When a Perfectly Planned Front Porch Community Falls Short — Seaside, Florida

Front Porch Nation

Porchista Erica on the road to Seaside. To me, Seaside was going to be like Disneyland for porches: but REAL!

Do I want to write this? No, not particularly. I consider myself a very cheerful gal, who, these days, tries to think the best of everyone and everything.

And yet, today was not one of those days where things turned out as I had envisioned.

It was as if a line from “The Truman Show,” which ironically had been filmed in Seaside, Florida, had become my reality (sec :54 – 1:11). I was “blocked at every turn.”  Watch Truman’s escapade here.

Front Porch Nation

Seaside. Florida. It has everything thing a community would need to be the friendliest town on Earth. And yet, it isn’t.

As you know, Porch Friends, I went to Seaside today hoping to see the “Porch Incarnate.”

Not only would there be front porch after lovely front porch, but there would be, in this fine place, the wonderful, living example of what our lives could be like if we would only strive to be more like this shining, sparkling, majestic vision of “the good life” and all that it embodies.

Seaside is the stuff of legends around here. A friend of ours, who is an architect and designed one of the cottages has vacationed there for years. Many, many planned communities around the country have been spawned off the success of Seaside. There’s one such new venture just a few miles from my home outside of Jackson, Mississippi.

Seaside represents the idea of a non-gated, walking community, open to the public . . . of a little town that includes mixed housing, with restaurants, shops the post office, the community school . . . with front porches and small roads, where neighbors know each other.

All the cottages in Seaside are named. This one, "Precious," has a lovely front deck (the porch impulse) for being neighborly.

All the cottages in Seaside are named. This one, “Precious,” has a lovely front deck (the porch impulse) for being neighborly.

This is what I was expecting to find in Seaside. And I found parts of it. I found all the pieces to make a good community, but none of the warmth.

Not one person returned handwave or hello. Not one smile back as the people walked their dogs, rode their bikes, escorted their children, played in the community field. Not one person sitting on their front porch.

What I did receive was a lot of instructions from the “gatekeepers” of the town: the Realty Group, the Town Council, and the Homeowners Association. They were not mean; however, I did receive multiple warnings about needing permission before I could take a photo of a porch. About security guards chasing me away. It was strongly implied that not coming was a better idea. Or hours of waiting till I had been more properly “screened” as acceptable and called back and warned some more, when it was inevitable that I was descending upon their township, for I was not going to stay away, nor delay my trip. I was coming, and I was going to take pictures of porches.

Front Porch Nation

Lovely front porch with signage regarding who could park where.

There are also lots of little proper signs around Seaside the tell you the “rules.” There are rules for parking and rules for driving and rules for the beach and notices about private pavilions and more signs making it clear that this boardwalk is for certain residents only. Signs, low and tidy, are everywhere!

As I drove down the streets with my younger children and new daughter-in-law, I tried to keep my thoughts and opinions to myself. To sift them out and take all my emotion out of it. I tried to see the good: the beautifully designed homes and varied front porches. Tried to make sure that I wasn’t feeling intimidated because of the skyrocketing prices of these homes/cottages and to not judge a community based solely on its gatekeepers and signage. Yet, multiple times, as we turned down one idyllic brick street after another, Sugar would make the comment, “I can’t tell if I like this place or not.” To which I would reply, “I understand completely, for I am trying to figure out the same thing.”

Front Porch Nation

Seaside Charter School garden. You have to win a lottery to go here.

And here, Porch Friends, is a sad truth. You can have the seemingly perfect life, but if you lack that basic “love your neighbor” attitude, you’ve missed it, and all you have is a hollowed out shell. A proper front porch, no matter how grand or simple, at its very heart is the warm, soft beating of neighborliness. I have met that warm heartbeat. Multiple times. Met it and chatted with it, from Maine to Alabama. From Westport, Conneticut to Watercolor, Florida and many places in between.

Understand, no matter how perfect your community, how luxurious your front porch, your designer clothes and dogs, please take care that you do not lose a key part of being a human being: graciously interacting with your fellow human.

Front Porch Nation

Seaside. My daughter-in-law Sugar saw this upper level porch. The open side is facing the ocean, which was about three blocks over. Smart home design to be able enjoy the sea view and sea breezes.

This contact starts and is reflected in eye-contact: do not look through a person and not acknowledge their presence, in your neighborhood.

That disregard is felt, and on your home street, that feeling grows and spreads like a swarm of cockroaches and it gives the passerby the creepy-crawlies.

Neighborliness is personified in sitting on your front porch and saying, “Howdy!” or “Nice day!” or whatever phrase you want to coin as your personal greeting (I’d love to hear those from you guys!).

In your neighborhood, one should not be staring skulkily at a visitor without even offering a simple, “Can I help you?” The aroma given off by that attitude is quite skunkish. And it begins to permeate the air of the whole community. Whether one can consciously put their finger on it or accurately describe it, the unconscious feeling is, “I am not welcome here.” How awkward. How unsettling.

Front Porch Nation

Seaside has a beautiful blend of both vintage and modern architecture. Golf carts, walking or biking are the preferred modes of transportation around the little town.

I am sure that Seaside has many lovely qualities. I’m certain that there are indeed good porch folk there would just happened to be “out-of-pocket” the day I came to town.

Seaside is also, from my perspective, a community that is made up, in seeming large part, of rental and vacation homes. That constant, erractic flow of strangers must, in part, make it hard for the year-round residents to feel connected to each other. What if all the houses around you changed occupants every week or so? We’d probably be a jumble of harried energy, too.

Based on my experience today would I encourage you to move there, to this “fairytale” place? Hell no! Will I visit again and see if today was just “a bad day” in a town’s vibe? Sure. Food critics do the same courtesy to a restaurant they review. It will not anytime soon. After today, Seaside is not exactly high on my list of places to see anymore. I’d very much rather see real porches in real communities with friendly people who smile back and offer you a seat on their porch for a little visit.

Later, as we left Seaside, in search of a strip of beach that was not marked “Private” where we, as a family, could play on the sand for a few minutes, we entered a neighboring community. They had a simple sign, right opposite of their simply painted town sign titled in two blue lines, “Beach Parking, for the public.”

We turned in and, there, behind a little hedge of stunted oaks, we found a hidden paradise. But that is for the next story! Stay tuned!

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