Prosperity the next 50 years

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What will South Florida look like in 2060?

That’s the question that the South Florida and Treasure Coast Regional Planning Councils are trying to answer in a joint project called Seven50 Southeast Florida Prosperity Plan.

The ambitious plan draft is now in a public comment phase open to the region’s residents’ views and ideas. The councils’ executive board met in Broward County last Friday, and your input is welcome.

The goal of the project is to come up with a regionally cooperative vision for the future that will affect residents and businesses in seven counties: Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Palm Beach, St. Lucie, Indian River and Martin. Well, that’s half the goal; the other is to make the vision a reality in the next 50 years.

What began as mostly a swampy frontier in 1900 has grown into the sixth-largest metro area in the United States. Stretched along 295 miles of the Atlantic Ocean, the region has never really stopped growing in population. Currently, 267 new residents arrive here daily, more than one-third of them foreign born.

How we developed tells a lot about the reason why this region needs a cooperative long-term vision and the leaders who can carry it forward.

Unlike many metropolitan areas, South Florida’s development didn’t spring from a single central city. We’re not bound, as a people, by a single urban identity like, say, New Yorkers or Chicagoans. We’re from all over the map originally, which means less inclination toward cohesion on any issue.

The region is also very linear with no central hub. Growth expanded from east to west, often haphazardly. There was little interconnection or interplay between one community and another, and very little cooperation between counties, much less the cities within them.

Only in the last 20 or so years have there been growing efforts to think and act like one, cohesive metropolitan area, especially on transportation issues like Tri-Rail and a regional plan to operate another commuter train along the FEC tracks that link coastal cities.

But the big question is: Because the region’s growth potential is very much limited east-west — by the Atlantic and the Everglades — how much more do we want to expand and how will that expansion occur?

With expansion — hopefully better planned and coordinated in the future — come increasing transportation challenges (I-95 can only be widened so much, after all), preserving the water supply and building and sustaining a strong region-wide economy.

And in South Florida there are also two unique challenges: protecting and restoring the Everglades (our water supply) and dealing with sea level rise as the climate continues to warm.

There are a lot of competing interests that block cohesion and continuity. Cities and counties still vy for companies to relocate within the region. While the leaders in coastal communities have begun to deal with the threat of a rising sea level as a dedicated group, there is seemingly little or no similar concern at the state level, or even among our congressional delegation. The Everglades restoration plan is inching forward, but lawsuits among various stakeholders still threaten to keep slowing things down.

Intrigued? Challenged? Curious?

Become part of the South Florida community that gets involved. It’s your future and that of your children — make it a better one.

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