Community Policing In Wilton Manors – A Reason Why You Want To Live Here

We’re a small town, only about 12,800 people, give or take a few.  I’m not standing out on the highway with the sign welcoming you here with a sharpie and changing the numbers as people come and go every day.

We’re surrounded by much larger neighbors, Oakland Park to the North, Fort Lauderdale to the South.

I hear stories about one or the other thinking of merging with us or gobbling us up, respectively, from time to time.  Growth is fine, but living in a much larger city can be highly overrated.

We’re diverse.  A mix of different people and cultures here rub shouders, but we all do seem to get along.

That diversity is why I personally think of the place as a Quirky Little Island.  Sometimes the quirks show themselves in some amusing and wonderful ways.

One day we were coming back from a rather excellent meal at an Italian restaurant that specializes in hand prepared ingredients and the kind of food I remember Mom bringing home from South Philly when she went to visit Grandmom.

Coming onto Wilton Drive from the South, we noticed that there was a sign announcing a lane closure.  The first thought was “I hope they get the two lane initiative started – there’s been political gridlock on this too long”.  Then I said it out loud.  Getting unanimous agreement from everyone in the car, some louder than others, saying that it’s overdue that we narrow The Drive to two traffic lanes and increase the parking to support the central business district, we spotted the blockage.

Ok, this was nothing “usual”.  I’m fairly well informed on the goings on here, but this particular street closure was nothing I knew about.  One lane, completely blocked off for the “meat” of Wilton Drive is unusual.  They were overzealous in protecting whoever was supposed to be using the lane, you couldn’t turn into the neighborhood streets “off the Drive” because they blocked even the intersections.

Nobody was using the lane.  It was still early, dinner hour, and it had the air of people yet to come.

Driving the length of the Drive, we found the end of the blockage, near the Rumors Bar and Grill, and scratching our heads, we found our way to the house.

Asking around “online” didn’t help, nobody had heard.

Had it been a festival, the Wilton Manors Development Alliance might have been asked to do an email blast about it, but they got silence as well.

Pulling into our driveway, we went in, full from the meal and the excitement and settled into our easy chairs for a diet of old sitcoms and pre-recorded television on the DVR.  Forgetting about the blockage on the Drive, we rolled out the evening like a warm blanket of domesticity.

Reaching the end of the night, we decided to grab our furry sidekick, Rack the McNab Superdog, and went for our final walk.

We had gotten to the end of our block and looked toward the Drive and there was a police cruiser, sitting in the intersection with lights flashing.  Even a couple blocks away, it was bright enough to dazzle, and the dog didn’t care for it.  He’s fearful and it didn’t surprise me.

Instead of subjecting Rack to the excitement, Kevin went up to the Drive and stuck his oar in the water to see what happened while I walked a block off the Drive on the usual route.  Whatever was going on had the benefit of giving us less traffic, and that is always welcome in a town with few sidewalks.

When Kevin caught up with us, I heard the story.

There was a Pet Costume party that ended at Rumors Bar.  Of All Things, right?  This would have been fun to visit since Rack would have loved the chance to socialize with all the dogs.

That wasn’t the whole of it.  See, this is Wilton Manors, not New York or Los Angeles where you are hearing horror stories of militarized police forces.  We’re lucky enough to have a police chief, Chief O’Connell on the Wilton Manors Police Department who understands that in order to have a truly safe city, the community must be involved.  To involve the community, the officers must engage the community and make contact in a supportive way in order to enhance life here in the city.

I would have expected a grumbly or growly encounter with the Fort Lauderdale PD had they been involved, in fact the story I tell is a bit of a stereotype where once there was a FLPD Cruiser that charged through Wilton Drive in the middle of a street closure and festival lights and sirens blazing.  Everyone cleared out.  We happened to be in the right place to see where they were going.  Dunkin Donuts.  Yes, Fort Lauderdale PD officers saw fit to interrupt a street festival to get donuts. 

In Wilton Manors, the opposite effect happened.  The officers were enjoying the show.  When Kevin asked what was going on, the two female officers immediately told that it was a Pet Parade, and that it was a wonderful thing.  The only thing that they wanted to do was to go see the judging of the costumes, which they couldn’t do from their posts.  The conversation went on about how beautiful the pets were and how creative some of the costumes were, and that it was a wonderful thing that happened here.  They also said you just couldn’t do that sort of thing in some of the other towns around. 

Nice to be in a quirky place that isn’t “uptight”, right?

