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Miami Herald - May. 18, 2004

FAU study: Regional planning vital to area

As South Florida continues to expand, evolve, and fill up with people, regional planning is more important than ever, a new Florida Atlantic University study found.

By Samuel P. Nitze

South Florida will become an increasingly difficult place to live unless leaders reach across county lines to plan for continuing growth, according to a study released Monday by Florida Atlantic University.

In its broad outlines, the report tells a familiar story: An exploding population -- increasing at an estimated 23 percent per decade over a seven-county area -- has severely strained the region's resources and infrastructure.

Affordable housing is scarce. Traffic is a nightmare. The poor and the wealthy are growing farther apart. The worst-rated schools continue to decline. The environment is at risk.

Echoing previous studies, the FAU report argues that if coordinated, regional planning doesn't take hold, the problems will only get worse.

''All 5.7 million people in South Florida should be concerned about this report,'' said James F. Murley, director of the Catanese Center for Urban & Environmental Solutions, which prepared the study. ``This is a wake-up call to leaders from Key West to Vero Beach.''

Murley was referring to a seven-county South Florida that stretches south to Monroe County and north to Indian River County. The expanded region reflects one of the study's key findings: Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties are intensely interconnected with neighboring areas.

The study noted signs that some regional cooperation is under way, pointing to the establishment of the Regional Transportation Authority, Regional Business Alliance, Tri-County Leadership Council and South Florida Consortium for Higher Education, among organizations.

But the cooperative spirit must spread further, the report said.


In Broward County, efforts at regional planning have at times bogged down in turf disputes among the 30 city governments and the county leadership.

During this year's legislative session, for example, the Broward League of Cities pushed for changes that would have given cities -- not the county -- more control over planning. City officials argued that county commissioners weren't listening to their concerns. In the end, city and county officials agreed to try to resolve their differences without legislation.

Divided into sections on place, environment and the economy, the FAU study provides a wide-ranging survey of statistics and trends -- many of them driven by population growth.

The urban corridor running through the region's three core counties -- Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach -- is now considered the sixth-most populous metropolitan area in the country, the report said.

Traffic and a lack of affordable housing were among the key concerns highlighted in the report.

The region is among the most congested in the country and commuting times have increased dramatically, the report said.

The delays cost the economy of the three core counties an estimated $2 billion to $3 billion per year.

South Florida is among the hardest places to find affordable housing: Miami-Dade was 61st of 67 counties and Broward was 55th. South Florida's median home price in 2002 was $193,400 -- 37 percent higher than the state average and 22 percent higher than the national average.


One potential solution to both problems lies in redevelopment of the urban core between U.S. 1 and Interstate 95, said Allan Wallis, an associate professor at the University of Colorado at Denver who contributed to the report.

With more people concentrated in smaller areas, trains and buses would be more effective, and higher density would allow for cheaper housing.

''All of these things are coupled together,'' Wallis said. ``The idea would be to have apartment and condo units mixed with commercial -- shopping and restaurants -- so people would have a pedestrian-oriented environment.''

Such urban renewal projects already are underway in some communities, including Hollywood and parts of Fort Lauderdale, and along the U.S. 441 corridor.

On the economic front, the report noted that job and wage growth have not kept up with population growth. And as the region's population becomes younger and more diverse, education will become increasingly important, it said.

There was plenty of good news sprinkled throughout each section of the report.

The number of college graduates living in South Florida increased by more than 175,000 from 1990 to 2000. The level of poisonous mercury in fish and birds in the Everglades has declined by more than 60 percent in the past decade or so.

The report also touted the pending arrival of the Scripps Research Institute, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Pew Institute for Ocean Science in various facilities across the region as a development that would bring jobs and ideas.

''There are real problems identified, but there are great opportunities if we do collaborate,'' Murley said. ``That is as strong a message for us as any.''

Herald staff writer Erika Bolstad contributed to this report.