provide educational opportunities for all ages.

Our Mission

We believe in promoting the building of sustainable places through education and design. Seaside has always been a small town based on big ideas—a charming tourist destination that inspired an urban planning movement now known as New Urbanism. For a generation raised in Suburbia, Seaside’s invitation to get out of the automobile and walk was revolutionary. Time Magazine said the mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly community “could be the most astounding design achievement of its era.” Like Seaside itself, the Seaside Institute is a proud incubator of ideas. Beginning in the 1980s, the Institute brought together early New Urban practitioners, coming together for the first time to discuss best practices in design, construction, retailing, market analysis and governance and to teach the techniques to others. As Seaside and the New Urbanism movement matured, the Institute took on new challenges. Positioned on the Gulf of Mexico in the Florida Panhandle, Seaside is frequently threatened by hurricanes. By surviving these storms—and watching neighboring communities suffer significant damage that Seaside had been spared—the Institute began to explore issues of disaster preparedness and resilience. Seaside’s walkable design—and the lessened dependence on automobiles—spurred research into the benefits of walkable communities. These outcomes, including better health and the ability to age in place, became themes for the Seaside Institute’s research and seminars. With the development of other New Urban communities along County Road 30A, the Institute has begun exploring innovative new means of transportation connecting walkable communities, as well as other common interests with neighboring communities. Seaside itself continues to be a living laboratory, inviting students and others to walk its streets and experience the built-out example of its innovative design. Just as the design community has used the charrette as a way to bring together all the expertise in one room, the Seaside Institute invites many fields of expertise to collaborate and build on each other’s ideas. Our three core tenets—Sustainability, Connectivity, Adaptability—continue to inspire the Seaside Institute as we explore new ways to build community and connect with each other.