Fort Lauderdale The Venice of America | An Origin Story by BPB | Big Picture Broward
Fort Lauderdale The Venice of America

How Did Fort Lauderdale Earn The Nickname, “The Venice of America?”

Upon our city seal the phrase, “The Venice of America” is engraved. The nickname is most certainly an homage to the 300 miles of canals that run through Greater Fort Lauderdale; 165 of which run directly through Fort Lauderdale.

Much like Venice, our intricate system of waterways has shaped lifestyle, culture, and enterprise. They have guided city expansion, promoted urban sprawl, and attracted millions of visitors each year.

In everything we read about Fort Lauderdale’s association to Venice, writers and historians most often attribute the connection solely to our canals. We believe there is more to it, though.

We are connecting the dots to uncover the various ways that Venice has influenced life in Fort Lauderdale. Yes, it is most certainly in part due to our waterways, but the ways in which we use our intricate aquatic system is strikingly similar.

Fort Lauderdale The Venice of America

A Brief History On The Founding Of Fort Lauderdale

Fort Lauderdale was founded by Frank Stranahan in 1893. Along with other settlers, he made his home along the New River. At this time, there were not the hundred of miles of manmade canals that we are familiar with today. But it could be said that life along the New River in the earliest days of settlement was the impetus to Fort Lauderdale’s aquatic expansion.

Stranahan established the first trading post, post office and ferry, all of which relied on this central waterway. He financed the construction of the first road from the New River to Miami and later became the president of the Fort Lauderdale State Bank.

Though our history is drastically different from the legendary city of Venice, our use of water in modality, infrastructure, communication, and city connectivity played a pivotal role in our future. Perhaps this is why we our cities share striking similarities today.

Life In Fort Lauderdale And Our Connection To Venice

Expansion

Both Venice’s and our intricate system of waterways played a significant role in the way our cities are built out.

Venice is essentially locked in. There is zero room for expansion. The entire city rests upon an interwoven series of islands that dot the head of the Adriatic Sea. These islands are connected by hundreds of bridges. Though this geography allowed their naval, military and trading influence to spread throughout the world, making them an epicenter of culture, wealth, and trade, it greatly restricted their ability to create new infrastructure.

Fort Lauderdale encountered similar barriers during building expansion. Once our city was built out, and the hundreds of miles of canals created, free land was scarce. Before building vertically, this inspired aquatic expansion. Our economy relied greatly upon our location along the Atlantic, much like Venice relied on the Adriatic. Our prioritization of aquatic enterprise, in turn, decided lifestyle preferences, making our Venice-like waterways even more integral to everyday life.

One striking difference today, however, is our ability to build vertically. Urban sprawl is at an all -time high and our city is answering this migration pattern with an incredible development boom that is ushering our city into a promising era. Whereas, Venice will remain locked and their expansion practically muted due to their status as a World Cultural Heritage Site.

Cultural Centers

During the early history of Venice, the city’s influence spread to Western Europe and the rest of the world, especially the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic World, via trade. What accompanied trade (accumulated through centuries of human interaction) was art and culture.

If all roads led to Rome, perhaps all waterways led back to Venice.

According to New World Encyclopedia, “During the 1700s, Venice had become perhaps the most elegant and refined city in Europe, greatly influencing art, architecture, and literature.” A map of the historical heart of Venice shows that many of their cultural centers line the water, signaling that their canal system was a magnet for these types of institutions.

This is the case in Fort Lauderdale as well. Though we are not responsible for influencing art and culture worldwide, we did take a playbook from Venice and situated our prized cultural centers along our most traveled waterways. Or perhaps our waterways inspired us to situate our most prized cultural centers along their banks…

At any rate, The Museum of Science and Discovery, the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Huizenga Pavilion, the Sun Sentinel, The Riverwalk, and Las Olas Blvd are other cultural institutions and avenues are all situated in close proximity, if not directly along, the New River. This is no coincidence.

Fort Lauderdale The Venice of America

Transportation

In Venice, there are two primary ways of travel: on foot or by boat. The design of the city makes automotive transportation practically impossible. Cars are only able to navigate the outskirts of the city.

In Fort Lauderdale, most residents travel by car. This is the case in all of South Florida. However, unlike other coastal cities, we use aquatic travel more like our European counterparts. For instance, we travel by boat for leisure, sport, business and more; even some of us use the water as our primary means of transportation.

We also use water taxis and gondolas. It doesn’t get much more Venice than that! 

Additionally, our waterways promote pedestrian travel just as they do in Venice. Pedestrian travel is uncommon in South Florida. Main points of interest are spread out, making walking largely impractical. However, in areas where canals consolidate culture and social amenities, such as Las Olas Boulevard, Las Olas Isles, and the Riverwalk, more people walk. And this is now becoming the case in our entire downtown sphere, all of which is largely bordered by canals!

Conclusion

Our city has more in common with Venice than most people think.

We aren’t purely “The Venice of America” because we have over 300 hundred miles of canals. We share similar lifestyle characteristics and we use our canals in very similar ways.

Fort Lauderdale’s global influence is growing, just as Venice’s influence did in the 1700s. Our canals are host to the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, which attracts visitors from around the world for an opulent week of indulgence. We are one of America’s tourist capitals, hosting millions of visitors annually and shuttling them to far-off countries from the Port of Everglades. We are becoming a chief culinary destination in South Florida with world-class seafood selections. And we are injecting art and culture into the fabric of our society at a rapid pace, partly due to the amount of people emigrating to our city.

At this rate, life in Fort Lauderdale may become more Venice-like than the canals themselves.