Since the Volusia Beachside Redevelopment Committee is taking input I thought I’d offer a few thoughts on how we might redevelop the greater Daytona Beach area beachside. After nearly three decades residing and working in Volusia County as a business law attorney, and being involved in dozens of causes trying to do my small part to make our community better, I may have a little better understanding of this issue than some. But, I’m not going to pretend to be as well informed as the Committee members, or to have anything close to a comprehensive solution. I definitely do not have all of the answers. What I do know though is that it doesn’t matter what the plan is for redevelopment, it will not be successful if it does not effectively deal with two things.
So, what are these two things? The first is safety and the perception of safety. The beachside has to not only be safe it needs to look and feel safe. No rational person wants to be where they don’t feel safe.
Like it or not most people do not feel comfortable around the homeless. There are many reasons for that, all of which do not involve safety. Philosophically some may believe that the homeless should be permitted to be anywhere anyone else in the public can be so long as they aren’t breaking the law. I’m not taking a position on this one way or another, so please don’t ascribe sentiments to me on the homeless which I have not expressed. All I’m saying is that having homeless in the area is a major impediment to redevelopment. That’s the truth.
Similarly, if you have been in the Daytona Beach beachside area in the early morning hours you have seen people wandering about who may not be homeless but don’t seem to have any good reason for being out at that time. They don’t necessarily seem to be going anywhere, they are just sort of milling about, in the shadows, alone or with others. Obviously I don’t know what they are up to. Maybe I’m jumping to unfair conclusions and what they are doing is perfectly fine. The sheer numbers strike me as odd though. If any of them don’t have a good reason to be out then it would be best if they weren’t because they undoubtedly make those who do feel uneasy. Daytona Beach doesn’t necessarily have a monopoly on this, although it seems to be most prevalent there.
And this doesn’t just happen at night. I was with my wife and some friends not too long ago walking from the parking garage at Oceanwalk going to Joe’s Crab Shack on the Pier. It was early evening and daylight. There were quite a few people there on the Boardwalk and near the Pier who didn’t seem to be patronizing the businesses, or enjoying the scenery, but who were acting quite peculiar. Some did not seem to be entirely in control of their faculties. Again, they may or may not have been homeless, but they were unkempt. I try to be open minded about everyone I meet, and nonjudgmental, but you just cannot help but be wary when people act and look like they did. I’m not easily rattled or intimidated so I can only imagine how unsettling this must be to those who are less secure. It was very disappointing because we have so many visitors who do go there, including families with children, and this is what they encounter. It makes me wonder how many have been soured on Daytona Beach because of a similar experience and will never return.
The other thing is aesthetics. Just as people don’t like to live and work in, or visit, places that are unsafe they don’t tend to want to live and work in, and visit, unattractive places. Some will, but that is generally a function of economics, not choice.
Let’s face it, there is a lot along the beachside which isn’t attractive. Just getting rid of the ugly would improve the aesthetics.
I will give credit where credit is due. When you go to Daytona Beach Shores you know you’re in Daytona Beach Shores. One big part of that is that they have the utility lines underground. How much better would all of the beachside look if the utility lines were underground?
There are a lot of properties which are not well maintained. This is no revelation. There is code enforcement to deal with it, and to some extent it helps, but there just needs to be so much more.
There are some other fairly straightforward things which could help to eliminate ugly. Removing litter from all public areas, parks, the beach, and anywhere else that has litter for example. Replacing unattractive signage and lighting is another. Just eliminating or consolidating signage reduces visual clutter. I’m sure there is much more that I haven’t mentioned which could be done. Undoubtedly some of this is already being done.
We are very fortunate to have an abundance of natural beauty in the beachside area. Regrettably we have allowed some things to happen over the years which detract from that. But some of that is reversible. If we just get rid of the ugly, or at least a lot of it, then the natural beauty will be accentuated. That’s the reason I chose the photo I did for this article – as a reminder of what a beautiful beach we have, and how that can still be a big draw.
Think about it. When you travel and you go somewhere that is safe and attractive, and you can be outside and leisurely walk around and explore, it’s enjoyable. You’d go back. Unfortunately in many respects we don’t have that now in parts of the beachside, particularly in Daytona Beach.
If there is significant and dramatic improvement with safety and aesthetics in a relatively short period of time many other good things will follow. Naturally the locals will be willing to migrate to some of these currently not so desirable spots. They may become quite coveted. Property values will rise. Tourism will increase. Hotel rates will go up. Business interests from outside of the community will take note and be willing to invest. It will make business sense for them to do it.
Alternatively, if only minimal improvement is made with the safety, including the homeless, and the aesthetics, nothing much will change. Redevelopment will sputter. It won’t matter that we have a beautiful beach, not too many will want to live, work, and visit.
It wouldn’t be easy to do this. But it would be worth it. And what a story the renaissance of Daytona Beach would be!