'Food For Thought' Community Dinner Connects Fort Lauderdale Residents To City Workers

Jun 21, 2018

Fort Lauderdale residents who wanted to sit down with city officials to talk about issues like traffic got the chance Wednesday evening.  

The Neighborhood Leadership Academy hosted ‘Food For Thought,’ a free dinner for residents and city staff, held at The Hub in the Mass District. 

More than 80 residents from neighborhoods across Fort Lauderdale shared food and a community brainstorming session. The theme was transportation. The inspiration for a civic dinner came from a similar city program in Atlanta. 

The leadership academy operates as a development class for chosen members of neighborhood home owners associations. 

Marsha Noel is a senior management fellow in the city’s office of neighborhood support, and led this class’ sessions, held in March. 

“The academy was birthed out of a desire for our neighbors here to have a program that can educate them about the city’s functions, and how we operate as an organization,” she said.

Susie Whittenberger lives in Riverside Park, and is a citizen member of this season's academy class. She helped put the event together.

“This way we can start talking about the problems that actually are happening in and around the city,” Whittenberger said. 

The dinner also exhibited artwork by local artists, to honor the Mass District, which stands for 'Music and Arts South Of Sunrise Boulevard.'
Credit Caitie Switalski / WLRN

The goal was to get city transportation workers to hear what residents think is -- and what isn’t working. 

Karen Warfel is the principal planner with the transportation mobility department. She said she was encouraged to see new people come and ask about signs and synchronizing traffic signals. 

“Everybody sees the same problems we see. It was very inspiring for me,” Warfel said.

Residents brought up ideas for issues from drawbridge schedules to bus routes and shaded bus stops. Warfel said her office is already working on some of the ideas mentioned. 

“I love this,” she said. “I think we’re on the right track - signals, transit, all the things that we’re doing, is what people want and what they’re concerned about.”

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Attendees were led through an exercise by emcee Jay Forte, to spark more solution-based conversation. He asked the crowd to work through frustrations over what's not working in their neighborhoods, instead of simply complaining.

"Stop, notice, consider, choose, and act," Forte said.

Carol Tamburry sits on Fort Lauderdale councils for volunteerism and sustainability. While she's not involved with the neighborhood leadership academy, she said she feels the need to be civically engaged and come to more events like Food For Thought.

“I want things to improve…It’s giving back to the community which fulfills the soul,” Tamburry said.

Fort Lauderdale’s city commissioners were invited to the dinner, but had a conflicting budget advisory meeting.