Boca Raton’s 2020 Vision: Economic Development Through Art, Culture, and Public Space – Part 2

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Boca’s 2020 Vision Part 2: Waterfront Revitalization and the Case for Public Space

A central feature of the 2020 vision is the utilization of our parks and waterfront spaces. Across the U.S. and the globe, waterfronts have been redeveloped using a mixed-use model typically dependent on leisure activities, exclusive housing, office development, and retail (1). The majority of the academic literature on this topic has focused on large cities that use historic ports as focal points for their redevelopment projects. Although Boca might not have a historic legacy to capitalize on, we can analogously utilize the allure of our waterfront parks, beaches, weather, and the broader environment; geography remains important but in a different way. That caveat aside, we can learn from the successes and failures of other localities. For example, when analyzing the redevelopment of King Street in Charleston, SC (a city with a population relatively close to our own) Litvin (2005) found that despite the objective success of the project, some merchants did not feel they had equal input or receive equal benefits, suggesting perceptions of equity matter greatly to business owners (2). In a review of larger waterfront redevelopment projects in New York, London, Boston, and Toronto, Gordon (1996:285) argues that the most successful urban design practices focus on the quality of public space:

“The urban waterfront is often the few places in the city where you can take a long, uninterrupted walk. These characteristics create a sense of place, which is almost therapeutic in a congested urban area. These unique amenities make compelling opportunities to establish parks and walkways, which redevelopment agencies ignore at their peril” (3).

The Wildflower and Silver Palm Park sites in Boca are central to the 2020 Vision and Boca’s general push to improve all its waterfront parks (4). The arguments surrounding both sites are as complex as they are plentiful, but what everyone seems to agree on – residents, city officials, and developers alike – is that these spaces need to be utilized productively. Parks can offer a multitude of benefits, but their success or failure does not exist in a vacuum. Put another way, as Jane Jacobs (1961:98) cautioned long ago, a park is a “creature of its surroundings and of the way its surroundings generate mutual support from diverse uses, or fail to generate such support” (5). If this redevelopment is to be successful, we must figure out how to make the area attractive to a diversity of uses and individuals – the proverbial “live-work-play” ideal. If the area is only utilized on the weekends, for example, or is only attractive to the elderly at the total expense of young people (or vice versa) the project could easily become a money sink as some fear. We need to consider, for example, how the area could be a place to eat lunch during the day and a place to enjoy live entertainment at night. As reviewed in more detail in part three of this series, and to repeat the central point again, attracting diversity is key to making the 2020 Vision a success.

In addition to the importance of utilizing our parks and waterfront space, a broader argument for the importance of public space and public safety is worth outlining. As radical criminologist Jeff Ferrell argues, public space is actually crucial to the fabric of democracy because it forces us to interact with individuals and ideas that we may not be accustomed to, enriching the social and cultural milieu of the city and its residents (6). Public space can help residents become more familiar with one another, which is not just a matter of rhetoric, but has very real empirical implications. For example, when residents share a mutual sense of trust and solidarity they are more likely to intervene (i.e., self-police) when problems arise in their community – a concept known as “collective efficacy” (7). Simply put, if residents begin to see each other more as neighbors and less as alienated, anonymous faces hidden behind their tinted car windows or their insulated gated communities, we can build stronger social networks and produce social consequences such as an increased sense of community and a decrease in disorder. Ensuring the area is used throughout the day (especially at night), in conjunction with planning elements such as well-lit streets, can help us meet these goals. Thus, in addition to using our local environment in a way that both promotes economic development and diversity, the 2020 Vision has potential to influence the social dynamic of the community in pro-social ways.

In part three of this series, I will discuss the most promising (albeit challenging) part of realizing the 2020 Vision, which is using a diverse, resident driven coalition to ensure equitable project outcomes that offer something for all of Boca’s residents and neighbors.

(1) Kostopoulou, Stella. 2013. “On the Revitalized Waterfront: Creative Milieu for Creative Tourism.” Sustainability 5(11): 4578-4593.

(2) Litvin, Stephen. 2005. “Streetscape Improvement in an Historic Tourist City: A Second Visit to King Street, Charleston, South Carolina.” Tourism Management 26(3): 421-429.

