Four decades ago, a young real estate developer named Robert Davis began work on an 80-acre Florida panhandle site facing the Gulf of Mexico that he’d inherited from his grandfather. Unburdened by debt, Davis could afford to develop the unsightly, logged-and-bushwhacked property gradually rather than covering it with a panoply of houses in one fell swoop. Such were the beginnings of Seaside—an unlikely crucible for the New Urbanism, the most important movement in American urban design since Urban Renewal.

Seaside’s first, Davis-designed houses were simple wooden bungalows raised above open undercrofts with spacious porches, deep eaves, and cross-ventilated rooms resembling those at Grayton Beach, the nearby hamlet where Davis and his planner-architects, spouses Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, were quartered. As graduate students at Yale, Duany and Plater-Zyberk had researched what makes traditional neighborhoods tick. For Seaside, they studied the old towns along the Gulf. From the outset, they focused on situating houses to shape pedestrian-friendly streets—which, in the event, featured a variety of housing types. Thanks to their brilliant success, this little resort community, which will be familiar to some readers as the setting for the 1998 movie The Truman Show, is a landmark in postwar urban design.

In two weighty volumes—Visions

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