Editor’s Word: An authentic model of this story was printed within the April 2015 difficulty of our publication Venice Journal.
John Nolan is the visionary planner who introduced European-style, walkable communities to america within the early twentieth century. Nolen loved appreciable fame throughout his life, and his work has been featured in a PBS documentary and impressed such master-planned communities as Seaside within the Florida Panhandle and Disney’s Celebration close to Orlando. Metropolis planners and lecturers repeatedly make pilgrimages to Venice, which Nolen designed within the mid-Nineteen Twenties, to expertise what they name an instance of one of many best-planned cities in america.
The town’s constancy to Nolen’s 1926 plan, by way of actual property booms and busts over the many years, whereas different communities constructed suburbs, garnered it recognition from the U.S. Nationwide Register of Historic Locations in 2010, considered one of solely three cities to have their plans so designated. Earlier than the true property collapse of 2008, metropolis leaders and builders appeared to embrace Nolen’s imaginative and prescient for town, proposing new developments that adhered to his precept of walkable neighborhoods for numerous earnings ranges clustered round a central downtown.
However as Venice is increasing northeast, with 1000’s of housing models in communities on and close to what was once the Henry Ranch, Nolen’s plan has been left behind in favor of suburban-style gated communities.
The Street to Suburbanism
All it’s important to do is spend a while on Venice Island and examine it to locations exterior town to know why the Nolen plan has received so many accolades. In contrast to many Southwest Florida communities, Venice has an actual downtown, with eating places and outlets shut collectively so you’ll be able to spend hours entertaining your self with out having to get right into a automotive or inhale recirculated mall air.
You possibly can hire an residence above downtown shops or within the close by residence district, or you should buy a million-dollar seaside house or one thing in between. And in any of these dwelling environments, you received’t stroll too far out of your entrance door with out encountering a park. You possibly can stroll to central Centennial Park and play tennis or basketball, take pleasure in music on the gazebo or attend artwork exhibits and the annual lighting of the Christmas tree. You possibly can stroll or bike almost in all places you’d need to go on the town—to the library, Venice Excessive College, or a handful of seashores and the scenic jetties, the place the Intracoastal Waterway and the Gulf merge.
Whereas Venice has stayed true to its plan, for a lot of the final century, downtowns all throughout the nation withered and suburbs proliferated. However Nolen’s concepts loved a revival, beginning within the Nineties, with architects and planners who referred to as the concept of walkable communities with loads of inexperienced house organized round a central municipal space “New Urbanism.” Many in Venice proceed to take delight within the metropolis’s structure and character; town even has a marketing campaign round Nolen’s story and imaginative and prescient to extend tourism.
“We’ve the most important assortment of historic buildings and houses in Southwest Florida,” says James Hagler, the director of the Venice Museum and Archives. “Guests can come see, stroll and have a look at the Nolen plan. We’re completely a walkable group.”
Slightly greater than 15 years in the past, many civic leaders and builders believed that town’s future ought to appear to be its previous. After dozens of group conferences with a whole lot of residents, metropolis leaders introduced a plan referred to as Envision Venice, which inspired builders to construct Nolen-like communities. And for the a whole lot of acres of undeveloped ranchland east of I-75, the place the suburban communities of Willow Chase and Venetian Golf and River Membership went up, metropolis leaders referred to as for villages, “compact, pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use growth.”
The town deliberate to permit barely extra density for builders who included “reasonably priced, workforce housing” and “models for decrease earnings employees and seniors.”
The constructing business responded. Developer Mike Miller proposed a Nolen-style venture on 73 acres close to Knights Path Street, and metropolis leaders and planners lauded his thought. The venture featured single-family properties, flats and workforce housing and a downtown Foremost Road within the inside with a movie show, a lodge and outlets, interconnected streets and a variety of parks and greenways.
Throughout the road, on the south facet of Laurel Street, the Gulf Coast Group Basis (then named the Gulf Coast Group Basis of Venice) deliberate the Bridges. Former basis president and CEO Teri Hansen hailed the venture as “a mixed-use of mixed-income group properties for working households.”
The Bridges’ advertising supplies promised a brand new city mannequin for the remainder of the nation to duplicate, with about 200,000 sq. toes of business house in a standard downtown. The inspiration had plans for Harvard researchers to come back right here and research the social points of the event. The inspiration additionally acquired an adjoining 150 acres for future growth, spending about $30 million on land and growth prices.
Then, simply as in Nolen’s time, a recession hit, and each initiatives died.
However because the financial system rebounded and actual property took off once more, builders stated that as engaging because the island of Venice could also be, that’s not the form of design that may go well with their goal patrons. As an alternative, they started constructing the kind of housing that energetic adults and relocating households need to see.
“The suburban mannequin is what folks need,” says John Peshkin of Vanguard Land, whose firm has developed two communities with about 2,400 properties east of I-75 close to Laurel Street. “That’s why we’re all suburban builders out right here.”
Pat Neal, probably the most prolific builder in South County, credited with constructing communities together with Grand Palm, Vicenza and Cielo, agrees.
