As South Florida grows, the way we look at local zoning needs to change. More and more people are choosing to pack it in up north and move to a peninsula that was built out for the drive-to-everything, 1950s lifestyle. If our cities meet the challenges of growth in a thoughtful way, our quality of life could be improved immensely. Take for example, Wilton Manors, and you’ll see what we mean. The draw of this little city is multifold. Encircled by and woven through with picturesque waterways, it is a mix of single-family neighborhoods, multifamily condominiums, townhouses and rental apartments. It is nothing if not diverse. Its spine of Wilton Drive is walkable to thousands of residents, making this an ideal little city. So what’s missing?
Over the years, Wilton Manors, built in the auto-centric ’50s and ’60s, has paid little attention, until recently, to its “spine”… a collection of commercial structures along Wilton Drive. This line-up of shops, restaurants, medical offices, law offices, real estate firms and nightclubs is the beating heart of the city. Nevertheless, it is still stuck with low-density, restricted zoning. While perfect for the 1950s when the
city had a population hovering around 5,000, it’s not so great for today.
One solution is to take a page from the “New Urbanism” playbook, a development approach that insists on a human scale, while bringing needed density to help businesses thrive. It creates a desirable neighborhood where pedestrians want to be and where the car can – more often than not – can stay in the garage. Adding more mixed-use structures with living units above and businesses below would have positive economic and quality-of-life impacts. If City Hall thinks creatively with say, bonus square footage for developers who add workforce-rate housing to their mix of market-rate rentals or condos, all the better. The era of telecommuting, and walking downstairs to the local sushi bar or ice cream shop has taken hold. Everything you need within a five minute walk. That’s what people want today. It’s time our built environment reflected this need.
As Wilton Manors is deciding soon whether or not to upzone Wilton Drive, the potential for mixed-use development of a proper density is – at last – on the table.
Acknowledging this, ISLAND, with the help of a few generous sponsors, has challenged five architectural teams to participate in a design charrette to explore what the spine of this diverse little city wants to be now. Reimagining The City | Wilton Drive will be a bold, thought-provoking idea generator presented in a special, 16-page section in our April issue. For a little more detail, and to see who our sponsors are, turn to page 44.
John T. O’Connor