Having a Vision for Future Generations
[A message to our city’s civic associations]
[Estimated Read Time: 10 Minutes, 30 Seconds]
[Estimated Read Time: 10 Minutes, 30 Seconds]
Suburban sprawl used to be the American dream. It went something like this… Buy a home in a subdivision and raise a family. Live in a neighborhood where everyone has a yard, a pool, and a fleet of automobiles. Live far away from work so as not to blend family life with career.
Back then, everyone wanted their own plot of land out west and they didn’t care at what cost to the environment. City planners needed to lay hundreds of miles of sewage lines and underground infrastructure to support this era of suburban sprawl. Thousands of people had to commute from west to east spanning the length of the county to get to work every day. Land availability became scarce and carbon emissions compounded. Broward County began to run out of land for large tract developments, pricing homes out of reach for the majority of people living here.
Already, suburbia has eaten up precious land at a rate of 2-4 homes per acre. Whereas, a high-rise can have as many as 150 homes per acre with just one lawn and one pool accommodating all residents. In suburbia, 150 homes would amount to 150 pools to fill, 150 lawns to water, and 150-300 vehicles on our roadways (1-2 per household).
Over time, it has become clear that our former living systems are no longer sustainable. The American dream has changed.
If you look to the future and think about our children, our community should understand the value in managing where people live. Politicians pandering to high-rise residents complaining about high-rise development is not in the best interest of our society as a whole.
As Fort Lauderdale continues to emerge as a more active and vibrant South Florida community, the pressure for urban planners to design suitable accommodations increases. The density of buildings, traffic, the scarcity of land, and the competitive spirit among developers are all factors that encourage city planners to push buildings higher.
It is common for developing cities, like Fort Lauderdale, to experience growing pains (especially regarding the perspective of some community members and perception of what development implies). But we should trust that as our landscape evolves, so will our means of implementing solutions to the challenges we face today.
We believe the concerns of ALL Fort Lauderdale residents should be present in local decision making, not just those who live in a high-rise in downtown and believe that progress should stop at their front door; that once they have their slice of paradise, enough is enough. That is why Big Picture Broward got its start.
We don’t believe that we can solve our city’s current infrastructure and mobility needs by halting progress in downtown. Rather, we envision a more prosperous city center and more interconnected county by allowing inevitable growth to happen in the correct places.
Urban migration will not slow down. It is estimated that approximately 20,000 new residents are moving to Broward County annually. According to a Downtown Fort Lauderdale Population Demographics by Point 2 Homes, 1.77% of people living downtown moved from abroad; 15.11% moved from the same country; 4.1% from the same state; and 2.62% from out of state.
Fort Lauderdale is becoming an epicenter for arts, culture, cuisine, nightlife, industry, and more. A thriving economy, such as ours, is bound to gain national and international attention. This surge in cultural and social amenities and new business opportunities means that more and more people (whether they live, visit or commute) will be utilizing downtown daily. We have to properly build out the core of our city to accommodate this influx. By doing so, our community will thrive.
Traffic is inevitable but it is not unsolvable. Nor is it debilitating, like other major cities in America. Additionally, with the success of the Penny Sales Tax, which will generate billions for traffic and mobility infrastructure over the next 30 years, our means of solving these issues will improve drastically.
When it comes to the major causes of traffic congestion, citizens who live, play and work in the same area are not the culprits. It is people who need to commute to go to work and access their favorite community amenities. Why? Because they are more inclined to use Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), like Uber and Lyft or drive alone. According to the Fort Lauderdale census reporter, the two primary means of transportation to work are driving alone (78%) and carpooling services (8%).
A newly published study in the journal of Science Advances shows that the major contributor to traffic congestion in San Fransisco (the 8th most congested city in the U.S.) is ride-sharing services. From 2010 to 2016, traffic congestion in San Fransisco increased by roughly 62%. Half of that increase was caused by Uber and Lyft.
Furthermore, a comprehensive review of dozens of studies, published by the Urban Land Institute, uncovered that since 1980, the number of miles Americans drive has grown three times faster than the population and almost twice as fast as vehicle registrations. The researchers conclude that one of the best ways to reduce carbon emission is to build compact places where people can accomplish more with less driving (Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat of the 21st Century: A Global Perspective).
If we keep downtown development (especially residential development) central to downtown for the duration of this building boom then we can limit the number of people navigating our roadways. More people will live in downtown, work in downtown, and socialize in downtown. They will, therefore, be more inclined to walk to their favorite coffee shop, ride a bike to NSU Art Museum, or scooter to the Brightline for their commute to Miami. The same rationale applies to visitors staying in a downtown hotel, like the Dal Mar.
However, if our downtown halts development, the population will continue to grow and investment will be inclined to develop in fringe areas, like the surrounding neighborhoods in Wilton Manor, Coral Ridge, Riverside, Rio Vista and so on. The residential paradigm will shift and citizens living in Fort Lauderdale and working/socializing in downtown will need to commute via automobile rather than a transportation alternative, thus congesting downtown.
