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.