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A Look East:  The Urban Face of Everglades Restoration by L. Benjamin Starrett
by L. Benjamin Starrett

Looking back a century ago, much of Southeast Florida's landscape was undeveloped. Natural barriers islands protected the mangroves and estuaries lining the Atlantic Coast.  Not far inland, and roughly parallel to the coast, ran a rocky coastal ridge-home to pine rockland and scrub habitats-transversed by glades providing natural and limited drainage of freshwater from the "river of grass" to support productive estuaries.  To the west of the ridge, the Everglades stretched endlessly toward the horizon.

As we head into the next millennium, Southeast Florida is different, and radically so.  The area has been diked, ditched, drained and plumbed to provide flood protection and supply water to over five million residents, millions more visitors, and extensive agriculture, mineral, and economic interests.  These alterations to the landscape have come at enormous cost to natural systems.  At the same time, much of this newly dry land has been filled with seemingly endless suburbs that, with some significant exceptions, are the poster child of sprawl-automobile dependent low density developments lacking place or community.

Urban Encroachment in Dade County
Urban encroachment onto farmland and wetlands in Dade County, Florida.
Photo courtesy of South Florida Water Management District.

But observers of South Florida have many reasons to be optimistic.  All across South Florida, local governments and civic leaders are taking steps to build more livable communities.  Beginning in the 1980s, the State of Florida established the Save Our Everglades campaign and enacted advanced growth management and environmental protection agendas.  Efforts picked up steam with the establishment of the Governor's Commission for a Sustainable South Florida in 1994.  The Governor's Commission, a blue-ribbon panel representative of all key interests, found that achieving sustainability of regional ecosystems depends on undertaking complementary changes to environmental, social and economic systems.  This idea has matured in South Florida into the widespread understanding that environmental restoration cannot occur over the long term without addressing the social and economic drivers-and the attendent political pressures-that have shaped the growth of the megalopolis that is modern Southeast Florida. 

In the area of environmental restoration, extraordinary efforts are underway to protect and restore the remaining portions of the historic everglades.  Strong leadership from the environmental community, the Clinton Administration, and Florida's congressional delegation and legislative and executive branches have been critical parts of the mix that has allowed these unprecedented efforts to move forward.  Interested readers can learn more about these efforts by visiting the related article in this issue of  Terrain.org, "A Recipe of Success for the River of Grass," and through the Websites of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force  and the South Florida Water Management District.

In the urban arena, equally vigorous efforts are underway to improve economic and social sustainability.  Although harder to track and manage, the innovation and energy is much richer for the extensive number of decision makers and political jurisdictions involved.  All across the region, in diverse communities like Ft. Pierce, Stuart, Lake Park, West Palm Beach, Delray Beach, Pompano Beach, Hollywood, Opa Locka, South Miami and more, locally driven initiatives are transforming the built environment to create better places and reduce development pressures on the everglades.  Providing a regional context to these numerous local efforts is an initative called Eastward Ho!

Eastward Ho! Map
Florida´s Eastward Ho! Corridor.
Graphic courtesy of South Florida Regional Planning Council.

Growing out of a recommendation of the Governor's Commission, the Eastward Ho! initiative seeks to revitalize and improve the quality of life in Southeast Florida's historic, urban areas in an effort to lessen development pressure and urban sprawl in sensitive lands in the west that are needed to restore the Everglades ecosystem and protect the region's future water supply.  The Eastward Ho! corridor, which lies on the historic coastal ridge, is roughly a 150-mile long corridor which encompasses the area between and around the CSX and Florida East Coast railroads.  It runs from Fort Pierce in St. Lucie County to Florida City in Miami-Dade County and includes the major downtowns of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach.  The target corridor also includes three international airports and four major deepwater seaports.  By revitalizing and improving the quality of life in this historic urban growth corridor for existing and future residents, supporters of Eastward Ho! hope to secure a sustainable future for the South Florida region. 

The Eastward Ho! initiative is working to reduce market disincentives to infill development and redevelopment, promote smart growth, and bring economic activity back to bypassed areas.  The initiative takes a holistic approach, recognizing that lasting change needs to come from many sources.  While numerous additional efforts are underway, the Eastward Ho! initiative is using four broad strategies to promote the revitalization of the corridor:  developing facilitating tools, enhancing regional learning and connections, undertaking demonstration projects, and involving the public.

