A ULI National Advisory Services Panel provided recommendations and strategies for the development of quality parks and open spaces in Downtown Fort Lauderdale in October, 2019.
The Urban Land Institute (ULI) has been engaged by the Fort Lauderdale Downtown Development Authority (DDA) to engage a National Advisory Services Panel to provide recommendations on how to enhance parks and open space in the City’s urban core, and to develop a new vision for Downtown’s most centralized park, Huizenga Plaza, located on the iconic Riverwalk and Las Olas Boulevard. The panel visited Fort Lauderdale October 13th – 18th, 2019.
During the week, the panel toured parks sites and pertinent areas within Downtown Fort Lauderdale, and interview a variety of stakeholders in order to develop a set of strategic recommendations that were presented at the conclusion of the panel’s visit on October 18th at 9:00am at the Porter Riverview Ballroom at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.
The Advisory Services Panel is being conducted in conjunction with the 10-Minute Walk Campaign, a national movement focused on improving access to parks and green spaces by striving to ensure that residents of urban neighborhoods throughout America have access to a high-quality park within a ten-minute walk from their homes. The 10-Minute Walk Campaign, which has been endorsed by over 230 mayors, is made possible by a joint partnership between the Urban Land Institute, The Trust for Public Land, and the National Recreation and Park Association.
Panel focus areas:
How to develop a new vision for Huizenga Plaza, including new uses, programming design and operational management, along with identifying funding mechanisms and a recommended implementation strategy to support this vision;
What criteria is necessary for the acquisition and development of new park space downtown, along with a strategic decision-making process;
Identifying outreach strategies and partnerships to help gain strong public support for changes and improvements to existing park space; and
How the public and private sector can work together to explain the benefits for property owners and developers to participate in a public parks program.
Key recommendations that the panel touched on during their final presentation include:
- Hiring a Chief Public Realm Officer to manage the park system in downtown with a more unified approach.
- Create a decision-making board for the $200 million bond for parks that voters approved in March 2019.
- Plan for three feet of sea-level rise when designing new parks, and updating existing parks that already flood.
- Relocate the Broward County Jail
- Redefine how, when, and where to build new development based on 2060 flood plain projections
- Create a Riverwalk Resilience District
- When building the new Huizenga Plaza near Las Olas Boulevard, keep storm water management, and things like permeable pavement in mind.
- Upgrade Broward Boulevard to be able to accommodate more density
- Focus on growing the downtown core of the city south of the New River, towards the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
With limited physical space, Fort Lauderdale will continue to densify. The panel saw this as an opportunity to redefine the downtown area while maintaining Fort Lauderdale’s character, using growth to prioritize corresponding investments in building resilience, implementing climate adaptation measures, and creating mixed-use places—all of which high-quality parks can include. After taking tours, evaluating the market context, and holding interviews with over 100 stakeholders, the panelists made the following recommendations:
• Acquire or dedicate new public land to augment downtown Fort Lauderdale’s public realm.
• Showcase new and remodeled parks with climate-adaptive components along the Riverwalk and at Huizenga Plaza and Esplanade Park.
• Begin a more robust pedestrian and bike network.
• Hire a new chief public realm officer to coordinate public space and lead the engagement process for allocating park bond funds.
• Identify resources and partnerships to supplement the bond act for open space approved in 2019.
• Implement a public/private partnership to manage and fully activate a unified vision for downtown Fort Lauderdale’s public realm.
For new parks and improvements to existing ones to be successful, the city must prioritize connectivity by strengthening the downtown network of parks, connecting the network to planned trails, transit, and other destinations, and improving multimodal capabilities. Urban designers can also incorporate resilient features that mitigate coastal flooding, manage stormwater, and facilitate cooling in each of the three sites, Riverwalk East, Huizenga Plaza, and the Esplanade.
All of this requires a shared vision, and the panelists recommend creating a consensus on a citywide parks vision as the foundation of improved governance structures and processes. Suggested principles to inform this vision include the following:
• Activating a connected network of public and private spaces;
• Considering public health concerns and outcomes;
• Using innovative and integrated solutions to build resilience;
• Creating a 10 Minute Walk city; and
• Providing equitable, engaging spaces for Fort Lauderdale’s community.
The city can also hire a chief public realm officer, prioritize the bond projects and oversight, develop a nongovernmental entity that can support parks, treat the Riverwalk and adjacent parks as one management space, and reconfigure the Parks, Recreation and Beaches Advisory Board to better implement the shared vision.
Fort Lauderdale will continue its “journey to density,” as the panel report calls it, but the destination must be clear. Managing the impact of growth by creating high-quality parks and open spaces will not only keep Fort Lauderdale’s downtown livable but also return economic, health, and social dividends. Rallying around this shared vision is the first step toward making the most of the parks bond and investing in a resilient and equitable future.