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Almost Perfect

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"I don't understand..." he says, his voice trailing off as he surveys the latest indignation. On the wall of a partially completed home in this abandoned phase of development, a vandal has made a comment in red spray paint: Your own piece of Infection.

"How could anyone do this?"

Antonio's mustachioed mouth droops in a frown. Though unremarkable in appearance, he is famous for spurning the luxurious golf-course communities he made a fortune creating. After accidentally attending a conference on New Urbanism (he mistook it for a trade show) in Portland, Oregon, Antonio became one of the movement's most ardent backers. He returned to Florida with the fervor of the newly converted. With his vision of the new New Urbanism, Antonio began to think of himself less as a developer and more, as he likes to put it, as a "town forefather."

"I really thought we were onto something here," he says, wearily looking out over Perfection's aborted final phase.

Antonio conceived Perfection as a hybrid of the New Urbanist communities that had come before it, designed to showcase the best features of each. "It's a patchwork," he had crowed, "just like your grandmother's heirloom quilt."

But unlike Granny's handiwork, Perfection was tradition made anew. Its version of New Urbanism was trickle-down. Well-liked aspects of older TNDs, such as Celebration's celebrated front porches, were incorporated while others, such as the functional but often unpopular alleys behind homes, were eschewed.

Other examples of New Urbanism set a precedent, but Antonio was unfazed: "We don't have to build a carbon copy of any other place. Perfection will take what works from New Urbanism."

Though he fancied himself New Urbanism's biggest champion, as a developer he remained attuned to market demands. He made compromises. Discreet garages, for example, didn't work in a neighborhood where most families had three vehicles. "People like their cars," he argued. "They want to have easy access to them."

When residents virulently resisted the opening of a convenience store near Perfection's entrance, which is marked with a coat of arms, Antonio was torn. The opposition was led by the Coalition Against Convenience Stores, or CACS, a homeowners group that argued a mini-mart would bring major problems: crime, drug sales, and those pesky in-line skaters.

Katie Grunwald, mayor of the nearby town of Venus Springs and an early New Urbanism advocate, expressed concern that residents were not living up to their responsibility as inhabitants of a New Urbanist development. "Do people realize that Perfection is more than just picture-perfect houses? Whether they like it or not, whether they understand it or not, residents need to cooperate with Perfection's New Urbanist goals."

Mixed use is a mandate of New Urbanism. Still, Antonio concluded, residents were, after all, his customers. And in the free market, he said, the customer is always right.

Antonio's toughest customer, Rebecca Farnsworth, was also the most outspoken opponent of his attempts at New Urbanism. When she seized leadership of CACS, the group teetered on the brink of rebellion.

Farnsworth's efforts were literally underground. Concerned that nonresidents might infiltrate the group, she convened meetings at odd hours in a dim, windowless room in the basement of her Colonial Revival-style home. A long-time Mary Kay consultant with a pink Cadillac in her garage, Farnsworth knew a thing or two about networking and what she liked to call "quality control." She was five feet, ten inches tall; her high-heeled pumps made her all the more imposing. Striding back and forth in front of a dry-erase board, she persuaded many homeowners association members to abandon all other allegiances.

Conventional homeowners groups were useless, she argued, because they were too closely tied to the community's developer. What Perfection needed was a coup. Residents should run the development themselves, she told the rapt audience. Firing up a PowerPoint demonstration and gesturing with a perfectly manicured red fingernail, Farnsworth was as persuasive as a preacher.

She cackled coldly at the mention of the Neighborhood Crime Watch. "Who are they watching?" she demanded rhetorically. "They're obviously blind to the real crimes here." Farnsworth proposed CACS start its own neighborhood watch, looking out for so-called "freeloaders" and "those hippie-dippy types who want to turn our home into some sort of commune!

"None of us want Perfection to be overrun with outsiders," she continued, lowering her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "I think we're all a bit disturbed by the fact that residents from the nearby subdivisions and apartment complexes use Perfection's jogging trails." She paused so the weight of this revelation could sink in. An elderly woman let out a dramatic gasp. Farnsworth smiled knowingly and suggested, to considerable applause, that residents be issued identification cards.

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Amy Roe

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