The future of West Palm Beach rests in our ability to try new things and embrace new ways of thinking. That is exactly what we have done with Flagler Shore, a pilot project that temporarily closes two lanes of Flagler Drive to reclaim 63,000 square feet of road for the public benefit, providing more space for walking and biking, and events. Our goal? To take a small step forward, with minimal investment, in creating a quality open space along West Palm Beach’s most loved but underutilized destination.
Quality open spaces do more than improve health and well-being. They also contribute to increased property values. As more individuals move back into cities, there is increased demand — which West Palm Beach can’t afford to ignore — for better quality public spaces, including urban green spaces, where friends can meet up for coffee and good conversation, where our children and grandchildren can play, where families can make memories, where the public can gather together.
Contrary to what critics orchestrating a heavily funded, opposition campaign may want you to believe, Flagler Shore has been a success — even with some “bumps in the road” — and I firmly stand by it.
Flagler Shore has been successful in yielding valuable data about Flagler Drive, its safety, and how it’s used by pedestrians and motorists alike. We now know with absolute certainty that this road was overbuilt and that, today, there still is not enough vehicular traffic to justify four lanes of Flagler Drive.
Flagler Shore has been successful in starting the dialogue about our city’s public spaces, what they should look like, how they should be used, and whose voice — if any — should matter most in the creation of temporary or permanent public spaces.
The city received many favorable responses to Flagler Shore and — mixed with the good and the bad — constructive ideas about how we can be better, all of which we have taken into account and from which we have learned. We are appreciative of everyone who took the time to share with us your thoughts by writing, calling or attending any of the Flagler Shore neighborhood meetings, focus groups or think tanks. We wanted as much input from as many people as possible, and now we know that West Palm Beach demands a high-quality public space.
We must remember that Flagler Drive is public property, and so it must remain a space for all West Palm Beach residents and visitors. The city’s public policy will not be determined by any special interest group, as the views of those who are loudest do not always reflect the views of everyone.
As we have promised from the very beginning, Flagler Drive will reopen on March 1st, and, soon, city staff will present a final report detailing findings and recommendations. Once complete, we look forward to presenting the results to residents and, also, to our city commission.
We look forward to an ongoing dialogue on how to design quality public spaces for people.
JERI MUOIO, WEST PALM BEACH
Editor’s note: Jeri Muoio is mayor of West Palm Beach.