“In Nolen’s time, the auto had not begun to dominate American residential planning,” Neal says. “Every little thing needed to be walkable. Now, overwhelmingly, the market prefers Twenty first-century constructing.” Neal says Nolen-style communities signify solely 5 p.c of what he’s constructing right now. “New Urbanism is cute and builds group and has its place,” he says. “And we’d construct extra of it if we noticed a marketplace for it.”
Southwest Florida newcomers are snapping up new properties in suburban-style communities, however Ed McMahon, a senior resident fellow on the City Land Institute, a nonprofit that research and promotes sustainable communities, says that doesn’t imply New Urbanism rules now not have enchantment. Many established Florida downtowns with a mixture of housing and business institutions, from Seaside to St. Petersburg to Venice Island itself, are attracting residents of all ages, together with rich retirees, and McMahon says properties in such walkable downtowns have loved bigger relative value will increase than most gated communities. “Walkable communities create worth,” he says. “The market is altering as demographics are altering. Individuals need to have extra selections in housing.”
The Man Behind the Plan
When Nolen started his profession within the early 1900s, metropolis planning in america was going by way of a metamorphosis. The Industrial Revolution had pushed extra folks into cities that developed haphazardly, with out a lot considered sanitation, well being and the way communities might finest perform. Medical doctors had solely just lately found that germs induced illness, inflicting a brand new concern about clear water, sewage management and sanitary dwelling situations. Nolen, who has been referred to as the dean of contemporary city planning, adopted and popularized the brand new concepts of how you can design more healthy, extra livable communities, and he designed greater than 50 city and metropolis plans throughout america.
Born in 1869 in Philadelphia, Nolen was orphaned at an early age. He grew up and was educated at Girard School, a boarding faculty for orphaned and deprived kids. Tenacious and brilliant, Nolen earned a spot on the prestigious Wharton College of Finance and Economics and majored in economics and public administration. He then spent 10 years as government secretary of a company that supplied faculty night time courses to the city working class. Due to his humble beginnings, Nolen had a robust sense of social justice, which infused his work.
Nolen’s journey to England in 1895, the place he took a summer time course at Oxford, modified the trajectory of his profession and the face of many communities throughout the nation, together with Venice. Whereas there, he turned enamored of the so-called “Backyard Cities” bobbing up within the English countryside. These have been medium-sized new cities surrounded by greenbelts. Skilled designers deliberate the brand new cities to be self-sustaining with farms, business and industrial areas in addition to residences for employees and folks from all walks of life.
Nolen introduced the idea again with him when he returned. The US didn’t have faculties of city planning on the time, so Nolen enrolled in Harvard’s College of Panorama Structure. He then arrange an workplace in Cambridge, the place he practiced each panorama structure and concrete planning. He additionally turned president of the newly fashioned Nationwide Convention on Metropolis Planning and a spokesman for complete planning, greenbelts and zoning necessities.
Within the Nineteen Twenties, Nolen headed to Florida, the place an actual property increase, made attainable by the increasing attain of the railroads, was underneath approach. Chicago socialite Bertha Palmer had put the Sarasota space on the map, buying 1000’s of acres of land and constructing a winter house right here. Her presence attracted distinguished Northerners, together with Fred Albee, a pioneering inventor and physician who created a number of the first orthopedic surgical procedure gadgets throughout World Battle I and carried out the primary bone graft.
Albee bought a number of parcels from Palmer, together with 1,426 acres of what’s now Venice. In one of the crucial profitable land flips of the time, Albee paid $185,000 for the land, holding it for simply 9 weeks earlier than promoting it to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers for $1 million. The BLE, then one of many nation’s largest labor unions, was making an attempt to recoup funding losses by leaping into the recent Florida actual property market.
The BLE gave Nolen a clean canvas alongside the Gulf of Mexico to plan his ideally suited metropolis after which allowed him to construct it. Nolen received concerned in hiring the opposite professionals, together with well-known panorama architect Prentiss French. The BLE constructed three inns, the downtown enterprise district and a whole lot of buildings earlier than the true property market crashed. The BLE misplaced its holdings, with a number of the property reverting again to Albee.
When building resumed across the nation after World Battle II, the increasing U.S. freeway system and a rising stream of vehicles carried folks to new suburbs, the place shops have been positioned alongside central streets and houses have been in-built strictly residential areas.
However Venice pulled out Nolen’s plan and largely caught to it. The plan lined what’s now the island and the Edgewood neighborhood, the world Nolen designed for employees, east of U.S. 41 Bypass.
“The east components of town have been farms and ranchland to offer meals for the group,” says Bruce Stephenson, a professor of environmental research at Rollins School and writer of the ebook, John Nolen, City Planner and Panorama Architect. “The logic within the Nineteen Twenties is that you just needed to develop your individual meals,” he provides. “Defending agricultural land and water provides was essential.”
As Florida skilled many years of rampant development and intervals of drought after the warfare, leaders and the general public grew involved about water provides and the price of infrastructure to help the increasing inhabitants. Within the late Nineteen Eighties, the state enacted the Development Administration Act to present the state energy to manage huge developments. Within the Nineties, there was a resurgence of curiosity in Nolen’s concepts—now referred to as New Urbanism—and plenty of cities throughout the nation began reinvesting of their downtowns.