I’ve been stopped from time to time by officers in Wilton Manors while out and about.  Even at my first walk of the day, as much as two hours before sunrise, I’ve had conversations with officers about things – always light and pleasant.  Always it was in the spirit of engaging the public, being friendly, and offering some bit of news or trivia about how things are going on here in the town.

I would say that while this place has its detractors, they’re all welcome to stay where they are.  It’s nice to live in a city where much more goes right than goes wrong, and the worst thing that I have heard about was a dog’s costume wardrobe malfunction. 

It’s a bear to keep those costumes clean, isn’t it?

Wilton Drive, October 15, 2014, at 6:24AM

The inherent strangeness of the act of being somewhere when nobody else is around can be a feeling thick enough that you may cut it with a knife at times.

We’re finding ourselves being able to go to malls that were rendered empty and dead as a result of the Republican Induced Great Recession of this decade, and you feel yourself in the footsteps of people who were there before you.  You are able to walk and hear echos of times gone by, lives lived, and the joy of celebrated events.

This is most definitely not a dead mall.   This is a thriving shopping district.  It simply is waiting for its daily awakening.  People are out and about and caring for their properties, starting their work days, and opening shops for their daily business.

I have the pleasure of this scene almost every morning.  Getting up well before dawn, my faithful sidekick Rack, my McNab Dog, by my side, I am able to choose my route.  Many mornings, I choose this particular route.  I am able to walk through Wilton Drive, a place of what shall be instead of what was.  A hopeful place where people come from all over the world to visit, enjoy our sights, and partake in our enjoyment.

Those who have lived here for any length of time have heard the stories of how you could fire a cannon down Wilton Drive at one point and never hit a soul.  Now to do that would be almost impossible or at least highly improbable.  You would have to get up well before dawn to even consider a chance of it.  In this case, I wasn’t the only person out there as there were others on this same block just out of view.  Even in the pre-dawn, there are people out enjoying the sights – although most of us are tethered to our own canine companions.

Now that things are getting better in the economy, it is a place of hope.  It is a place where it is almost completely occupied and business is thriving.  It is also home to many.  People go about living their lives, visiting neighbors, telling tales, and seeing the sights having chosen this place out of many to be.

It is waiting for the next step, perhaps a redesign of the business district is in order.  This would make this more a friendly place for those of us who do indeed live here, and care for its presence.  Time shall tell whether we of this quirky little island paradise have the strength and vision to make those decisions.

But for now, it is home.

Smartphone, Stupid Driver

Yet another dog walk.  Getting out, seeing the city in the cool morning air, you get to see things that others don’t necessarily see.

My dog is old, moves very slowly.  About 1 mile in an hour at this point.  So I have a lot of time to think, a lot of time to observe.

This particular morning, cool, crisp, and clear, I was walking along Wilton Drive.  Wilton Drive should be called Wilton Highway because it is four lanes with a turn lane in the middle, bracketed by a parking lane.   Illogical configuration for a “Downtown Shopping Street”, it lends itself more for people who are trying to get through here instead of to here. 

The morning rush hour coincided with my morning dog walk this day.  I was up a little late, so I got to see the Drive become the Raceway.

There was a gap in traffic, and here came this car, an older Toyota Camry.  Typically when I see one of those here, I expect a bad driver and this time I was unfortunately correct.

Coming around the curve past City Hall and the Shoppes, she was driving a bit too fast for conditions.  I didn’t have a stop watch but I think I’d win a bet that she was speeding.  The speed wasn’t really a problem, for that particular moment there was nobody either direction on the half of the Drive that I could see.

Lettie was sniffing a pole, and I was absentmindedly watching this green car come flying up the Drive.  The driver was doing a bad job of keeping the car piloted within the stripes of the lane, and I was wondering if I wasn’t going to have to call the police because of a future accident.  Had it been late in the evening I would have thought DUI. 

The “I” that was the influence in this case was obvious when she weaved out of her lane and looked up to her steering wheel to correct her direction.   She was a distracted driver.  She had her smartphone out and was most likely texting someone.

Idiot.  

Leave the phone in your pocket.  Your right to stay informed and inform others does not mean that you have the right to put the rest of the public at risk.

She sped past me while she went back to her important business of texting when she rolled through the stale-yellow of the stop light at NE 9th Avenue and onward toward Five Points.

I’m glad I was on the sidewalk.

Wilton Manors Passes The Spaghetti Sauce Test

I have a test I apply to a neighborhood.

If you can’t prepare dinner without getting into your car, then it fails the test of livability.

Broadly stated, it’s the idea that you should be able to get the minimum services in where you live within a mile of the house.  If you take the “I’ll Walk A Mile” as being the limit that you’d want to walk in order to make dinner, then Wilton Manors almost completely meets that test.

