Throughout my campaign for City Council and since I have been elected, I have struggled with the distinctions between the phrase “Small-Town Character” and the reality of Marco Island being a small to medium-sized “Coastal Resort City.” I do not believe that the two terms are mutually exclusive, but I do think they are different and need to be addressed as such.
Cities and towns are places, defined by demographic parameters established by the United States Census Bureau and Florida law. Character is a feeling or attribute that is very subjective and determined by the people and traditions of a given town or city.
According to the US Census, a town is “an unincorporated area with less than 2,500 residents.” Marco Island started out as a town, an unincorporated area in Collier County without our own municipal services.
This all changed on August 28th, 1997, when the people of Marco Island elected to incorporate and it became a city for the second time. (The first time the city was known as Collier City and was incorporated in 1927, but later unincorporated.) A city is defined by the US Census Bureau as “any incorporated place that contained at least 2,500 people within its boundaries.” As an incorporated place, the City of Marco Island created its own municipal government with many departments including police, fire/rescue, and public works among others.
The character of Marco Island can be described as a beautiful quilt that is sewn together by friendly people, a deep sense of patriotism, a love of the outdoors, and a small-town feel where folks will make eye contact and say hello and stop to exchange a few pleasant words. Although it is a world-class destination, it isn’t Miami, or Ft. Lauderdale, or even Naples.
Our character is derived from our people, our traditions, and our celebrations. From our beach clean-ups to our Farmer’s Market, Seafood Festival, Softball Championships, and a hundred other events, our character is determined by our residents, visitors, businesses, and city staff coming together to celebrate.
I think we can continue to maintain and build this character as our city grows in size and complexity. The two do not have to be mutually exclusive, they can both thrive as we move forward.
The reality is that we are no longer the sleepy little retirement town with a dirt road and unimproved bridge leading to us from the mainland. We are a vibrant, coastal resort city, that doubles in size during the winter season. This is the reality we need to focus on when planning for our future. We can look back but we can never return to our small-town past.
This is the point I was trying to make during the City Council’s review of the Comprehensive Plan Update when I challenged the first stated goal of the Land Use Element: “Goal 1: Livable Small-Town Community.”
Words matter; if we attempt to plan the next 20 years around trying to return to being a small town, we will fail to live up to our responsibility to represent the small-medium sized coastal resort city that we truly are and will continue to be in 2040.