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Pushing the Edge PDF Print E-mail
Written by Christian Cipriani -- BT Contributor   
June 2013

Establishing a walkway along the bay would transform Miami

IPix_Urbania_6-13n early May, the Miami Herald ran a headline proclaiming Edgewater to be “Miami’s next trendy district,” a decade after New Times said the same thing. Without meaning to sound like a neighborhood spokesman, I think Edgewater’s time has come. I’ve felt it since the day I moved here in 2006.

It’s perfectly centered between great neighborhoods, highways, the bay, and Biscayne Boulevard. It’s also relatively affordable and largely underdeveloped, but that’s changing. The Herald piece detailed a half-dozen major residential projects on the rise. Edgewater will fully gentrify over the next decade, shedding its sketchy reputation to become a hub for the Design District, Performing Arts District, Museum Park, Park West, and the Midtown/Wynwood corridor.

Yet one thought nags at me: Ours is the last prominent waterfront neighborhood to come into its own; why is our waterfront so underutilized? New condos must have baywalks accessible to the public, but older bayfront properties are fenced and private. So last month I attended a public meeting at Residencia Jesus Maestro on NE 27th Street to provide input on a baywalk study.

I often cycle around South Pointe Park on Miami Beach, where public access to the waterfront is provided by walkways running from Miami Beach Marina, along Government Cut, north to Lummus Park (this stretch is still dirt), up to 22nd Street, and continuing on to 45th Street -- that part for pedestrians only.

These paths are of great benefit to residents, visitors, and developers.

Anyone who runs, bikes, or walks around Edgewater does a zigzag dance from the Julia Tuttle Causeway north to Margaret Pace Park. Now, imagine going all the way from the Tuttle, along a virtually uninterrupted waterfront path, down to Alice Wainwright Park, just south of the Rickenbacker Causeway. This would be the ideal Miami baywalk.

Forget the boost to Edgewater’s lifestyle and property values; it would transform the experience of living in our city, creating an attraction second only to perhaps a Venetian-style water-taxi system.

The Miami Riverwalk was a key part of transforming the neighborhood at the mouth of the Miami River. Now residents of Icon Brickell and Brickell on the River, along with guests at Epic and the Hyatt Regency, enjoy waterfront parks and jogging paths. The baywalk that encircles tony Brickell Key next door is a big part of what makes it a desirable place to live.

Wealthy communities tend to get these kinds of infrastructure improvements before other areas, which only enhances already valuable properties. It’s also why condos in Edgewater sell for far less than those of equal quality in Brickell.

So we sat in this meeting, maybe 30 of us, hopeful that we might see some movement in the right direction. Instead we looked at maps with grim red markings indicating where pedestrians would be rerouted from Biscayne Bay back to the Boulevard, blocked by property. From a quiet waterfront stroll to the sidewalks of U.S. 1. Interesting.

Armando Rodriguez, a community activist originally from Venezuela, said that he first heard a Miami baywalk proposed 45 years ago in a meeting at Legion Park. The excuse then was that there weren’t enough police officers to patrol the walk. The idea has resurfaced periodically ever since, most recently in 2004, when Commissioner Johnny Winton tried to kick-start a process to determine costs and planning needs.

The next few years brought a whole new zoning code, known as Miami 21 (which actually calls for public waterfront walkways), a real estate bust, a personnel overhaul at city hall, and more pressing billion-dollar public projects like the port tunnel. Oh, and a new baseball stadium.

Frank Rollason, a BT columnist with decades of experience in city government, was also at the meeting. Someone with the city, he said, needs to sit down with property owners and aggressively negotiate deals to buy back property lines, as well as have firm land-use agreements in place before new developments -- like Genting’s planned mega-resort on the Herald site -- even break ground.

But it seemed as though the study’s consultants saw these challenges and jumped right to Plan B, which is to create less of a baywalk and more of a winding sidewalk that occasionally runs along the water. This presumably will be corrected when the necessary waterfront parcels are redeveloped, sometime before the end of the century.

As Armando Rodriguez phrased it: “I was trained by the Jesuits. If you’re going to do something, do it right or don’t do it at all.” I couldn’t agree more.

If left to private developers, continuous public waterfront access will remain a fantasy. A baywalk is an expensive and complex undertaking, but if we can make the effort for the Marlins, for a museum, and for a tunnel, we can do it for a public infrastructure investment that will bring major value to Miami -- monetary and otherwise -- and further cement our identity as a world-class, 21st-century city.

 

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