Treasure Coast wins Nolen Award

Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council (TCRPC) in Stuart, Florida, has sponsored approximately 90 new urban design charrettes in the last 17 years, far outdistancing any other public agency. Among the 537 regional planning councils in the US, Treasure Coast is unique in its long-time dedication to New Urbanism and its role in the early years of the movement. “Many of the CNU Charter principles were worked out and pre-tested in the Treasure Coast region long before there was a CNU and before New Urbanism even had a name,” says architect Victor Dover. For that, the Florida Chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism honored TCRPC with the first Nolen Medal, named after planning pioneer John Nolen.

TCRPC was lucky enough to work with some of the best planners in the New Urbanism, according to Michael Busha, executive director. In 1987 then-executive director Dan Cary read an article about Seaside and contacted the town’s planners, Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. Cary discovered that various aspects of suburban development could be reassembled as a town by using the techniques of traditional neighborhood design. TCRPC sponsored one of the first new urban charrettes aimed at revitalizing a historic town when Cary brought in Duany Plater-Zyberk to create a plan for downtown Stuart in 1988.

Working with top new urbanists

Over the years TCRPC also worked with town planners Dover, Kohl & Partners, traffic expert Walter Kulash, retail expert and planner Bob Gibbs, market researcher Todd Zimmerman, and other new urbanists, such as Mark Schimmenti, Jaime Correa, Eric Valle, Estella Valle, Geoffrey Ferrell, Rich McLaughlin, Ramon Trias, and Marcela Camblor, Busha says. Most were consultants but many worked for the agency. “All we did was surround ourselves with smart people who are great designers and urbanists,” says Busha. Most of the people mentioned above happened to be based in Florida and were willing to work in the early years for minimal fees, Busha adds. Treasure Coast established its own urban design studio, an innovative move for a regional planning council, by hiring McLaughlin and Trias. The studio is run today by Camblor and has a budget of $300,000 to $500,000 a year, but pays for itself through its training contracts and fees, Busha says. In recent years TCRPC helped Miami-Dade County set up its urban design studio.

“Any regional planning council can do this, it’s just a matter of changing the culture of your organization and providing the service that people want,” Busha explains. The council has focused on citizen engagement, he says, using the charrette as a tool to educate the public on how cities and towns work and why there is dissatisfaction with the way communities are built now. Each charrette is a significant opportunity to educate professionals and community leaders, he adds, which is one reason why numerous new urban projects are starting to take root in the Treasure Coast region — the counties of Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin, and Palm Beach.

TCRPC is a nonprofit organization set up by the governments of the four counties. Busha estimates that 75 percent of the charrettes that have taken place have actually been implemented to some degree. Notable among these charrettes were revitalization plans for Fort Pierce, West Palm Beach, Lake Worth, and Stuart, he says.

In recent years, the council has seen a shift toward more planning on a regional scale, Busha says. One example is a plan for a 25-mile corridor of Route 7, now largely a suburban commercial strip. “The idea was to find the main-and-main intersections and revitalize them,” he says. Currently the council is working on a settlement plan to guide growth in a 28-square-mile section of St. Lucie County. The vision, a “healthy pattern of urbanism across the countryside,” will be supported by a form-based code, Busha says. u