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Fort Lauderdale's Riverwalk: Where Greenspace Meets Community

By Zoe DeStories

If you want to get to know a city, find out where people take their children on the weekends. Ask where they might go with a date or what they might do if they had a quiet morning to spend. A city is defined by its public spaces, and at the heart of Fort Lauderdale is its Riverwalk.

Riverwalk Park is a lush, 2.5 mile linear public park along the banks of the New River. It was constructed by the city of Fort Lauderdale in 1986 to foster economic growth and to improve the appearance of the downtown district. Since then, over $1.5 billion in public and private investments has helped make the Riverwalk a hub for art, shopping, dining, and entertainment. The unique marriage of greenspace and culture draws residents and tourists alike.

Segway tours and jazz in the park

Eugenia Duncan Ellis is the president of Riverwalk Fort Lauderdale, the nonprofit organization responsible for the programming and promotion of the Park. She explains that the organization is "deeply engaged in finding and introducing amenities and programs that encourage public participation." Riverwalk Fort Lauderdale has helped to set up food and informational kiosks as well as multi-use exercise stations in the park. Last year, it helped bring in free water trolley service through the Riverwalk Water Trolley, which makes eight stops along the New River. Recently, the group launched Riverwalk Recreation, an initiative encompassing recreation offerings from kayak rentals to Segway tours to photography classes in the park.

Riverwalk Park also hosts many of Fort Lauderdale's most popular community events. Over 8,000 people show up in white tee shirts for the annual Color Run- an untimed 5k race in which runners are doused in colored cornstarch at each kilometer mark. The Riverwalk Burger Battle draws an array of gourmet burger joints and restaurants all vying for the Riverwalk Burger Battle Trophy as event-goers sample burgers and cocktails. And on every first Sunday of the month, Fort Lauderdalians gather on the grass to listen to free live jazz music at Riverwalk's Sunday Jazz Brunch, hosted by JM Lexus. The brunch, says Ellis, "draws a tremendous crowd to bring a blanket or chair, food and drinks, and meet a friend to listen to free music, read the paper, or just relax."

Beyond the gazebos

If you're looking to make a day of it, Las Olas Boulevard stretches along the park, bustling with restaurants, bars, bakeries, galleries, and shops. People fill the streets for the Las Olas Wine and Food Festival in May and the Las Olas Art Fair in October.

The Riverwalk is also home to a number of excellent museums and arts venues. Looking over the Esplanade, the Broward Center for the Performing Arts hosts music, theater, dance and comedy performances, with acts ranging from the Florida Grand Opera to Tango Buenos Aires. Next door, the Museum of Discovery Science features an IMAX theater, an Eco Discovery Center with live otters, and a state-of-the-art aviation exhibit. The historic Stranahan House and Museum of Art are also close by.

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