Each of these strategies include partnership building to expand capacities, diversify and broaden support, and find mutually beneficial solutions across traditional organizational interests.  While the partners are too numerous to list comprehensively, work with partners is fundamental to the success of every Eastward Ho! effort.

Eastward Ho!  Revitalizing South Florida's Urban Core

Developing Facilitating Tools

  • Programs do not work, people work.  In keeping with this truism, two Eastward Ho! project facilitators were hired to assist local governments, citizens, and the private sector with all aspects of the implementation of projects that are consistent with the goals of Eastward Ho!  The importance of having staff focused full-time on moving a project forward can not be overemphasized.
  • Redevelopment initiatives have to be less about rhetoric and more about practical solutions.  If you expect construction to meet certain standards, builders need to have ready access to a compendium of desired single and multifamily home plans and mixed use building types.  To address this need, Eastward Ho! sponsored the recent publication of a book called Blueprints for a Better Future:  Building Plans for Southeast Florida's Cities, Towns, and Villages
  • Concerns about contamination can hinder the use of vacant, abandoned or underused urban properties.  To address this concern, the Eastward Ho! Brownfields Partnership-a coalition of federal, state, local, private, and non-profit agencies-was created to promote the revitalization of communities through the rehabilitation and reuse of brownfield areas.  Named a national showcase in 1998, the partnership has projects underway along the Miami River corridor and the Model City in Miami-Dade County.
  • Access to capital is a critical tool.  One early success story in the region id the Community Financing Consortium, Inc.  This consortium, created in Palm Beach County by Art Fleming, is demonstrating the financial viability of moderate-income single-family ownership housing in the urban corridor.  Projects that promote the goals of Eastward Ho! receive design and project facilitation support.

Mouth of Miami River
The mouth of the Miami River and downtown Miami, Florida.
Photo courtesy of South Florida Water Management District.

Enhancing Regional Learning and Connections

  • Developing a constituency supportive of smarter growth requires an understanding of the costs and benefits of existing and projected growth.  To gain this knowledge, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a primary Eastward Ho! partner, commissioned a recently completed study called Eastward Ho! Development Futures:  Paths to More Efficient Growth in Southeast Florida.  The final draft of this work, conducted by the Center for Urban Policy Research at Rutgers University, projects that the estimated cost of accommodating another 2.5 million people in Southeast Florida is more than $10.5 billion over the next 20 years.  If a modest proportion of this new development occurs inside the Eastward Ho! corridor instead of in western areas as projected, the costs would drop nearly $6.15 billion, primarily because of the more efficient use and provision of infrastructure and savings in housing costs.
  • At least in Florida, distressed inner city areas all too frequently lack essential water, sewer and stormwater facilities.  To form the basis for a state and federal funding strategy to address this critical shortfall, the South Florida Regional Planning Council was commissioned to conduct a regional capital facilities inventory and needs assessment.
  • Understanding impediments to infill development is a key to planning effective interventions.  To contribute to the learning needed, the Florida Atlantic University - Florida International University Joint Center for Environmental and Urban Problems was commissioned to study financial impediments and solutions to redevelopment.  Recommendations in this published report call primarily for a holistic and sustained approach to neighborhood revitalization to reduce perceptions of risk among the development and financial communities.
  • Another organization that has made a meaningful contribution to regional learning is the Center for Neighborhood Technology.  Based in Chicago, the Center, with funding from EPA, recently published the report Growth in South Florida:  Making Rapid Change Sustainable.  The report examines the major trends influencing sustainable development, hidden assets and smart growth tools, linkages between underutilized assets, building capacity in South Florida.  It also provides suggestions for next steps toward a Sustainable South Florida.

Marathon Key
Residential development along a Marathon Key waterway.
Photo courtesy of South Florida Water Management District.

