He begins with a description of sleepy Sarasota in the early 50's, touches on the Sarasota School of Architecture and brings us to the Med-Rev zone.
A significant change in how we thought about our cities, towns and suburbs had been happening during the 90's. As Sarasota began thinking about these concepts and how we might change our downtown, the ideas of pedestrian friendly, walkable, human scale and similar concepts were discussed thoroughly in a series of community discussions lead by Andres Duany, a leading practitioner of New Urbanism.
The result was a Downtown Sarasota Master Plan - a vision of the community, by the community and for the community.
As Richard describes the next few years:
We left those sessions ready to work with the appropriate officials to craft codes that would bring the vision to life. Doing so, we believed, would ensure a future Sarasota responding to our needs and dreams. Most crucially, we believed that the financial forces behind future development shared our vision of a place crafted with community well-being in mind, even if that meant the sacrifice of some profit.
Behind the scenes, however, the vision was already beginning to fray and fade. The sound of people rushing to obtain building permits before the adoption of the new plan became deafening. Even prominent business leaders who had participated in the lengthy charrettes and voiced enthusiastic support for the plans joined in the stampede. Buildings unlikely to pass muster under the new codes were submitted in great quantities; many of them were approved; some are now nearing completion. And architects began to have belated second thoughts about design....
Planning authorities caved, and the area, which had been Downtown Edge, was redesignated Downtown Core, putting Burns Court in peril of isolation as a cute zone surrounded by massive towers or, worse still, of being gradually gobbled up and demolished in spite of the historic designations assigned to several of the buildings in the area. So much for the power of pride in a graceful and human solution to the challenge of the contemporary city.
Now, with disputes raging about arcades, building heights, architectural standards and other parts of the plan, we seem to be in a sullen standoff, with much of the public complaining that the process is rushing past them toward an imposed and artificial urban entity. Even when the concern about Main Street arcades was dealt with by the City Commission, removing them from code requirements now with the promise to revisit this potentially interesting aspect later, the atmosphere remained tense and confrontational.
What underlies all of this is the replacement of vision by squabbling, and, alas, the greed that is responsible for many of the bloated and vulgar buildings that have begun to deface downtown, unfriendly buildings that might have been given a human scale had they been part of a functioning master plan. They would have been forced to meet the street in a consistent way, given setbacks to reduce their perceived mass and compelled to contribute to the communal life that characterizes a great city.
The community vision has not been accomplished; we are not even close.
We were warned by Duany that if we didn't act quickly and adopt the new zoning code, designed to put the vision in place, the vision process would have been wasted. Well, as everyone knows, a couple challenges to the code effectively delayed its adoption, then, two years later, the commissioners decided that developers and property owners still hadn't had enough time to make application under the old code so the time was extended. Finally 6 years after the process was begun the code was put in place. Yet even today the code continues to be modified to accommodate each new proposal that is submitted.
The vision has been completely lost. Downtown is literally closing in on us (witness the 1350 Main building) as developers look for ways to get more space to sell: covering the sidewalks with condo covered arcades, and covering streets with retail and condos.
Is it too late to achieve any of the vision? Richard Storm ends his article with "We must bring the vision thing back." Many of us think it may be too late for most of downtown.