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Renowned architect says Cape’s attributes hidden

By Staff | Feb 7, 2009

When is paradise not paradise?
When it looks exactly the same for 110 square miles.
Since Cape Coral’s inception in the 1950s, the city has been a pre-platted, cookie-cutter designed ode to suburban uniformity.
One of the main problems that has plagued city leaders, planners, and developers has been creating a thriving urban area in a city that was developed in fits and starts with no collective idea of how to grow.
Cape Coral Community Redevelopment Agency Board members turned this week to Bernard Zyscovich, a renowned architect and urban planner whose firm is based in Miami, to tour Cape Coral and diagnose the city’s problems.
“Your city is like the poster child for sameness,” Zyscovich told CRA board members during a meeting Friday.
Zyscovich, whose firm designed redevelopment plans for Miami Beach, West Palm Beach, and is currently developing Jacksonville’s comprehensive plan, toured Cape Coral Thursday, focusing on the CRA area. Pushing his concept of new urbanism, Zyscovich stressed the need to take a city’s existing character and design new growth that is interwoven into its fabric and foundations.
The irony for Cape Coral, however, is that there is no existing character that distinguishes one area of the city from another.
The paradigm for Jack and Leonard Rosen, the founders of Cape Coral, where retirees can cozy up to a canal and snag their slice of suburbia, never evolved into a more cosmopolitan, urban plan where the city’s soul could grow.
“(The Rosen brothers) basically set the stage for what was going to happen for the next 50 years,” Zyscovich said.
Despite the city’s inherent challenges and troubles, Zyscovich held out hope Cape Coral could make the switch from haphazard development to what he called a “collective vision.”
“Only half of it is built. So what is the other half going to look like? What do you want your city to be?” he said.
Mayor Jim Burch was pleased Zyscovich was able to pinpoint the factors holding the Cape back.
“He’s in our city for a very short period of time and he already understands the problems here,” Burch said.
CRA Board member Scott Hertz applauded Zyscovich’s presentation, but was interested if there were any practical solutions to the obstacles blocking the kind of real urbanism he promotes in the Cape.
“We need to grow into being more self-sustaining. I don’t think we want to be what we were planned to be,” Hertz said.
Zyscovich pointed to fixing the city’s convoluted, confusing building codes that often result in buildings Hertz called “getting what we asked for but not what we wanted,” as an answer.
“It’s better to have a bigger vision and then have a litmus test — does it conform to the vision or not,” Zyscovich said.