Undertaking Demonstration Projects

  • Creating replicable and successful models is an important strategy for gaining private sector support.   To show the way, Eastward Ho! initiative has funded demonstration projects in West Palm Beach (Southern Boulevard Plaza), Fort Pierce (Waterfront Community Development Plan), Stuart (Downtown Redevelopment Plan), Dadeland (Creation of "Downtown Kendall" in Miami-Dade County), Downtown Miami (Downtown Moderate Income Homeownership Project), Pompano Beach (Economic Development Assembly), the City of Opa-Locka (Neighborhood Revitalization Plan) and the City of Hollywood (creation of Citywide Master Plan and implementing policies).  Taken together, these projects put into practice many key features of the guiding regional concepts of sustainable infill development and redevelopment.
  • Corridor projects demonstrate ways to link transportation and land use decisions to promote smart growth, reinforce transportation alternatives, and enhance regional accessibility and mobility.  In light of the importance of getting the transportation and land use connection right, demonstration projects are underway along U.S. Highway 1 in South Dade, NE 6th Avenue and 163rd Street in North Dade, and northern U.S. Highway 1 in Palm Beach County.   Encouraging more transit and pedestrian-friendly development is a top priority.
  • Continued engagement with local partners reinforces the fact that tremendous innovation exists at the local level.  To harness some of this innovation, an Eastward Ho! Competitive Grant Program will be initiated during 1999 to further local redevelopment efforts.

West Palm Beach Across the Intercoastal Waterway
Looking across the Intercoastal Waterway
to historic West Palm Beach, Florida.
Photo courtesy of South Florida Water Management District.

Involving the Public

  • Public participation is essential to every activity.  In addition to ongoing community stakeholder forums and presentations, Eastward Ho! is determined to make community planning charrettes part of demonstration projects whenever possible.  These five- to seven-day processes are very effective mechanisms for convening diverse stakeholders and developing a consensus vision for a desired future.  Past charrettes have been held in El Portal/Miami Shores, Stuart, Ft. Pierce, and West Palm Beach.  Future Eastward Ho! design charrettes are scheduled for the Miami-Dade communities of Overtown and North Miami Beach and in the City of Oakland Park in Broward County.
  • Regular communication is needed to keep partners informed.  Regular Eastward Ho! newsletters are distributed and its Website (www.sfrpc.com/whatsnew/eho-jump.htm) gets active use.
  • Special efforts are needed to enhance the ability of target neighborhoods to participate in and influence discussions regarding their future.  To assist in the development of community leaders, with a special focus on minority recruitment and development, a Community Outreach Leadership Training (COLT) Program has been developed and is being implemented in partnership with the Florida Atlantic University's Center for Urban Redevelopment and Empowerment.

Upper Matecumbe Bay
An aerial shot of Upper Matecumbe Bay displays the often
unclear lines between land, water, and urban development.
Photo courtesy of South Florida Water Management District.

In conclusion, the holistic nature of Eastward Ho! and complementary local initiatives are just beginning to reach the scale appropriate to the web of complex changes needed to achieve sustainability among economic and social systems in South Florida.  Just like environmental restoration, however, urban restoration will require sustained commitment over many years.  For example, green infrastructure planning must be undertaken to enhance the use and health of natural systems and urban watersheds in the redevelopment and revitalization of urban neighborhoods.  The private sector-the principal source of development capital that will shape South Florida's future-must assume a much stronger role.  More work is needed on education, capacity building, changing the rules, and demonstrating success in local applications.

Once successful, these urban restoration strategies will help set the stage for lasting change.  Only this will provide the foundation and framework necessary for the most important long-term outcomes:  a prosperous, diverse and equitable society complemented by a restored, healthy and vital Everglades ecosystem.

Limestone Mining
Urban areas encroach on limestone
mining in northwest Dade County, Florida.
Photo courtesy of South Florida Water Management District.


Eastward Ho! is funded primarily by the State of Florida through the Department of Community Affairs, working in partnership with the South Florida and Treasure Coast Regional Planning Councils, which provide daily leadership and implementation activities.  L. Benjamin Starrett staffed the Urban Issues Committee of the Governor´s Commission that conceptualized the Eastward Ho! idea and was the State of Florida´s Eastward Ho! coordinator from its inception through March 1999.  He soon will be helping the Collins Center of Public Policy create a new non-profit organization in Southeast Florida that will encourage smart growth consistent with Eastward Ho!

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Eastward Ho! Initiative

South Florida Regional Planning Council

Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council

South Florida Water Management District

South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Project Article in Terrain.org


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