by Tanya Zwahlen
This month, my extended family took a spring vacation to Rosemary Beach, Florida. We chose Rosemary Beach because it was close to my sister-in-law’s family, who is currently living in nearby Destin. We also needed a break from winter. I knew we’d be in a house on the Gulf of Mexico, and that the beaches were beautiful. I did not realize that Rosemary Beach is a master planned community. Not only that, it was designed by Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk (aka DPZ). As soon as I realized this, I set out to explore and learn all about it. Here are the highlights.
The architecture in the city is striking. It’s is based on the European colonial architecture of the West Indies. According to the city’s website, “photographs from the Bahamas, Jamaica, Cuba, New Orleans and St. Augustine were hung in the sales office to show potential lot purchasers the places that had inspired Rosemary Beach.” Those photos created excitement and helped share the vision of the community before it was built. There are 12 residential structure types, including live/work buildings, beach houses, courtyard houses, townhouses, flats and carriage houses.
Master planned communities have the benefit of designing public spaces where they are needed, where they attract people to convene. The open spaces in Rosemary Beach felt strategic to me.
Case in point. While taking a snack break on a bike ride through town, we stumbled upon a kickball game. Before I knew it, my son was invited to play with a group of very friendly strangers. There also was live music most nights in St. Augustine Park.
Bikes are everywhere in Rosemary Beach. I could not believe how many. It felt like thousands of bikes. There are packs of teens doing slow rides down the main strip, Route 30A, at all times of day and night. There were more people on bikes than on foot
There were three main commercial nodes in Rosemary Beach. Two on the main road (Route 30A) and one tucked on Main Street, which runs perpendicular to 30A. The shops were touristy – restaurants, candy shops, bike rental, ice cream, a clothing store marketed to tweens. This one, pictured below, had some small cabana type buildings with outdoor displays.
Cohesiveness Creates Community
What struck me most about Rosemary Beach was the cohesiveness. The parks, the architecture, the transportation, and even the retail all compliment one another. There is an interesting array of residential, commercial and public space that work together. The entire community is human scale. It is designed for people, so you feel safe walking and biking. And the design brings people together.
The next community to the west is called Alys Beach. This is another master planned community, also by DPZ. Its architectural vision has its roots in the style of Bermuda architecture and in the courtyards of Antigua, Guatemala, the colonial capital of Central America. All the buildings are white! It’s quite stunning. Alys Beach is still in the early stages of town building. It was interesting to see the infrastructure in place and ready for future development. Here is a street complete with utilities that is roped off.
If I had to critique these communities it would be on two counts. First, there is very little diversity. And secondly, from what I can tell, there is only one school and it’s private. There is a charter school in neighboring Seaside, but that means that a child living in Rosemary Beach would need to attend school in a nearby municipality. So while there is great cohesiveness to the urban design, when you look closely, the community lacks the authenticity of one that grew organically.
Still. We enjoyed Rosemary Beach so much that we’re headed back for another week in 2017. This time with three more cousins. Can’t wait.