What is Estero’s

Sense of Place?

During the Community and Member Monthly Meeting held at the Recreational Center on Jan 25th, Tony Carangelo, Engage Estero’s Chief Research Officer, spoke about this important topic as Estero continues to develop and grow. Tony first pointed out that in the conclusion of the Village’s Planning, Zoning, and Design Board’s (PZBDB) meeting on January 24th, the Village code states that developments should:

  • Make a significant difference.
  • Result in high-quality projects.
  • Retain the Village character.

However, there is no mention of the character or overall image Estero attempts to convey to visitors and residents. However, the Village’s Comprehensive Plan from 2015 does mention the “Sense of Place.”

share the road

Under” Future Land Use,” the wording is:

Promote the development of Estero as a community with a unique quality of life, distinct character, and diverse housing, economic, recreational, and social opportunities by protecting the natural resources, environment, and lifestyle: establishing aesthetic and design requirements, managing the type, location, quality, design, density, and intensity of future land uses: providing opportunities for public participation in the land development approval process and promoting a true sense of place.   

It raises the question of whether this is being addressed. If so, what is it, and what does the Council and Management aim to promote as Estero’s “Brand Image?” How do they want Estero positioned in the minds of its citizens and visitors? What do they want people to think about when they think of Estero?

For example, sense of place refers to the emotive bonds and attachments people develop or experience in particular locations and environments at scales ranging from the home to the nation. A sense of place also describes specific localities and regions’ distinctiveness or unique character.

To illustrate this point, Tony referred to the following short descriptions of other locations in Florida that promote not just the geographic or physical aspects of each area but also the character and image they want the public to appreciate.

  • Sarasota
    • “Sarasota has a distinct vibe different from Florida’s relative coastal cities, with its vibrant arts scene, beachy atmosphere, and burgeoning food culture. People who choose Sarasota as their home are generally called by its unique charm.”
  • Tampa Bay
    • “Tampa is a city that embraces its history, celebrates culture and exudes a unique charm that captures the essence of the Sunshine State From its pristine beaches with crystal-clear waters to its rich history and modern vibrancy.”
  • Naples
    • “The area is famous for its beautiful white sand beaches, golf courses, fishing, boating, water sports, arts and culture, and spectacular sunsets.”
Examples of place

On the other hand, if one Googles Estero, what emerges is a very factual summary.

“Sandwiched along Florida’s Gulf Coast between Naples to the south and Fort Myers to the north, Estero is known as a popular destination for both high-end shopping and for exploring history and wildlife at its two state parks: Mound Key Archaeological State Park, which is only attainable by boat, canoe, or kayak and the Koreshan State Historic Site.”

Is this the “Sense of Place” we wish to portray? When Tony asked the audience what they felt about this, several agreed that Estero didn’t have a brand that helped to identify how Estero differed from other communities and what aspects would attract people to visit, live, and work. A suggestion was for Estero to emphasize its focus on “Wellness” and improving “Longevity.”

During the October 2023 Engage Estero Public Forum that focused on “The Future of Estero,” Jim Wallace, Key Principle of Genova Realty LLC, indicated that that given the significance to the community of the many developments being contemplated, it might be worthwhile considering a “visionary planning expert” to “think outside the box” and provide suggestions that would help make Estero a desirable destination for both residents and visitors. He said, “When creating a sense of place and a destination, I think it is key to engage a planner. They can look at the transition from the public realm into a sense of place.”  

He also felt that looking at developments in other parts of the world, such as Europe, where there is much development of open spaces with fountains and parks to sit, read, and relax, would be worthwhile.      

Tony recognized the difficulty of determining Estero’s sense of place and how that could be communicated. He asked, “How do we communicate the community character or sense of place of Estero to developers, visitors, and the community?”

Physically, Estero is:

  • 25miles of boundaries
  • A series of political districts
  • A series of hubs
  • Many HOAs and communities within their walls

But should we talk about:

  • Its natural beauty
  • The active lifestyle
  • The entertainment offered
  • Its parks, nature preserves, and trails
  • Its residential/ commercial mixed-use
Examples of place

Tony asked the audience,

“Where is the planning and vision that holistically looks at Estero’s developments and recreational plans?” “Who should define Estero’s sense of place and character?
Should it be:

  • The HOA’s? What should the public, HOAs, and non-profits do to get their population to define life outside of their walls and contribute to a sense of community?
  • Business? What should businesses provide to enhance the sense of community?
  • Realtor? Should realtors promote a sense of community?
  • Chamber of Commerce? Should business leaders unite the community to form a consensus on who we are?
  • Visitor? What does a visitor look for when they visit a community?
  • Village? What should the Village’s role be in promoting a sense of community?

