Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Venice: Antidote to urban sprawl

In 1925, in the glory days of the Florida land boom, a nationally known orthopedic surgeon sold 1,428 acres south of Sarasota to one of the country’s largest labor unions and quadrupled his investment.

City planner John Nolan
Then he insisted that a renowned city planner be retained to develop a new town. The planner was John Nolan, who was known for his advocacy of the European “garden city” approach to urban planning, keeping urban sprawl at bay with clustered mixed-use neighborhoods. Nolan’s plans made cities that were decidedly walkable.

The result of Nolan’s work became Venice, a city that retains the vision today, so much so that the National Register of Historic Places is considering recognizing the city.

All this has prompted Venice’s historical director, James Hagler, to develop a plan to celebrate the city’s rich history to attract more tourists, reports the Sarasota Herald Tribune. Hagler is planning a fundraiser Sept 21 at the Saltwater Cafe in Nokomis to raise money for the project.

The famed orthopedic surgeon was Dr. Fred Albee, who had pioneered bone grafting and other advances in orthopedic surgery, including a machine that helped with the grafting. Dr. Albee’s work helped many injured World War I veterans.

Dr. Fred Albee
The labor union, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, wanted to cash in on the land boom but it also envisioned “a place where the ordinary man could have a chance to get all that the rich have ever been able to get out of Florida.” The BLE built some hotels and buildings in the downtown business district, but lost its investment when the real estate market crashed.

But the city remains, and Nolan’s concept has survived. Nolan worked on plans for other cities in Florida (54 in all), including St. Petersburg. In the Sunshine City, though, his lofty ideals failed at the ballot box with only 13 per cent of the vote. Greed prevailed.

In his book, Visions of Eden, Rollins College professor R. Bruce Stephenson, recounts Nolan’s frustrating efforts in St. Petersburg. "It has been said and with reason," Nolan wrote, "that man is the only animal who desecrates the surroundings of his own habitation."

Last May, WEDU Channel 3 in Tampa aired a documentary, Venice Florida: Moving Forward by Looking Back, about Venice’s development in the 1920s.

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