Urban Paradise

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Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of capturing a destination wedding in in Cancun Mexico at the Zoetry Paraiso de la Bonita Riviera Maya.  I spent thee nights in this stunning all-inclusive resort surrounded by gorgeous 85 degree weather, palm trees swaying in the ocean breeze, and a friendly staff that catered to my every need.  And drinks.  Lots of drinks.

This rejuvenating experience got me thinking… what is it that inspires people from all over the world and all walks of life to come and spend ungodly amounts of money just to stay on half-mile strip of beachfront property for a given amount of time?  What is it that drives us to work overtime, to sock money away and plan years in advance to experience this fleeting paradise?

To level the playing field, let’s take out the incredible weather, breeze through the palm trees and the staff that waits on you hand and foot.  For this conversation, we will stick to the practical reasons we might not think of that makes staying at a high-end resort so spectacular, and see how these ideas can help our understanding of what a city should be, so that we may experience some of this awesomeness each and every day!

Walkability and Transit

I landed in Cancun last Thursday… just outside the terminal, I was picked up by a shuttle and whisked off to the resort.  While there I walked anywhere I needed to go.  EVERYTHING I could have wanted was easily accessible, and if it wasn’t, there was transit (albeit a shuttle) to get me there.

Julie and Eldred, my Bride and Groom last weekend, make their way along a walking path to their room at the Zoetry Paraiso de la Bonita Riviera Maya resort

The point is, the complete lack of any need for a car was so incredibly freeing.  Whether I was on foot or using transit to reach an offsite location, I never had to worry about traffic, directions or anything associated with automobile dependency.

Comfortable Density

People cringe when urbanists talk about “density.”  The eye-rolling misconception that high-density living means loud, dirty, privacy-lacking, impersonal, congested space is a falsehood steeped in unwarranted stigma.  When executed properly, high-density living can be beautiful, inviting, and even calming.  Such is the case with some of the most stunning and relaxing resorts, which pack hundreds of guests into extremely small areas.How can resorts accomplish this?  Simple.  No need for roads.  When we don’t have to worry about moving automobiles, we can focus on creating the elements of livable, walkable environments that reduce anxiety rather than creating it.  Roads and cars bring about noisy traffic, smelly fumes and dirty pavement… AND they take up a lot of space.  When automobiles are not necessary, this space can be dedicated to things that actually make us happy and comfortable residents.

Howdy Neighbor

One of the more underrated positives of resort vacationing is how social it can be.  Whether it be one of several on-site restaurants, a poolside bar, the spa, or the lounge chairs along the beach, resorts have a multitude of activity/relaxation “stations” that are designed to bring folks from all walks of life together and get them talking organically.  They may meet by accident and share stories about where they are from, or the menu item they just ate at one of the eateries.  They may choose to meet up again during their time at the resort, or just see the same people in passing, eliciting a friendly wave.
The intelligent design of resorts creates informal meeting places that encourage interaction and even friendship.  In fact, these carefully structured environments are so good at creating this kind of social spontaneity that we don’t even realize it’s happening.

Creating spaces in cities that draw people in (attractive multi-use greenspace, physical activity centers, art installations, etc.) doesn’t just create a fun, welcoming environment, it opens neighborhoods up to the greater potential for positive social interactions as well as the spontaneous sharing of thoughts and ideas.

Eat and Drink

Drawing on the paragraph above, my favorite part of resort vacations is the food and drink.  Is there anything better than relaxing with a good drink in a beautiful location?  How about a romantic dinner with highest quality cuisine and service?

A driving force in the rebirth of our downtowns is the “foodie” movement, as city dwellers and visitors flock to the latest dimly lit, exposed brick gourmet restaurant, or cleverly named food truck.  Like a resort, a variety of locations that promise well prepared cuisine and outstanding service can be the small motors move people into and through city neighborhoods.

Your City, Your Resort

Pull back a moment when you look at your city and try to imagine elements of a beautiful resort.  Maybe palm trees and beaches are a stretch for Utica or Binghamton, but try to picture how some of the elements that make up a beautiful, relaxing and fun resort might make your downtown experience more enjoyable.  Imagine an area that was so dense, but so beautiful because it was only accessible on foot.  Picture gorgeous spaces big and small where you might spontaneously meet or consciously see your neighbors.  Imagine a city that, with a little creative design, could make you feel like you’re on vacation a little bit each day.