Boca Raton: Just Another Commoditized City?

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The tireless volunteers on our Community Appearance Board have maintained Boca Raton’s brand for decades even though a seat on this board can be a thankless position.

Residents owe all CAB members, past and present, a huge debt of gratitude for holding developers accountable for maintaining our brand.

Despite these efforts there are troubling signs that our uniqueness is being irreparably damaged and our city is at risk of being ‘commoditized’.

History has shown that once established, tampering with a well-established brand can have disastrous effects.

In April of 1985 the Coca-Cola Company introduced New Coke; it marked the first formula change in 99 years for one of America’s most iconic products. Public reaction was immediate and hostile; the company reintroduced the original formula only a few months later.

A city’s brand is based on three key attributes; image, uniqueness and authenticity. Simply stated, a brand is a mark of identity. Our brand is Mizner and while Coca-Cola was able to revert back to its original brand, a city cannot.

The term ‘Mizner’ is an architectural design style made famous by Addison Mizner who, along with contemporaries such as Frank Lloyd Wright, left their mark on cities throughout the United States.
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Today, many cities have ‘city branding’ on their agenda. If a city is fortunate enough to have a signature architectural icon, like Addison Mizner, they are uniquely positioned to differentiate themselves.

According to Boca’s governing Ordinance 4035, new development in our downtown must contain the influence of Mizner’s iconic architecture. It should be identifiable to the layman and not up for esoteric interpretation.

Unfortunately, our identity is quickly disappearing due to questionable interpretation of ‘what is’ and ‘what is not’ the Mizner style as is evident in the designs for downtown projects already approved and those pending approval.

Spokespeople for some current projects have gone to exhaustive lengths to have their non-conforming projects pushed forward.

They have successfully lobbied board members to the point of total confusion with self-serving elucidations of Mizneresque designs. The result – our unique identity is quickly disappearing.

One need only to Google “Boca Raton ordinance 4035” and scroll to page thirty-seven.

The code is very clear about the required architectural style and gives examples of buildings that comply along with photographs of desired details.

The well-being and satisfaction of citizens and visitors are strongly influenced by the image of a city or place; the adherence to our iconic architectural style is not up for interpretation. It does not belong to law makers trying to satisfy a developer’s budget.

Boca Raton’s Mizner brand is part of our heritage if we lose it we become just another commoditized city.

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Katie's family moved to Boca Raton in 1970 where she later attended Palm Beach Community College and FAU. Katie is the Founder of HaitianArt.com, a Boca Raton company which began in 1989 as a small art studio. Works by Haiti’s artists soon became part of a revolving exhibit at City Hall as well as the Boca Raton Library and Community Center. The gallery later moved to Delray Beach and broadened its base to include works by Eastern Cuban artists and Florida Highwaymen. Today her focus is on art consulting and internet art sales. She is on the board of the A.C.T.I.O.N. Foundation, a non-profit organization whose goal is to foster harmony between the Caribbean community and the United States, and currently serves as the Vice President of the Riviera Civic Association.

1 COMMENT

  1. Is the code clear? The following are three examples:

    “All development is encouraged to use the fundamental concepts which are found in the architecture of Addison Mizner as a principal design influence ”

    “Development designers should employ creative re-interpretations of the Mizner tradition as opposed to literal copy of Mizner’s work”

    “The principles set out above and the following guidelines are not intended to limit quality architecture, but to establish a meaningful guide for quality development and redevelopment in Downtown Boca Raton.”

    It’s interesting to note that not until after the Phillip Johnson designed Wells Fargo Plaza at the corner of Camino Real and Federal Highway in 2000 was CAB and P&Z part of the review of downtown projects. The CRA executive director was responsible for the enforcement of 4035 architectural design elements at that time. There was an apparent lack of appreciation by some residents of Mr. Johnson’s creative re-interpretations of the Mizner tradition prompted the city to require CAB and P&Z reviews, in the best interest of the City. The City also added a third review by an independent architectural firm to check design compliance and we still have some citizens that satified with designs.

    Perhaps 4035 should be amended to eliminate terms such as “encourage” , “creative interpretations and “guidelines”.

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