Almost 100 years ago, in the early to mid-1920s, the railroad industry placed Lakeland on the map. People were coming from all over to invest in real estate and even vacation. Fast forward to today, and Polk County is one of the fastest-growing metro areas in the country according to the U.S. Census data for the past two years. The New York Times also reported that the Lakeland-Winter Haven metro area was tied for the second-highest rate of growth in the nation between 2019 and 2020.
It’s clear that the last decade has brought remarkable transformation to many communities but especially for Lakeland. With an abundance of new businesses from a variety of industries, what used to be a transient college town the past few years has turned into a landscape for young entrepreneurs, families, and lifelong Lakelanders.
So, how does a city prepare for this type of influx in growth? Having good leadership and organizations in place whose main focus is intentional growth with a strategic approach that defines opportunities, integrates environmental thinking, and ensures that all citizens enjoy their city’s prosperity.
This year, Mayor Bill Mutz presented a list of priorities for the progression of Lakeland at a city strategic planning meeting in which he stated that the list is “not intended to be exhaustive but rather reflective of some key elements I hope we embrace overall.”
“Those are all elements that make a city a more desirable place and a more livable place, and I think that’s what we want to accomplish.”
The list includes a variety of categories such as, Seek and Support Strategic Economic Growth, Education, Affordable Housing, Apartment Incentives, Reclaim Public Spaces for Citizens, Connect Bike Trails, Increase Downtown Living Density and Amenities, Support the Ancillary Needs of Bonnet Springs Park, Maximize Quality of Life Initiatives, amongst others.
“Those are all elements that make a city a more desirable place and a more livable place, and I think that’s what we want to accomplish,” says Mutz.
One of the goals that stands out is the Downtown Living Density and Amenities category outlined by Mutz as “increasing residential density downtown to 8,500 by 2030,” which he hopes will lead to another goal: attracting a grocery store downtown, preferably Publix, by 2030.
As our city continues to grow, we look to these target goals as guides to build a better quality of life for all citizens. No city vision is likely to be realized without a culture of accountability that holds individuals responsible for progress toward it. City mavericks are leaders within the community that are united with these goals. They are change-focused, and they see the city for what it could be for the next generation.