Andres Duany has been a polarizing figure in Sarasota ever since he and his firm helped author the downtown master plan in 2000. While some of his recommendations warrant criticism, it is probably more his demeanor that creates controversy. After all, Duany has referred to local governance in Sarasota as “ass-backwards” and “prissy,” among other things. Equal parts planner and provocateur, Duany (and his outsized personality) is largely responsible for building New Urbanism into both a legitimate force in planning and a divisive polemic.
Without agreeing with everything Duany has to say, we at Laurel Park Management support the tenets of New Urbanism and Duany’s efforts to apply them to Sarasota. We think walkable mixed-use neighborhoods, slower traffic, and better connectivity are great things. We think that downtown should continue to be Sarasota’s epicenter, and that there is work to be done to insure its future as such. And even the traditional architecture most commonly associated with New Urbanism is a natural fit for Laurel Park and the other historic neighborhoods of Sarasota, what with our history of Florida cracker bungalows. Again, without agreeing on every point, we think the man has provided a pretty good roadmap for Sarasota to follow.
Change is never easy. Especially in a place like Sarasota. It wasn’t so long ago that we were essentially a small village. It wasn’t so long ago that Siesta Key was a virtually uninhabited frontier, or that Bee Ridge was a barely-there path cutting through the wilderness. It was a special time in a special place, carefree and far removed from the responsibilities and troubles of city life. But we should all be careful not to gild the past too much. We shouldn’t forget that Sarasota was built by city people, with city money. That it supported a railroad. And that no matter how great the past was the future is always something different. Our task as a community is to thrive again in a new context, a more urban context, without losing some of those aspects of the past that we all remember so fondly. New Urbanism seems to be a good fit for such a future.
Laurel Park Management encourages residents to check out the master plan for downtown Sarasota and draw their own conclusions. We encourage you to walk around Laurel Park, Gillespie Park, Main Street, the bayfront…what do you see that moves you? That charms you? Where do you like to linger, or to meet friends? What paths do you seek out, and which ones do you avoid? Does the master plan speak to your concerns?
Duany might not be making too many friends by saying to our city, “I’m sorry, but you have to grow up,” but he has a point. That which doesn’t, dies. We do have to grow up, and we are. Growing pains are inevitable. But by embracing growth—maturation, not necessarily expansion—we can help guide the process. We will, however, have to abandon simple slogans and in-fighting (the “no boss mayor” campaign comes to mind). We can’t be one-issue voters. We will have to accept that Sarasota’s future will be more urban (and, consequently, urbane) than our past. We will have to treat each other and the issues at hand with respect and deep consideration.
It’s all well and fine for Duany to speak in sound bites; he is a public figure and a salesman for the ideology he helped coalesce. But let us be a bit more measured in our internal discussions while giving honest evaluations of the recommendations Duany has given us. By looking past the rhetoric, we might just find that the path to the future is right in front of us, and that it isn’t so scary after all.
For more from Duany, check out this recent article from metropolismag.com