Beyond Spring Break
From collegiate party destination to upscale residential and tourist mecca, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has proved adept at reinventing itself.
By Lake Douglas
For many, Fort Lauderdale will forever be a beautiful beach, site of spring break bacchanals and kitschy tourist attractions that followed the city's self-promotion, beginning in the early 1950s, as a haven for collegiate sun worshippers. There appeared to be no turning back after a surprise crowd of some 50,000 young people hit the beach in 1961 following the release of the comedy/drama Where the Boys Are, filmed there the year before.
The city's fame spread from one generation to the next, and according to Susan Gillis's Fort Lauderdale: The Venice of America (see Resources), its spring break popularity surfed to a then-record attendance of 350,000 in 1985. But since that era, the city has taken steps to erase the excesses wrought upon its economy, landscape, and image by developing year-round, family-oriented attractions geared toward well-heeled visitors from around the world. To wit, community leaders, encouraged by an Urban Land Institute study, decided to take advantage of the downtown New River and the city's beautiful beachfront to create a new civic identity. Civic improvements encouraged private-sector development of mixed uses, and in 1986, Fort Lauderdale voters approved a $44 million bond issue to revitalize both the downtown area and the beachfront.
The ensuing explosion of growth, as Paul Kissinger, ASLA, of Fort Lauderdale-based EDSA, notes, has community leaders and residents asking tough questions about public transportation, civic amenities, and infrastructure and about how much growth is too much. Local landscape architects have taken lead roles in giving physical form to the community's current direction, and they can claim credit for its success. It appears, also, that theirs are active voices in conversations about the future.
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