Questions for a Pro: Urban planner Andres Duany and downtown Sarasota


Before coming to Sarasota this week to address the Downtown Sarasota Association and city and county commissioners, noted urban planner Andres Duany spoke to the National Association of Real Estate Editors during NAREE's annual Spring Journalism Conference in Atlanta.

Duany, the "father of the New Urbanism" and the man who led the team that wrote Sarasota's Downtown Master Plan in 2000, showed a fresh fascination with how development was done in the past — not just in the 1920s, when Coral Gables, his longtime home, was developed in the midst of the Florida land boom, but in the 1870s, as the Mormons settled Utah.

Real Estate Editor Harold Bubil spoke with him after his speech about what we can learn from our forefathers.

Q:What is it about 1874 that fascinates you?

A:That was the year the various states did compendiums of their achievements. So you can look at 1874 very easily. It is mind-blowing what Americans used to be able to do in 10 years. The Mormons, between 1855 and 1905, laid out 530 towns and cities, none of which became a ghost town. They had very little money, they had nothing. What they had was real smarts, real organization. I have studied the protocols, and it is not that they are really relevant to us in detail. What is relevant is how important management is, and to have devolved decision-making to the right level.

Q:Can you give me an example?

A:They would send someone generally, but also they would send an agronomist to find where the creek is. It isn't like Brigham Young looked at a map and said "here." He said, "Generally go in that direction and find a place." They were very organized. They would send a group of pioneers with men and women and schoolteachers and farmers and bootmakers.

Q:So, diverse groups that could form complete communities?

A:If you look at the history of the West, it would be 50 miners and four prostitutes. The minute you needed a shoe fixed, you were out of luck.

They thought ahead in terms of preserving open space and sites for temples and meeting halls, knowing that what they were doing was the inaugural condition that would later evolve into a much more cultured condition. Right now, we do development without thinking ahead.

Q:Was this done in Florida in the 1920s?

A:The '20s was our prior model. The problem is that was already with conventional funding. There was not the agility that I think, when things get really tough, we are going to need.

Q:You said the climate-change battle is lost and we must adapt locally. How?

A:I envision a very difficult 21st century. Not now — 20 years from now. The protocols that interest me are not the relatively stable ones of the 1920s. In 1874, their need for security — all that stuff rings true. Of course, we have to transmute it for today.

The New Urbanism is committing to "pink codes," a reference to any code that reduces red tape by bypassing bureaucrats. Let the young people operate. Just like we did in 1980, when we were young and could do big things because the bureaucracy was not against us. This is our gift to the younger generation, not to tell them what to do, but to reduce the bureaucracy so they can operate.

Last modified: June 21, 2013
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