(3) Gordon, David. 1996. “Planning, Design, and Managing Change in Urban Waterfront Redevelopment.” The Town Planning Review 67(3): 261-290.

(4) Chokey, Aric. 2017. “Boca Brainstorms How to Improve 14 Parks as Part of Waterfront Plan.” Sun Sentinel http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/palm-beach/boca-raton/fl-pn-boca-waterfront-park-ideas-20170712-story.html

(5) Jacobs, Jane. 1961. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York, NY: Random House.

(6) Ferrell, Jeff. 2001. Tearing Down the Streets: Adventures in Urban Anarchy. New York, NY: Palgrave.

(7) Sampson, Robert. 2012. “The Theory of Collective Efficacy.” Pp. 149-178 in Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

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Eric Sevell was born, raised, and currently resides in Boca Raton. He is currently finishing his PhDs in Sociology and Criminal Justice from Indiana University (IU). Eric has published on topics ranging from political attitudes to community and crime, and has taught Criminology and Deviant Behavior classes in person and online as an Associate Instructor for IU. He has a commitment to social justice and is interested in seeing Boca become a more equitable and inclusive place. In addition to his own engagement with local politics here, he is also a member of the 2020 Vision, a Boca Raton based non-profit working to develop the Wildflower and Silver Palm Parks alongside the city.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Eric, Thank you for these well constructed articles. The city has a tremendous opportunity to provide something wonderful and unique to and for Boca. Thank you for your part in ‘moving the rock forward on that path’

  2. Brilliant writing Eric; thank you for contributing to 2020 Vision and for being our newest Young Professional Visionary!

  3. I live quite close to the Wildflower Park. To my dismay I was appalled to see such an unfriendly looking park that has caused so much commotion. It’s nothing more than a parking lot with some palm trees, a pavement that is all patched up, not even repaved to give it a clean look. What ever studies have been done to come to the decision to make this property a park, sadly it looks like a haven for derelics, nothing more, not safe looking in any way, and to think, according to the comments made in the article, I doubt very much that people from around the community will patronize the park. I hope this is just the beginning in revitalizing the area because as of now, it is a very undesirable place to go for any reason.

  4. Eric, you are a breath of fresh air to boca. Your father has served this community with his outstanding service as a volunteer and you are picking up the pace of community service. In your above document you talk of “live, work, and Play” as a good environment for our city. Than you talk about a community where the elderly and young can use public space day and night. Words like “self police and Collective efficacy” is what happens . Can you comment on how above applies to a “city within a city” as in Midtown proposal to put 2500 units in a 50 acre site which will not have parks . Do you see unintended consequences because of this congestion which would or could overflow to neighboring communities. At IU that they discuss the issues in St Louis, Chicago, etc for concentrating housing in small spaces. If so could you comment on boca watch what you have learned. We need your input and thanks for being involved.

    • Thank you all for the very kind and undeserved comments! Jack, I think these are important questions and I’ll try not to go too far down the rabbit hole because each one deserves a lot of attention. First, I believe one recent stipulation placed on the Midtown Project was that no one can start to build until a comprehensive master plan is in place. (Make sure to fact check me on that.) This will hopefully give the city some more control over where things are placed, and I would hope it would allow us to stipulate, or at least encourage, some of these developers to take considerations such as green space seriously. Personally, I’d like to know how we can make this more like the 2020 Vision in regard to the success it has had so far garnering resident input. Second, hypothetically, concentrating lots of housing and residents into small spaces has the potential to produce a host of issues. BUT, and this is a big *but*, when you account for Boca’s disproportionately educated and wealthy population, its infrastructure, rates of employment, etc. the kinds of problems you see in major cities like those you mentioned disappear. Many of the issues faced by places like Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, and other major (formerly industrial) cities of the Northeast and Midwest U.S. are largely the product of legacies of housing discrimination, economic restructuring, and failures of public housing administration that are incomparable to Boca. I’m confident we won’t see the streets succumb to gang violence anytime soon. But I do think we need to carefully consider how we create an area that encourages residents and others to treat the area like their home rather than a hotel. Accomplishing this is much more easily said than done, but I think by taking into consideration, for example, how we can encourage interaction among different people using the area for different reasons, we can go a long way toward accomplishing the type of solidarity suggested by concepts like “collective efficacy.”

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