I wrote about one of these places—Waterside Place at Lakewood Ranch, Florida—in a 2020 piece called “The Rise of Movie Set Urbanism.” You know, those rows of fake building façades with nothing behind them that you see on a movie set, like for an old Western? They’re, of course, carefully shot from a limited range of angles during film production to disguise the fact that these places are all hat and no cattle.
In reality, these developments are islands of faux-urbanity which you have to drive to and from, functionally no different than the strip mall and the subdivision. And the proof lies in the oceans of parking that inevitably accompany them. With so much land devoted to cars (getting them there, parking them once they’re there, and accommodating the stormwater runoff from all that asphalt), Waterside Place is doomed to be an island. It’s a facsimile of a downtown, which advertises itself as a downtown, but there’s no town—and no path provided for a real one to ever grow around it.
I wrote about Waterside Place back when it was just a plan with some renderings, but I’ve followed the project’s development since then. I went out in March 2020, early in Waterside’s construction, to take some photos that capture the industrial scale of the project. I’ve compared suburban development to extractive industry before, half metaphorically, but in this case it was eerie and unexpected to be able to wander right in here on public streets and view something that felt like visiting a giant mining site.