top of page

You've Come a Long Way Baby: Downtown West Palm Beach

During the season, one of my favorite places to visit is West Palm Beach's Green Market. It's not just the vendors with their colorful food and flowers in truly beautiful and grand plaza overlooking the water, it's the transformation that I patiently watched since 2005 when I first became acquainted with the city. It took vision, courage and perseverance when then West Palm Beach Mayor and the City Commissioners began planting the seeds for today's downtown. But the genius of the vision was how easily it's been able to incorporate new trends in urban design.

It started with a vision to open up the downtown to the intracoastal waterfront with views to Palm Beach-- a magnificent waterfront promenade, public docks and a grand plaza overlooking the water, but was not without controversy.

As a fairly young planner, my old firm and I were hired to update the downtown's master plan and zoning code, but were given strict instructions to accept the major public improvements that had already been approved by the community, mainly a new concept for the plaza, waterfront promenade and government campus. The plan called for moving public buildings to the center of downtown and demolishing an important library to make space for the plaza pictured above. It was taking up prime real estate at the formal entrance to the downtown and effectively walled off the city center to the water.

The plaza was built at the end of downtown's classic shopping district to connect it to the water's edge. And the leadership have the foresight to add a transparent, glass enclosed event space to host private events. It's a practical way to extend the plaza's use and really adds a lot of value to the community.


This plaza is versatile and here's how.

Mixing Hard Surfaces with Grass:

The plaza is multi-purpose and pulls double duty with a hard surface for vendors and special events and a lush grassy surface to break up the hardscape and add some green and more casual space. It's also a great place to set up the annual sand castle Christmas tree.

Plaza Trees:

The plaza is loaded with them and the effect is quite lovely. There's plenty of shade and the trees actually help to cool the air.

The market booths fit snuggly in between and create a cozy and comfortable space.


It doesn't have to be fancy, but if you're selling food and you want people to stay and hang out you've got to give them a comfortable place to sit. A bench under a shade tree- genius. Picnic tables, even better.

The Green Market:

This sign brings legitimacy to the entire event. It's an official registry of all the vendors and a key map of vendor locations. I included it because it makes a temporary event feel more permanent which is reassuring to the customer who can always return to their favorite vendor the following weekend.


And with the success of the plaza and its market, something interesting happened. The City expanded the zone outside of the plaza for walking only. Street closures on market days, help create a larger area for pedestrians to stroll. Again, it's not fancy or expensive. Temporary barricades which can be easily moved, (unlike their concrete relatives which require heavy machinery) and plastic bollards restrict car traffic during the event. The solution is simple and effective.


And even more interesting (and the point of this blog) were the spin-off activities the grew from the market's success.

Antique Market:

First is the Antiques Market on a completely separate street from the Green Market. It's a separate and complimentary event which fuels the community's desire for more cool stuff. And this one is right in the street.


Bicycle Track:

Now as the downtown has become more popular, more people are ditching their cars for bicycles. And with little accommodations for bicycle travel, this agile little city converted half of their waterfront boulevard into a protected bicycle track.

This is amazing to me. Rather than construct a special bike lane, the city took a relatively low traffic roadway and has adapted it for bikes. The existing median creates a really safe and comfortable barrier between the oncoming traffic and the bikes and it's all done at a very low cost with a super fast turn around.

During market day, this bicycle tent was set up at the end of the bicycle track and next to a bike share station.

And the city is committed to this new biking infrastructure. Check out the permanent bike repair station for the unfortunate biker with the flat tire! And of course, there are plenty of bike racks.

And water stations. When's the last time you saw a water fountain in Miami?



Temporary seating across from the plaza expands the area out towards the water for eating and relaxing.

And these people created their own seating on the seawall. It's a quiet and peaceful place to enjoy lunch.


Temporary Installations:

And the icing on the cake is this fun, artsy miniature golf put put. Still under construction when I took this photo, what a great way to add even more recreational activities to the downtown. I love the color and and whimsy of this design.


And my favorite, this fun play on Monopoly. I felt like I was in the game! Now any city that can incorporate these humorous designs into their landscape is doing something right. They are responding to their community's needs for fun and stimulating activities that they may never have imagined when their plan was first being designed. And that's what makes a great plan!

30 views0 comments
bottom of page