During the Neighborhood Leadership Academy (from here on out, it shall be known as NLA), they told us that at the end of the class, that we, as a group, would have to come up with a project and execute it. The city would provide us with a budget of five hundred dollars. In the past, most neighborhoods just did individual block parties, and clean-up events. We came up with Dinner with Topics.
The idea is to bring community leaders, city administrators and local vendors, to interact with member of all the neighborhoods that have participated in the NLA. For a bite to eat and discuss specific topics that matter to the entire city. A form of think thank, to better identify the ways that we, as neighbors can help with the full support from the city. We decided to invite all the past graduates of the NLA, because they are clearly committed to helping their communities and the city as a whole.
As a group, we identified a project manager, divided our selves into teams, with leaders so we could start identifying our objectives and individual action items. We are still working on it, so I don’t know or have all the details. But one of the first thing we had to do, was identify a specific topic. The entire group voted on it, and apparently Infrastructure Development won. Actually, it’s called impact of new developments.
Last week, my district Commissioner was having a Q&A about a development being planned a few neighborhoods over, Rio Vista. This is an affluent community almost waterfront, next to downtown Fort Lauderdale and to the famous Las Olas Boulevard.
The project is a few buildings, including a twenty-two floor residential building with commercial properties on the first floor, a pool, and a walkway to a public park. So all the neighbors were up in arms about the fact that there’s going to be a building next to their park. I’ve lived here for almost eight years, within three miles of that park and I have never heard of it. It’s a beautiful forrest like waterfront park. These neighbors don’t like change, they don’t want any new people, and they just don’t want to share their park. They were once a quiet little, rich, suburban neighborhood and now it’s being absorbed by a city. Nobody likes to share.
All of the neighborhoods recognized by the city have a Neighborhood Comprehensive Plan. A blue print, if you will, of what should be allowed and what shouldn’t, in order to preserve the integrity and the individuality of the neighborhood. We have one, but it’s thirty years old. It needs an update. Rio Vista’s plan states that there shouldn’t be any buildings over eight stories. I learned that day that while it’s awesome to have the comprehensive plans, they are not mandated law and they are mostly a guideline for commercial properties. As far as residential real estate, the city doesn’t have to follow the plan at all. As long as the planing department and code give the developers all the permits they need, there is little neighborhood associations can do about it. But in most cases the developers will try to find a compromise. Rich people don’t like compromises. They’ve never been told no. Also, Rio Vista doesn’t have an active association, as far as I can tell.
So the Commissioner had to host a Q & A, with the developers, and the planning department, at city hall, just so this neighborhood could have an association meeting to complain. Even after all of them got up and recited, over and over again, their neighborhood plan eight story limit, traffic concerns, sharing the park with too many people, noise pollution, party control, drunken behavior (this is South Florida! You old fools invented drunken behavior!), guess what? The project is still happening. The buildings are getting built, with an average rent of $3000.
Broward County is full. There is no more room to build on it. But here’s the thing, not every inch is built on. When you look at a map of Broward County Land Use Plan, you can see, that a lot of the land is well underdeveloped residential areas. These are places were one house may sit on an acre. Huge properties, but they are west. The few places where there is a high population concentration is by the costal lines. The burgundy areas on the map. They are hard to find, so look closely.
Another detail to know is that the Fort Lauderdale-Pompano metro area is on the top twenty fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country, along with three other metropolitan areas in Florida, also on the top twenty. Florida is not getting smaller. The millennial generation has outgrown the baby boomer generation, since 2016, and they want to live where they work. And of course developers want to develop by the water, close to downtown and Las Olas Blvd.
Fort Lauderdale isn’t overdeveloped. Not by a long shot. I live two mile from downtown and my neighborhood is rated at “low residential”. Based on my experience, the overwhelming majority of people that have a problem with infrastructure development are wealthy residents that have been living in the same place for decades and they really resent change. They don’t want their views covered with buildings, they don’t want more traffic or longer lines, they don’t want young people moving in. Residents of marginalized neighborhoods have no problem with development because it makes their communities better. The Commissioners and the planning department are not going to stop approving the development of these projects. They create living wage jobs, attract new business, increases a stable labor force (because the aging community is retiring and someone has to take their place) and our downtown is hip and happening! We went to a food demonstration yesterday at our new Vegan Supermarket! That is hipster as hell!
So when I found out the topic for our Dinner with Topics event is Infrastructure Development, it felt like somebody punched me in the stomach and nocked the air out me.
What would be the purpose of putting the city commissioners, the mayoral office, and vendors in a room full of city residents to discuss infrastructure development? What do these people believe they will be gaining? Do they think the Mayor is going to get up and say
“You guys are right! The only people that should be allowed in the fancy waterfront neighborhoods should be the rich and the super rich!” Everyone in attendance will jump to their feet with a deafening roar! Then a commissioner will get up clapping and add
“Let’s not forget the whites and white adjacent!”
And the crowd will get even louder cheering:
“Hip Hip! Hurray! Hip Hip! Hurray!”
The City of Fort Lauderdale wants to develop the city. The vendors invited to the event want to develop the city. Progress will make development, for all intents and purposes, unstoppable. Putting a bunch of people in a room to question the decisions that our elected officials have no real choice but to make, isn’t going to help anybody. Having Infrastructure Development as our topic jeopardizes the city’s participation, and pretty much guarantees that they wont attend a second event. The restaurants and vendors that are sponsoring the event, want to be in a growing city, and some of us residents are very happy with the developments.
This topic belongs as a discussion in individual neighborhood associations, at best. And it’s a loosing argument.
For the record, the other options for topics where:
- Food Deserts and Swamp, I wrote about here.
- The fast growing homelessness population, Vice Mayor Sorensen has been camping out at the tent city by the downtown library
- The lack of voting in local elections, less than sixteen percent of the eligible voting population voted. Most people have no real knowledge of how much power our local elected officials have over our day to day lives. Most people don’t know that you can request your ballot online and mail it in.
- The lack of reliable local transportation, The last mile, as is call. The City could subside car services during low bus schedules and rush hours.
With all of these actual workable, and perhaps in the future solvable, problems, the fact that Infrastructure Development won it’s short sided and self destructive.