Downtown Development Fort Lauderdale | Urban Planning | Broward | Big Picture Broward

How Fort Lauderdale’s biggest building boom is creating a vibrant, new era of downtown living in South Florida

[Why we should encourage downtown development]

Downtown Development Fort Lauderdale

At Big Picture Broward, we define the “big picture” as progress through thoughtful, innovative urban development. That means, there will always be a bigger picture (which is a good thing). 

Every urban landscape must evolve to meet the needs and lifestyles of the current (most active) generation. Our newest systems — for business, housing, culture & entertainment,  infrastructure, transportation, education, and so on — should be an adaptation of the technologies we use to connect, learn, travel and prosper.

That is how we enhance our quality of living.

This is what the City of Fort Lauderdale is currently doing.

This surge in downtown development did not spawn overnight. It has been planned for decades. Only now, are we beginning to see the big picture… and it’s very rewarding.

Inclusionary Zoning in Affordable Housing

Effective urban development starts with industry.

The most prominent businesses in a region will undoubtedly define the society, the workforce, the landscape, the culture, and the infrastructure.

Industry in Fort Lauderdale used to revolve around law offices, legal firms, banks and other rigid professional sectors. After Fort Lauderdale lagged behind the building boom that transformed Miami and West Palm Beach, that was the workforce that remained.

However (following the recession in 2008), once the economy restarted, there were new efforts to establish a new, exciting workforce in Fort Lauderdale derived from young working professionals enamored by urban living.

To attract this new target workforce, the City of Fort Lauderdale needed to transition industry. What came from that new focus were technology startups, hip bars and restaurants, ground-floor retail spaces, community-forward marketing agencies, and so on, all in a walkable distance from residences and core parts of the city.

The culture and atmosphere that these business brought to the area are awesome. On a Tuesday night only five years ago, Las Olas used to be a ghost town. Now it is full of life and activity as locals and tourists explore new restaurants along the strip from Louie Bossi’s to Yolo, bar & lounge.

Downtown Development Fort Lauderdale

Today, the City of Fort Lauderdale’s Economic & Community Investment Department describes our region with the progressive rhetoric they couldn’t have used only years ago: “Fort Lauderdale is now the heart of a robust, high-growth region. As the geographic center of the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), the City of Fort Lauderdale has everything a business needs to succeed:  a diversified and educated workforce; a large market with disposable income; easy access to national and international markets; world-class educational opportunities; business-friendly government; and an outstanding lifestyle.”

So, let’s talk about the workforce.

Downtown Development is good for our city because it is attracting the right people.

Downtown Development is proof that there is a vision for the future — a desire for progress. Public and private developers have reciprocated this vision with their investments. Similarly, go-go professionals, laid-back artists, innovative business owners, industry leaders (and disruptors, too) have reinforced this idea of progress by establishing their careers here.

Those are good signs.

This is not to say that Fort Lauderdale’s building boom is altering the existing culture, or even pushing natives out to make room for a new population. Far from it. One of the best aspects of the development we are seeing is that it most strongly caters to locals.

Downtown Development Fort Lauderdale

Our development boom is a response to the demand from Fort Lauderdale and Broward suburban dwellers to attain a walkable, pedestrian-friendly and interconnected urban space full of awesome, easily accessible amenities.

This notion of walkability has been a strong influence on commercial and housing development. For instance, a large portion of the recent development is for new residential spaces for rent. High-end, luxury apartments that were once indicative of Las Olas (a practically unattainable lifestyle to young professionals and millennials) have filtered into neighboring districts and dropped the price tag.

“Many [residential development projects], especially in Flagler Village, strive to offer good value, especially when compared to Miami’s soaring rents and cost of housing — and are aimed squarely and relatively affordable at millennials,” said Jenni Morejon, director of Fort Lauderdale’s Downtown Development Authority. “With the area’s median household income of $60,000, rents of around $2,000 hit a demographic sweet spot.”

Fort Lauderdale is quickly becoming one of the most convenient, most livable, and appealing urban neighborhoods in South Florida.

What’s even more exciting, is that all these new people are enriching our already vibrant culture.

Downtown Development Fort Lauderdale

Facilities like the Broward Center for Performing Arts and the Parker Playhouse initially situated Fort Lauderdale as an epicenter of arts & culture in South Florida. Those institutions attracted new educational opportunities and creative industries. They developed our culture in a very positive way.

Now, with the Brightline connecting Fort Lauderdale to Miami and West Palm Beach (where urban culture is also thriving, and only 30 minutes away) it is ever more important that we continue to cultivate arts & entertainment. Fort Lauderdale’s renaissance of urban development needs to be accompanied by inspiring culture. That only happens by giving new opportunities to an eager, innovative population and by attracting thought leaders from neighboring counties.

Our city is achieving this. We are answering the call to hungry artists, creatives and professionals with thoughtful downtown development that provides these people places to live, careers to prosper, and activities to share in.

Downtown Development Fort Lauderdale

So what happens when thoughtful urban planning attracts the right people… and a lot of them?

Smart downtown development in urban planning, that’s what.

Our idea of smart urban planning is something that instigates (and provides space for) future growth while upholding values established by locals and natives. Development has to mindful and considerate of the landscape, after all.

This is why connectivity and mobility are such important issues. Yes, waste management, sewage, and water are also important issues, but transportation remains at the forefront of conversation and legislation, like the proposed one-cent increase in the county’s sales tax to fund transportation projects.

With so many businesses coming to Fort Lauderdale in addition to a brand new workforce, it is crucial that we stitch together creative, professional, social and educational districts in a clever, evergreen way.

Mass Public Transportation in the heart of Downtown Fort Lauderdale

For instance, we need to connect our downtowns (Las Olas, Flagler Village, FAT Village, Mass District, Riverwalk, etc.) to our world famous beaches. Their close proximity is already a huge selling point for people and businesses coming to Broward County.

By connecting these spaces we will also be increasing the amount of “signature Fort Lauderdale” amenities our city offers while making it easier for locals to enjoy them.

It would be smart to develop our back beach the right way so we can further cater to this idea of county-wide interconnectivity.

Our city will gain even more value if we do so.

Unfortunately, this idea for smart growth is opposed by those who favor zero growth, as is the case of the City Commission in their discussion to label that entire undeveloped strip of back beach “historic.” Which will only disconnect Downtown Fort Lauderdale from Commercial Blvd. and the cool businesses over there.

But that is another conversation.

Let’s recap:

  • Urban development in Fort Lauderdale is good because by its very nature it creates new types of businesses, industries, and amenities.
  • These lifestyle enhancements play a role in convincing an affluent workforce, high-income tourism, and outgoing population to invest their time, money and influence in the area.
  • This shift results in new demands for infrastructure — smart systems that cater to and support these rising figures and lifestyles.