There are some small areas in the West End of town that you would have to go further than a mile to obtain groceries, and there may be other pockets here and there, but easily it is more than 80 or 90 percent of the city that is within that mile limit.

What brought this to mind is that I watched Kevin make Spaghetti Sauce this weekend.  When we make it, it’s from scratch.  You need two kinds of tomatoes, oregano, basil, spices and a lot of time.  May as well make up a lot of the stuff since the recipe is excellent, so we can the resulting sauce.

All of the ingredients are within a walkable 1/2 mile from my house.  There is no reason to get in the car for that sort of thing other than the occasional weather front or laziness.  Since the crime rate here is Roughly Average for cities in the United States, I don’t have to worry about having tomatoes stolen by some rogue tomato thief.

The worst thing I have to worry about is traffic.  Walking along Wilton Drive is bad enough, it is currently a raceway and there’s a big discussion as to whether to narrow the Drive.  The vast number of residents are in favor of it, the businesses on Wilton Drive are largely in favor of it, and the benefits are fairly obvious.  Increased parking will pay for itself within about 2 years as well as lowered speeds on Wilton Drive mean that it’s a greatly more liveable city.  The hope is that it will happen soon and that the sidewalks that are there will be widened since it can be a minefield to walk around the outdoor cafe’s that are crammed in between palm trees and light poles.

What brought this to mind is that I am lucky to live in an exception in the Sunbelt.  Most areas are largely sprawl.  Unmanageable by foot since there are rarely enough sidewalks and the distances are too great to get what you need even if you have a personal shopping cart to wheel your purchases home.

When I chose to live in an area, this sort of urban or newurbanist lifestyle was one of the first things I looked for.  There are always some drawbacks, but living near shops have always given me a huge benefit as a result. 

After all these years of living like this, being able to simply walk out of the door and off to the shops when we forgot the basil or need dessert is something I don’t want to lose.

I am not alone in appreciating this sort of New Urbanist lifestyle.  The property values here last year appreciated where most of the county were either “flat” or declined in a down market.  The inventory of homes for sale in Wilton Manors is so tight that prices are starting to sound more “normal” after years of major losses.

Of course each little area has its own character, this one is one I fell into.  There are other areas that have the same amenities in them, and each of those areas are more popular than those that are lacking them.

I guess that is really what they mean by the old Real Estate Maxim of “Location, Location, Location”.  Luckily, we have our Location in the sun.

If You Can’t Parallel Park By Age 30…

If You Can’t Parallel Park by Age 30

I get it, some folks are coming from small towns where they just don’t have the chance to enjoy the pinnacle of driving experience.

No, I’m not referring to NASCAR or Formula 1 racing.
No, not alcohol fueled funny cars at the drag strip.

This is much more basic.

You see, here in South Florida, we have people from all over the world wash on to our shores and try to take root here.  Some come from Northern climes where Salt and Sand means Icy Winter Driving.  Others from a tropical island where the best road they have are pitted with holes and may end at a sheer cliff face with a drop off.

Things are not quite that bad here.  We get our rains, sometimes literally at the flip of a light switch.  For the most part, at some point it will be sunny and warm, with a slight chance of a few rain drops.

Roads are paved smooth in the Urban Areas and those are the only areas that you will be visiting unless you are on a tour on the back of a boat. 

It’s not that tough to get around here, roads run in right angles, all four compass points.

So come and visit.

That must be what the car load of four grey haired grandfatherly looking men must have been thinking.  It will be easy to pilot their large Cadillac Sedan to my little island and find some gentle entertainment at the bar that caters to Older Gentlemen, typically.

They turned off of Wilton Drive onto NE 21st Drive to search for parking. 

Pulling into the neighborhood, they missed the turn for the valet parking and panicked.

Jamming the breaks on, they immediately began to perform a three point turn.

Slowly.

I had seen them come around the corner from about 200 feet away.  Mrs Dog was happily sniffing a Palm Tree, I was chattering to Kevin, and we nudged her forward.

One of us had said to the other those faithful words:  “I think he missed his turn”.

The “scary dark neighborhood” had the confused old grey haired man pull to a stop and he had begun to back traffic up to The Drive. 

He begun to pull toward the parking space on the wrong side of the street so slowly that one of the cars behind him had decided that there was someone who should be riding a bus, a short yellow one, instead of a large pearl colored Cadillac.  That second car weaved around the confused gent, up onto the verge of the road, over the grass, into the parking lot for The Towers, and around the scene.  He sped off into his future and out of our lives.

