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Have disabled tour guides in all of Broward’s 31 cities and watch miracles happen

WHO: Michael Madfis

CITY: Fort Lauderdale

QUOTE: “Have disabled tour guides in all of Broward’s 31 cities and watch miracles happen”

Michael Madfis (PH Courtesy: Anita Mitchell)
Michael Madfis

Peter Feldman Park:

“Every time I come here to start my tour I think of Peter Feldman. I knew Peter. He was a developer and in his mind’s eye he saw this area as a neighborhood of apartments and condos for people who worked downtown. See all the windows facing us? That’s why this park is not a crime magnet or a place for homeless people to sleep. There is even an official name for this, “crime prevention through community planning “


The tour begins:

“In many areas, sidewalks are too narrow for people to walk side by side. Pedestrian mobility has a fundamental impact on community cohesion and when you can get people out of their cars and onto the street, street-level retail businesses and the areas around it start to flourish. Older cities developed around walking and local shopping and have remained pedestrian friendly. Once people started driving everywhere, pedestrian traffic became less of a priority for newer areas. Flagler Village already has other walkable streets and its master plan calls for pedestrian priority streets. The flaw in that plan is that traffic congestion will increase and public transportation, though in the plans, is not in place. The reality is that people are not going to leave their cars until there is an option. Think about it, great cities have traffic problems and they also have good public transportation


Me:

“I have been an architect in Broward for the last 40 years and I tell the story of this area by how it was built. I have a passion for reaching out to the community by poking around historical archives of this area and sharing it with people on my tour. I’ve been a designer, project manager, urban farmer, activist for social justice, construction manager and now a storyteller. This culmination of my life experiences is how I inspire. Urban planning and infrastructure mean something to me. When it comes to tours of this area, I’m the guy! Some of my tours have one person on them, some have 20 people. Some are local people who want to learn more about where they live, others are tourists, some from as far away as Germany, who want to understand the area better. One guy told me that even though he has lived here most of his life, he now sees the City Hall a different way because of what he learned on the tour.“


How it started:

“Once Henry Flager’s train from the north stopped at what is now Progresso Drive just south Sunrise Boulevard, people started spending the winters here. These first snowbirds would pitch their tents on a nearby platform and eventually cottages were built to make their stay more comfortable. Eventually, people started to move here and set up little farms on their property to grow pineapple, citrus, papaya, avocado and mangoes. Included in their purchase, was Everglades swampland. Eventually, that swampland was drained and that land became Broward’s western suburbs. The return on that investment paid off well for those first families, many of whose descendents still live here.”


One of the first churches:

“The First Evangelical Lutheran Church is a 100-year old Romanesque style building that used to serve the seasonal community. At one time it was so highly revered that it was moved brick by brick stained glass window by window for eight blocks to its present location. Membership dwindled by 2016 and it closed as a place of worship. The building is now in the midst of a multi-million dollar renovation that will include a restaurant, bar and marketplace. It escaped the initial ideas to destroy it.“


United States District Federal Court:

“This courthouse was built in 1978 and created in a way where the terraces were an inviting place for people to sit and enjoy its cool concrete canopy and the southeast breezes. The open concrete columns were architect William Morgan’s way of having his design mimic his own life of tall trees, breezes and fishing. The cascading fountains helped mask the sound of traffic on E. Broward Boulevard. After the Oklahoma City bombing at a federal building in 1995 and then 9/11, security increased and visitors were shooed away. This led to the deterioration of the building with leaky roofs and a broken fountain. A new federal courthouse will be built just south of the Tarpon River, about a half mile from here but I hope this structure stays and is repurposed. My hope is that the building gets purchased as a non-profit trust and that services for the disabled and for incubator businesses are housed here.”


Flagler Village future:

“The bones have always been here to make this area a great urban neighborhood with a sense of real downtown living and a neighborhood feel. Soon, a 400-seat iPic theatre, retail shops and new restaurants will be breaking ground. A lot of land here was never developed and some pockets have been ignored for decades, perfect for creating pedestrian trails and greenways near the railroad tracks. Free trolleys need to be part of the master plan too. There is a lot of work to be done to make it the urban village Peter Feldman imagined.”


My mind's eye:

“My tour of this area is a start to having tours in all of Broward’s 31 cities. We are looking for grants and funding but getting that is a slow process.


I want to encourage people with disabilities to be tour guides. Whether they are wheelchair bound, autistic or have sight disabilities like me, they can all shine their light through this project. This will get them out of isolation and uplift others, not as just well-informed story tellers but as someone who is stretching themselves. This requires creativity


I know what it is like to be disabled. I have retinitis pigmentosa and am slowly losing my sight. My tours give me purpose and a way to share a mindful experience with the community.


Peter Feldman’s visions will live on through my tour and countless stories in Broward will also live on in the same way.”

 

“I am Anita Mitchell and I collect people stories, much the same way people collect shoes or baseball cards or Lladro porcelain figurines. During my 26 years at WSVN7, I had the front-row seat to people stories and it was there I learned about the extraordinariness of the ordinary.

           

Since retiring from television news, I serve on the Board of Directors of Different Brains, a charitable foundation that supports neurodiverse adults.  I also serve on the Board of Directors of the Broward County Sports Hall of Fame. We honor local residents who have set unique standards of excellence through sports. 

Since 2004, I have swum competitively with our local Swim Fort Lauderdale Masters Swim Team (SFTL).

I don’t really know how the writing and the swimming and the neurodiverse and honoring local sports figures are connected but I know in my heart that they are.

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