It was agreed that there needed to be a dialogue with the Village Council and Management. This should be conducted sooner rather than later because growth is inevitable and desirable, but the destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether the Village will change but how.

Tony pointed out how and why communication is key in this process. He explained that Engage Estero’s work with students at FGCU provided the basis of “story maps” that enable key data, road, and building developments illustrated using maps of Estero that can accessed on the internet to see more detail and information. The interactive information illustrates where specific actions within greater Estero are occurring and the associated timeline. The audience was impressed when shown examples of how it’s used on the internet.

Tony finished his talk by indicating that this topic would require further discussion. Engage Estero welcomes your input to help guide the dialogue on Estero’s “Sense of Place.” 

Examples of place

The questions for you are:

  • What does a sense of place mean to you?
  • How do we establish a sense of place within Estero?
  • What suggestions do you have for what should be communicated to potential visitors?
  • Do you think there is a need for increased communication with the public by the Village?

Let us know your suggestions and answers in the comments below.


  1. Anyone who commented on this post is invited to submit an entry to our Survey where prizes will be awarded. Take the Survey at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/EsteroSenseofPlace Deadline is February 29, 2024.

  2. We should consider going back to Eslick basics…ask the residents to collaborate to create a community vision. This was masterfully done 10+ years ago by the ECCL. One Saturday morning, over a hundred residents came together at a “charrette,” with the goal of understanding, assessing and prioritizing our residents’ hopes.
    Defined as: “… a “Charrette” combines creative, intense working sessions with public workshops
    and open houses. A Charrette is a collaborative planning process that harnesses the
    talents and energies of all interested parties to create and support a master plan that
    represents transformative community change.”
    The outcome of the charrette, among other things,included the prioritization of future initiatives, including the “downtown Estero” concept …signified as a central gathering area (not just a few outdoor tables in front of Starbucks.) Such a physical location would provide an area to offer attractions, refreshments and other amenities…within, as the previous respondent verbalized so well, “our very special and unique natural area.”
    With Don’s retirement, it seems that this concept has been overlooked amid our overwhelming growth which have created reactive day- to- day priorities. Understandably, our Village-lite government is dealing with today’s “urgent” matters and not our “important” future issues? We can’t rely on “the Village” to do it for us…business and community leaders are needed to step up to this challenge.
    Who is better suited to lead this effort than a coalition of EE and the Chamber? If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If we wait for someone else, it may be too late. I would like to think that we are still A Village with A Vision…. as we were long before incorporation.

  3. Estero has several assets many communities would envy.
    Sports arena
    Airport access
    Yet it doesn’t have a physical center ie. a downtown. Nothing says this is the Village of Estero!
    The Village should build a very recognizable building in the Coconut Mall ( still visible from US 41). It should include green space and state of art landscapes/hardscapes. A place for people. Maybe a bandstand! Essentially turn the Mall into a downtown.
    Perhaps a redevelopment of the entire mall into a downtown is in order. Difficult but not impossible!

  4. Estero Bay is such a beautiful body of water and unique in many ways from other parts of the entire gulf coast… but the village has lost connection and access to it. Even though, we’re the closest proximity, we must travel north to Gladiolus/FMB or south to Bonita Beach to enjoy it. Between the planned communities and now Ritz (formerly Weeks Fish Camp) we don’t have many options to have a bayfront area with marina/boat ramp. As a result, our ‘sense of place’ has been defined inland with shopping at big box stores.
    Snowbirds will always be major demographic, but increasingly Estero is known as a hub for affluent young families (vs. old wealthy Naples or blue collar busy FTM and Cape). Focus on high quality schools, FGCU, make Estero park more community-oriented and develop the Via Coconut entertainment district with this demographic in mind.

  5. One of the ways to establish a sense of place within Estero is by promoting and taking pride in our unique natural areas and the reason we have so much protected land (thank you Koreshians and Calusa).

    Pride of place will come with understanding the history and beauty of the Estero River mangrove preserve, Estero bay, Lovers Key and the barrier islands in supporting early settlement, wildlife (especially manatee) and providing protection from hurricanes and storms. It is very special and unique natural area.