Big cities have traffic. That’s no “stop the presses” statement, but in light of what’s happening today in Fort Lauderdale, maybe it needs to be said. You don’t go to a place like Atlanta, St. Louis or Denver expecting to drive through the middle of the city at 45mph to get wherever you’re going in 10 minutes or less.
Fort Lauderdale, however, used to be that way. If you remember that time, you might think wistfully of it when you’re stuck sitting in increasingly congested downtown traffic.
The flipside, of course, is that back in that time you probably weren’t going downtown in the first place unless you worked there. Fort Lauderdale wasn’t a large city with central districts where people eat, drink, see plays or visit art galleries. We had Las Olas and … well, we had Las Olas. Other than that, this was a beach town, and beach towns tend to have pretty good traffic as long as you avoid the beach during the season. There’s also plenty they don’t have.
This month, we look at some of the issues Fort Lauderdale faces as our city continues to grow. And make no mistake: Our city continues to grow.
According to census data, South Florida recently surpassed 6 million people for the first time. It is now the eighth most populous region in the country – and as the cranes around central Fort Lauderdale can attest, it continues to grow. Fort Lauderdale and its neighbors are taking in more people.
That is, let’s remind ourselves, a generally positive trend. It’s good to live in a place that people want to move to. It means we have a healthy, diversifying economy and amenities that people want – in addition to the sort of weather that attracts folks from Buffalo or Des Moines.
But it also means changes and challenges. We accommodate growth largely by increased density in downtown and nearby central areas. In other words, we build up. This is already an expensive city with a housing shortage; failure to build as we continue to grow risks turning us into some pretty-to-look-at, impossible-to-live-in Monaco.
But yeah, more development means more congestion. In many ways, that’s a new reality to be adjusted to, not a problem to be solved. Welcome to the city.
That’s not to say there’s no debate to be had here. We shouldn’t stop growth, but we can manage it. In this issue, writer Christiana Lilly looks at some of the ways Fort Lauderdale is trying to transform as it grows – to be a city that grows smart as well as quick.
Smart growth happens in a number of ways. Part of it involves development diversity; all the new residential developments in the world won’t help if they only benefit people who can afford a high-end condo. Part of it involves creating walkable, amenity-filled urban neighborhoods. Part of it involves improved transportation infrastructure, including public transportation.
All of it involves understanding what Fort Lauderdale’s becoming. We as citizens can demand changes for the better, but we can’t expect everything to stay the same. Our old beach town still has a beautiful beach, but the town is gone.
Welcome to the city.