In regards to urban planning, the comfort and safety wind speed criteria were established based on research findings dating from the 1970s and 1980s that empirically examined the mechanical effect of wind on people’s acceptable range of comfort and safety. They require that new buildings and additions to existing buildings should not cause ground-level wind currents to exceed on a year-round basis the comfort level of 11 mph equivalent wind speed in areas of pedestrian use and 7 mph in areas with public seating.
According to Sage Journals’ Environment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Science, “in 1985, San Francisco became one of the first cities in North America to adopt a downtown plan on ground-level wind currents, supplemented by planning codes. The intention has been to mitigate the adverse effects of wind on pedestrians by securing acceptable comfort in areas of public seating and walking (City and County of San Francisco, 1985). The plan focuses on the downtown area and four additional parts of the city, all associated with high density or development potential and substantial pedestrian activities.”
Furthermore, “A number of planners (Bosselmann, 1998; Gehl, 2010; Gehl and Svarre, 2013; Loukaitou-Sideris and Banerjee, 1993; Marcus and Francis, 1998; Punter, 1999) and building scientists and urban climatologists (Brown and DeKay, 2001; Donn, 2011) noted the significance of the plan in promoting more comfortable public spaces…”
This plan has since been adopted in other North America cities notable for high wind speeds, becoming a guide for urban planning nationwide.
Fort Lauderdale Wind Speed Ratio
The wind speed ratio in Fort Lauderdale does not even come close to other cities in North America. Typically, October is our windiest month, with just 5mph winds (World Weather & Climate Information). With an average annual wind speed of 3.9mph, it is unlikely that downtown development would cause wind speeds to rise above an uncomfortable level for pedestrians.
Therefore, concerns of wind tunnels in downtown Fort Lauderdale—especially without any empirical data suggesting they would rise above an uncomfortable level for pedestrians—should not encourage the downtown civic association to oppose high-rise developments.
Sustainability promotes compact urban design. It makes sense for city planners to build downtown Fort Lauderdale up. Tall buildings preserve land for more sustainable use, such as farming, renewable energy applications (solar power farms), recreational space and places of natural beauty. All of which are critical to our environment and quality of life.
Yes, tall buildings do require an abundance of energy for operations and utilities. The immediate strain on infrastructure can be a challenge for residents. However, that is only in the short term. Longterm, high-rise development will benefit our city greatly. It will be the taxes generated from these buildings that will help pay for many of the solutions.
It’s true, Fort Lauderdale has sewage needs. But these cracking pipes are 100 years in the making. Most of the breaks, if not all, were outside of the downtown core. Why? Because downtown’s infrastructure is newer. Last year, the city commission voted 4 to 1 in favor of borrowing $200 million to fix the worst parts of the failing water-sewer system: The New River, NE 25th Avenue, NE 38th Street and Las Olas, to name a few. Over the next five years, Fort Lauderdale should complete $460 million in utilities work rebuilding these pipes. It’s like replacing pipes in an old home. Don’t blame a newly renovated kitchen for the cracked pipes in an old bathroom.
If we all think progressively—think about what will benefit future generations—then high-rise development is essential to the longevity and prosperity of our city and quality of life. The consolidation of high-rises requires less linear feet of underground infrastructure which makes repairs and future replacements less costly and less messy.
According to Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat of the 21st Century: A Global Perspective, an article published by the University of Illinois School of Architecture, “By and large, vertically configured buildings facilitate more efficient infrastructure. Simply put, a 500-unit single-family subdivision requires many more roads, sidewalks, sewers, hydro lines, power and gas lines, light standards, fire hydrants, etc., than that of a tall building, which allows integrating these systems efficiently in a dense manner. Therefore, tall buildings can play an important role in creating sustainable cities.”
The simple rule of supply and demand dictates that if we stop building housing units, then due to lack of supply and ever-growing demand, prices will go up. Between 2002 to 2008 the Fort Lauderdale City Commission slowed growth in order to develop a downtown masterplan. While a nationwide boom was happening, Fort Lauderdale was in a stall and Miami was growing rapidly. Today Miami has significantly more affordable rents in their downtown, and Fort Lauderdale is one of the least affordable places for workers to live.
Based on the lack of available subsidy funds, and the demand for affordable housing, restricting development in the densest areas is counterproductive and yet the city commission, the chamber of commerce, and many business associations have made workforce housing and affordability a number one priority.
This may be the real culprit of the myriad of reasons why some argue to stop development. More than once, we have heard a downtown resident in an association meeting complain about other new buildings blocking their existing view. It astounds us when someone buys into the vibrancy of downtown, moves into a high rise building and then complains when the neighboring high rise blocks their original view. It is an absolutely selfish statement and is a reflection of people who have no true concern for smart-growth or future generations. Anyone who lives in a high rise should not be complaining about the development of high rises!
We should not expect our political leaders to be visionaries. But we should demand that they honestly look to the future and help navigate our planning processes based on facts and the best interests of all.
To move towards the future—to create a great city that truly benefits everyone—we must cultivate this era of downtown growth while we have such empowering momentum on our side.
This is The Big Picture.