We were now 100 feet away.

The Cadillac was now perpendicular to the flow of traffic. 

Nearing the car, it was almost as if we could hear the passengers say “Wait for them to pass”.  We went in front of their bumper saying “Sorry, Pal, We’ve got the right of way”.  Dog leading, we got to the side of the building as the Cadillac FINALLY made the three point turn.

I guess he must have thought that it was too much to ask for him to allow the pedestrians to have the right of way.  He pulled ahead of us three, flung the doors open wide enough to block our egress, then apologized as they all got out of the car in a “Chinese Fire Drill”.

He grabbed his door, closed it enough to allow us to squeeze by and we got past this train wreck of a visitor’s comedy as the youngest driver in the car got into the driver’s seat. 

That was when I heard myself say “If you can’t parallel park your own car by age 30, turn in your license”.

All four doors slammed shut in unison, and the new driver begun to clumsily try to park that beast of a vehicle in the last parking space before The Drive.

All in all, a great argument for narrowing Wilton Drive and making it easier for bad drivers to get out of their car and park.

Why we need the Two Lane Initiative to Proceed in Wilton Manors

My opinions, and my opinions only here. Then again this is a blog so I guess it should be expected.

With that disclaimer aside, the Two Lane Initiative is progressing.   What it is is a plan to have the City of Wilton Manors take back ownership of Wilton Drive from the State.  The State has said outright that it does not need nor want to keep control of Wilton Drive.  The Plan gave the City a blueprint to move forward with via four stages to basically revitalize the Drive, which is currently a four lane raceway, and re-create the Central Business District as a New Urbanist oasis in the Car Crazy South Florida.  It would be done by Striping the Drive, and three levels of improvements over the years.  None of this can progress without the City taking control of the Drive.

Yes, I have simplified it greatly.   Those of us who live here know the details, we know the story.

Where we are now is that The Plan has been accepted to the point where the City has created a taskforce of volunteers from the Business and Residential Community here to decide how to progress.  They have been given a year to continue, although that seems a bit generous and obviously it would be best if they finished earlier than that.   The meetings are open to the public, subject to public record, and those interested are encouraged to attend to get their feelings out and hopefully effect change here for the better and the long term good.

So why has this come to mind?

South Florida has a peculiar car culture.  It has clashed with Wilton Manors’ desire to have a pedestrian friendly central business district a number of times with a fatal outcome.  People have died crossing Wilton Drive both legally and illegally.  People have died merely standing on the sidewalk along Wilton Drive.

That car culture is a situation where there the traffic is continually getting more aggressive.  More people moving here find that they’ve got to keep up and end up driving illegal speeds on roads not designed to hold the traffic in order to get from point A to point B.  Never mind that they could have left ten minutes earlier and drove the speed limit, this frenetic rush seems to be the way of the world here.   It’s not a rural area, it is a suburban if not urban area based on density.  While this isn’t Manhattan or Chicago, South Florida is more like Dallas or Southern California – ineffective and insufficient mass transit, bad decisions on road placement and property density.

Another way the car culture here of aggressive driving shows itself is the way Stop Signs seem to be Optional.  In my corner of Wilton Manors, full stops are the exception, and many people simply don’t even bother to slow down in order to go through an intersection.

I could make a rather nice income simply by writing tickets at any of the stop signs in the Central Area Neighborhood.  Forget the South Philly Glide, these folks are speeding up since driving is a contact sport.

Another problem with the car culture here that directly effects us is that in general, South Floridians drive way too fast.  While Stop Signs are merely optional, Speed Limit Signs are ignored.   Forget the Ten Plus Rule – where if you’re going past that you can expect a ticket, but less than 10 over the speed limit “they’ll give you slack”.  It seems that in most of the area here it can be Fifteen or Twenty Plus.  The only place I have seen people driving legally is where the speed limit signs are accompanied by a notice saying “Speed Limits are Strictly Enforced”.

When you see Fort Lauderdale Police Cruisers flying down Wilton Drive at 645AM well over the speed limit, you expect that they’re in pursuit.  The last time I noticed, In Pursuit was not to get to the Dunkin Donuts at Five Points – I’ve seen them do this at least twice and once through the middle of a street festival. 

That sign won’t stop the neighboring police from a carboload, but it may slow down the locals from doing 50 down the 30mph posted Wilton Drive.

Anyone who doubts that a stricter enforcement of the existing laws need only to get their dog out for a walk around 630 on a workday and watch people flying to work.   If that does not prove to you that it is needed, I suggest you speak to the families of those who died on the drive like the chicken crossing the road, merely trying to get across to the other side.

