The more I travel, the more I experience and analyze cities, the more apparent it becomes that there is no standard city. Each is different and moves in its own rhythm. Fort Lauderdale is a place I have visited before, always enjoyed, and before tried to discern how it is like and unlike Tampa (the place I perhaps know best).
Of course, city archetypes like New York and Chicago are well known and understood, and repeated elements that we see across the world, like the grid network of streets and blocks or the organic city center from which development slowly spreads out, are common. South Florida, including Miami (Dade County), Fort Lauderdale (Broward County), and West Palm Beach (Palm Beach County) is presently one single urban environment, so well blended and similar in look that it behaves more like one giant city-suburb than multiple defined spaces.
While the region started in individual parts and grew together, it has all happened in a span of time long after Tampa was first settled and developed.
Fort Lauderdale is a unique, though, among its neighbors, for a few reasons: it isn’t very big as a city, spatially or in population, though it is the central focal point of Broward County, Florida’s second most populous, and so it houses all of the government and cultural assets of the area. It is double the density of Tampa. For you non-planners, that means double the average number of people in a single square mile—Tampa is around 2,100 and Fort Lauderdale squeezes in 4,500. For reference, Miami has a density of about 12,000 and Manhattan’s is 72,000.
So while it may look similar to the rest of Florida, its activity level feels a bit livelier than Tampa and not quite as frenetic as Miami. Unlike Tampa, it has much of the exoticism that comes with the influx of money and spending from tourists and foreigners that we don’t see much of.
The city is often referred to as the yacht capital of the world and the Venice of America, because of its prominent boating and boat maintenance industries and its miles of navigable natural and man-made waterways, including the New River and Tarpon River.
But most importantly, it is a beach city with beautiful sand and sun. It is super gay. And, my mom’s best friend moved there last year. Since Jane has been gone (almost two years, which is hard to believe), I have grown closer to some of her friends, and Donna Chen was her closest pal up until the end.
She and her husband Mike, also a friend of my dad’s, have just moved to a new, spacious, airy townhouse south of Downtown—perfect for a weekend of relaxation and being “with family.”
Typically when I visit, I am with my friends and we party and drink. Spending the weekend with four people in their sixties is less party and more chill, but it was a welcome change. We toured the city in Mike’s black Lexus. He told us about the multiple billion-dollar projects breaking ground. He was hired into their Economic Development department, a new division in city government.
We watched movies in their family room. I played with Bailey, their diminutive orange kitty. All of the boat pictures are from our water taxi afternoon.
We had some nice meals too, and I started to imagine myself living in South Florida. Fort Lauderdale is more my speed, though Miami is really the center of the region, with excitement like the Design District, events like Art Basel, and a historical cachet that Broward County has never had.
Nevertheless, Fort Lauderdale has its own assets. People arrive there from all over, for many reasons, with sophistication and cosmopolitan attitudes in tow. $300 million yachts sit across from waterfront eateries like Coconuts and Shooters. The city is full of glass high-rises, urban townhomes, and laid back ’50s and ’60s ranches. Its foliage is lush and green, and meter-long iguanas lounge at will like the miniature lizards do in Tampa.
What’s more, and forgive me for going a bit off the reservation, but it feels just dangerous and sexy enough. Its skies are dramatic. Its homes are beautiful. It is all about the salt life, but then everyone cleans up and dines out at a bustling spot along Las Olas or the beach. Like Tampa, everyone is active and fit (and thus, attractive). It isn’t so pretentious or flashy as Miami, so there isn’t as much of a necessity to puff one’s chest, so to speak.
My favorite meal was brunch at O-B House on Himmarshee Street: healthy, hearty, and substantial. I ordered the Captain’s plate of grilled mahi, asparagus, and egg whites. So South Beach Diet, haha. I added a side of cheese grits as you can see, for balance.
See my Fort Lauderdale Spots map here for more details on what’s there. And below, more pictures.
Thanks to Donna and Mike for hosting us, and for the gorgeous bonsai ficus graduation gift. It was a soulful weekend of connection and love, and I am so grateful. I hope to be back there again soon!