Longtime Fort Lauderdale resident Tim Smith said in the early 2000s, his middle-class neighborhood of Middle River Terrace had become beset with drugs and crime. “If people were walking around here, they were looking for drugs,” he said. “If they were running, they were running from cops.”

Fired up, he began a yearslong initiative to transform his neighborhood. Smith brought attention to one key corridor, where the city eventually narrowed and beautified streets and welcomed pedestrians and retail.

“Now, if you see someone walking down the street, it’s for the stores, and if they’re running, it’s for their health,” Smith said.

The process wasn’t quick or easy. First, Smith won a seat on the city commission, where he got the ball rolling to establish a Community Redevelopment Agency to benefit his area. The CRA, which didn’t get established until 2012, after Smith left office, and another neighborhood group, the Central City Alliance, focused on an unremarkable half-mile corridor along 13th Street in Fort Lauderdale that was not being used for much of anything except a cut-through for speeding commuters to dodge traffic on main thoroughfares.

With a $2.5M CRA grant, neighborhood leaders decided they would beautify the stretch, make it pedestrian-friendly and lure businesses. Perhaps most remarkably, even though retailers often want high-traffic locations, the planners decided that here, they would cut, rather than add, a road lane, making it a Complete Streets project. That decision has been crucial to attracting businesses, Smith said. Savvy investors took notice and began to snatch up real estate in the corridor, and “Johnny-come-latelys followed,” he said.

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