Miami planner Andres Duany turned considered one of New Urbanism’s best-known proponents, and he began planning Nolen-like communities throughout the nation. He typically pointed to Venice for example of how you can construct a pedestrian-friendly metropolis.
Venice grew quickly within the early 2000s by way of a collection of controversial annexations, together with the 1,000-plus-acre Henry Ranch, east of I-75. Builders began constructing the Venetian Golf and River Membership and Willow Chase, each suburban developments, earlier than town gave a lot thought to how the world ought to develop.
In 2005, prompted by state rules requiring a complete plan, metropolis leaders, with the participation of a whole lot of residents, began engaged on a 25-year plan referred to as Envision Venice, which included the rest of the Henry Ranch property. On the island, the plan inspired multistory buildings and density. Plenty of residents, largely retirees, turned alarmed, and so they organized. They noticed the brand new plan as threatening Venice’s small-town attraction.
In 2007, simply because the Envision Venice doc was on its solution to the state, voters kicked three incumbents out of workplace and changed them with three who wished slower development. Then they went line by line by way of the Envision Venice doc, placing a maintain on initiatives pending earlier than town and lowering constructing heights.
By then, the true property market was quivering. The primary New Urbanism casualty was the Miller venture on east Laurel Street; after it stalled, Miller misplaced the property by way of foreclosures. The Gulf Coast Group Basis shelved its Bridges venture (however remains to be holding the land “for funding functions,” in line with a spokesman). Quickly, the true property market had fully collapsed and town went two years with out issuing a serious constructing allow.
After pro-business Rick Scott was elected governor in 2010, the Legislature repealed the Development Administration Act, so now it’s largely as much as native authorities to make planning selections. Sarasota County had a change within the composition of its fee, with the brand new fee friendlier to builders and fewer insistent about environmental safety, and the commissioners began to calm down development restrictions east of I-75.
There have been political modifications in Venice, too. In 2011, voters changed all three slow-growth council members elected just a few years earlier in favor of a business-friendlier board.
In 2011, John Peshkin’s Vanguard Land bought the Miller land and got here earlier than town with a plan for 1,700 suburban-style properties, referred to as Toscana Isles. Peshkin’s proposal was the primary main constructing venture in years, and revenue-strapped officers have been pleased to have it. Nobody was fascinated by walkable Nolen communities, and no plan was in place mandating the New Urbanism rules.
“The tons have been sitting there a very long time,” stated then Mayor John Holic. “Nobody ever received round to saying how that space ought to develop.”
After town and county prolonged Jacaranda to Laurel Street, offering a significant hyperlink, a number of proposals for east Laurel Street hit Metropolis Corridor in fast succession: Portofino (650 properties); Villages of Milano (700 properties); and the Woods at Venice (263 properties).
The developments have clubhouses, swimming pools and fashionable facilities and are just like different gated communities all through Florida.
Adam Hancock, a Southwest Florida actual property agent and proprietor of the Adam Hancock Group, sees a number of the finest home-owner worth within the space. In Venice, the true property market is extra reasonably priced than throughout the Metropolis of Sarasota, however nonetheless boasts cheap proximity to seashores, fascinating faculties and design that make household dwelling simple.
“There are many kid-centric facilities like playgrounds, kids’s swimming pools plus proximity to nature, seashores and trails. It isn’t only a retirement scene, it’s altering,” he says.
On the island, although, Nolen’s plan stays gospel. The town has added extra and wider bike paths, together with the Legacy Path. It has added extra parks, together with the waterfront Maxine Barritt Park and a number of other pocket parks. The town has tightened constructing requirements within the historic districts, requiring Northern Italian Renaissance design and a palette of acceptable constructing colours.
Pre-pandemic, the downtown was thriving with new outlets and eating places. In 2019, a Beautification Undertaking of Downtown Venice was accomplished, reconstructing 14 blocks, the Venice Fishing Pier was refurbished and Julia Cousins Laning and Dale Laning Archives & Analysis Heart opened at 224 Milan Avenue—simply steps away from the relocated Triangle Inn, which now serves because the Venice Museum and Archives. In 2020, a brand new Public Security Facility (house of Venice Police Division) opened.
The Venice Museum expanded to incorporate everlasting reveals concerning the metropolis’s historical past, together with the circus, the Kentucky Navy Institute and, in fact, Nolen.
It’s ironic, even perhaps poignant, that simply as Nolen’s plan is being totally realized on Venice Island, it appears to have misplaced its relevance as a blueprint for town’s future development. As an alternative, it’s changing into one thing of a museum piece, an enthralling city design that folks take pleasure in and drive to go to; then they return to their gated, all-residential neighborhoods just a few miles east.
“We’re simply making an attempt to connect to town,” says Neal about his new communities. “Downtown is an amenity; it’s beautiful. It’s simply not within the type through which our patrons favor to dwell.”
“There are two Venices,” says Don O’Connell, former president of the Venice Space Historic Society and proprietor of 30 flats within the historic district. “We’ve received the island after which every part else.”