Want a glimpse of the green future?Travel down Florida’s panhandle coast to Alys Beach, a 158-acre resort town just underway with an extensive mixed-use master plan. Conceived by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. (DPZ), the team behind nearby Seaside and Rosemary Beach (among 300 new and revitalized town plans worldwide), Alys Beach represents a culmination of the renowned planner’s body of work and sets a higher bar for the housing industry.
At its root is a pedestrian-first plan of the kind that was lost in an era of cul-de-sacs and Dodge Caravans. The site’s northern border features a natural, 20-acre wetlands preserve, which eventually gives way to large rural lots with small building footprints. As the plan moves south, it transitions into a vibrant, higher-density area near the parcel’s main attraction—a long, white beachfront. “It’s the basic organization of a human settlement that creates a place people like to live,” says Galina Tahchieva, director of town planning for DPZ. “It’s not high-level thinking. We [as an industry] have just forgotten how they work.”
Once in the urban core, the major streets at Alys Beach travel straight down to the beach, allowing prevailing ocean breezes to effectively filter to and through the courtyard-style homes and buildings. The structures are simply yet classically designed, thickly constructed of masonry, and painted white (with white roofs) to facilitate passive heating and cooling.
Perhaps more familiar to modern-day builders, the homes at Alys Beach will gain green certification from the Florida Green Building Coalition, a set of guidelines geared to reduce heating and cooling energy use by up to 35 percent compared to similar homes in the same climate. They’ll also meet formal fortified building standards per the Institute for Business & Home Safety, which include impact-resistant products and a continuous load path from roof to foundation, among other best practices that guard against damage from natural disasters.
Such high-performance features combine with the attractive Bermuda- and Guatemala-inspired courtyard architecture to boost the sustainability of the buildings and the entire town. “Alys Beach proves that building something to withstand a hurricane or other natural forces doesn’t require aesthetic sacrifices,” says Mike Ragsdale, a spokesman for the project. “If it’s done beautifully, it will be preserved,” instead of bulldozed after a generation or two to make way for the next community trend.
Like Seaside, Alys Beach is a resort town. As such, the project team freely admits that the model is there for mainstream builders and developers to interpret and apply, not necessarily copy verbatim. “We don’t see the industry literally duplicating Alys Beach,” says Ragsdale, noting that some elements have already been applied to a new community on the boards in Texas. “Pieces of its architecture and sustainability concepts will serve as inspiration, not to copycat.”
Even so, the idea that Alys Beach may one day evolve from a seasonal citizenry to a full-time town is on Tahchieva’s radar. “If it’s successful, I can see more people living there full time,” she says. “It has the potential to be a year-round community.” And thus an even more relevant model for builders across the country.