Nobody should die crossing the road, especially on the crosswalks, but in this culture the driver has to realize that they are not those with the highest priority on the roads – it is the pedestrian.

The temporary solution would be for someone to go out at 2AM with some quick drying paint, mark the crosswalks, and post signs everywhere stating that tickets will be given out at 31mph.

A better solution would be to proceed with Phase 1 of the Two Lane Initiative, narrow the drive to one lane each way, stripe cross walks and parking spaces the entire length of the drive, and drop the speed limit yet again.  Perhaps 20MPH would work.  At least they’d be going 30MPH and you might be able to get to cross the drive – Safely and Alive.

There are a few noisy Nay Sayers here in the City who don’t want the Drive Narrowed.  They have their own reasons, but empirically it looks like they are the vastly outnumbered minority.   If the Nay Sayers win, People Will Die.   If the Nay Sayers lose, we all will win with a greatly improved quality of life.

First Time Bartender at the Island City Art Walk

Last night, Wilton Manors held a party.

It wasn’t strictly a “Wilton Manors Party” it was more like a bunch of parties strung together all at once, all along the Drive.  This is the basis for the Island City Art Walk.  It’s not an official event held under one official banner. 

Each individual store that decides to participate has artists with their works on display at their store to show off the art.  Some shops are always hosting artists, others drop in and out as time allows. 

It’s a great opportunity to meet your neighbors and wander through some shops that normally you would not be able to go to.

Ok so that’s basically the gist of how I see things as a resident and sometimes participant.

What happened with me was a bit different, at least as far as my own experience shows.  I’m not a bartender, I have never played one on TV.  I have tried to get a friend up to Wilton Manors so he could get to see it and those plans fell apart early last week so we went to the Wilton Manors Main Street offices to “help out”.

Kevin delivered some cheese, chips and salsa from GFS Marketplace, another member delivered some wine and ice, and we set things out for the coming throng.  We were ready.

As time went on, Kevin, Krishan and I were playing host to a steady stream of people.  I was lucky enough to have a conversation with Vice Mayor Tom Green and a number of others as I was standing behind the bar and as time went on, we got our first lull in the traffic.   Krishan excused himself as things were quite under control for a bit of time out on the town. 

As parties go, they always have a lifespan.  Start out slow, build to a peak, then fade out slowly until the last one is kicked off the couch or told that since they crashed there all night it is their responsibility to make breakfast for everyone.

Make mine a sausage and cheese omelette, please.

Just as the party begun to build, a full 15 minutes into it, Kevin’s phone rang.  He ran out to take a “quick call” and I was pouring wine and serving cheese.  I’m looking back at it and have to say it was “different in a good way”.  I was able to basically host a party on my own introducing people to the artist, and telling them where we are on the Two Lane Initiative for Wilton Drive as far as I knew. 

That quick call was 45 minutes long, so I was on my own for a while.  On the other hand, it was a chance to visit with some friends in the neighborhood that I only partly knew and get caught up.  Funny how time will stretch and compress when you’re having fun. 

The salsa was a hit, GFS had some good stuff, and the leftovers will go into the salsa chicken that is today’s dinner.  I think we’re going to have that chicken on top of chips with a layer of cheese chunks.   Funny how versatile “snack food” can be.  The recipe is simple – add to a crockpot 8 frozen chicken breasts and enough salsa to coat and then press cook.  Shred when done with two forks.   We used chicken from GFS that we picked up last weekend at the Fort Lauderdale store so this meal is all from them.

Considering what I experienced, I would say that the people who came in are expecting some changes in the city.  There was heavy interest in what the Two Lane Initiative was all about and what it’s status was.  Basically, we have applied for a grant, and we are waiting to see if the grant application is going to be approved.   In the meantime, the City has a committee made of community members who meet to formulate plans to proceed.  Many questions also were being asked about the businesses that were closing on the drive in this difficult economic downturn.

We are basically waiting to see where we’re going, and the people who I spoke with were very happy to hear that it hasn’t died.

Once Kevin’s 45 minute call was over, Krishan immediately appeared and I was off duty.  I got to enjoy the party by greeting guests from a chair while helping them find the artist and answering still more questions about what went on with the Art Walk and with the Two Lane Initiative and important things like where is the nearest ATM.

Both artists who exhibited their works at Wilton Manors Main Street were well received and were both saying that they’d like to come back.  I would say that the Exhibits as well as the Art Walk was a success.

The experience was a fun one, I did enjoy playing bartender but I’ll have to remember next time – softer shoes!