|A Poor Plateau|
|Written by Jim W. Harper -- BT Contributor|
Is this park really the best we can do for children in the Gratigny neighborhood?
When people call Miami a Third World country, they are thinking of places like Gratigny Plateau Park. This place is not a park. It is a joke.
The joke is being played on the children of Miami-Dade County, where a majority live more than a mile from a county park. They are trapped inside a concrete jungle, like the one surrounding Gratigny Plateau Park on NW 117th Street, just west of I-95. Modest single-family homes repeat relentlessly for miles on end without the relief of an open space or a cluster of native trees.
Then you drive past an empty lot. It has space for about four houses, based on the properties that surround it. Looking at Google Maps, you see that it is labeled a “park.”
Since when does an empty lot qualify as a park? It is listed officially as one of Miami-Dade’s 250-plus parks. Yet there is no sign here to indicate a park. No bench to sit on, and hardly any trees.
I asked a tree trimmer I saw there if this was, indeed, Gratigny Plateau Park. He said he didn’t know; he was working on an adjacent yard.
Gratigny Plateau Park is in fact an empty lot. Where does the county find the audacity to call it a park?
Imagine if a family of tourists played a game of park roulette, where they randomly selected a local park to visit as part of their vacation, and they landed in Gratigny Plateau Park. Here is what they would see:
In the middle of a residential street, a blue-and-white ice cream truck covered in stickers and labeled “Kiki Kone” is parked in front of a house. Next to that house is an empty lot. Across the street is a doublewide empty lot, and across the next street is another empty lot. One of these lots has some shade provided by mature royal poinciana trees, the only highlight of this scavenger hunt gone wrong.
Crossing the street, five wooden slats stand beneath a utility pole. These unidentified sticks are the only standing structure in the entire “park.”
A small, sad sapling of a fruit tree sits alone in the middle of the double lot. (Well, there is the very tall carcass of another tree, clearly dead, yet curiously propped up by supports.) Empty boxes of fireworks litter the weedy grass.
At the third lot, a skinny black-and-white cat stands guard. In one corner, a roll of chain-link fencing lies among the sticks and stones. The human touch is also evident by pieces of rock and broken tile that have been scattered in a circle around the trunks of trees. Call it urban mulch.
At the base of a utility pole is a large, discarded object with white pipes and a gray, upside-down tank that is holding standing water, a common breeding ground for mosquitoes. The tank’s label says “Huron Tech Systems.”
End scene. Because that’s about all there is to see in glorious Gratigny Plateau Park. I did not find the Gratigny, I did not find the plateau, and I certainly did not find what I would call a park.
The good news is that some people have been paying attention to Gratigny Plateau Park, and plans for its makeover have already been sketched. The bad news is that plans have been in development for more than a year, and it remains unclear how this project will be financed.
The county clearly has enough funds to convert a small, neighborhood park like this into a decent playground. But will they allocate that money to an obscure project in a poor neighborhood?
District 2 County Commissioner Jean Monestime held community meetings beginning in May of last year to engage local residents in discussing the park’s future. The project gained momentum and competed in an online contest for a grant from Kiwanis Clubs International. Cheerleading for Gratigny Plateau Park in the contest was WPLG-Channel 10. The station’s anchors even participated in a photo-op at the “park,” complete with shovels and white hard hats. Despite all this, the park failed to earn enough online votes to qualify for the Kiwanis money.
Efforts to improve the park continue, with cooperation from the Kiwanis of North Miami Beach-Sunny Isles, the Parks Foundation of Miami-Dade, Miller Construction, and EDSA, the international architecture and planning firm that created sketches of the proposed makeover. The highly professional design shows, from an aerial perspective, a giant flowering plant with roots and leaves. The flower portion covers the park’s three respective lots. Viewed from above, the tall and narrow flower is framed by endless rooftops.
The Miami-Dade Parks and Recreation Department, working with its affiliated Parks Foundation of Miami-Dade, acknowledges on its Website that this park is “underdeveloped.” It lists Gratigny Plateau Park as one of its fundraising targets, and individuals are encouraged to make tax-free donations at parkstore.miamidade.gov.
These laudable efforts are part of a growing trend to create public-private partnerships for park funding in an era of budget cuts. But when will this partnership pull into port?
This park is begging to go from zero to hero. It needs a champion, or a business with a conscience, to adopt it, and pledge $250,000 to its development. The county should match this amount and make it happen. All the equation needs now is that donor.
Are you out there, savior of Gratigny Plateau Park?
The children of this working-class neighborhood are just as deserving of a playground as any other children. How much longer will they have to wait?
The poverty of Greater Miami can be as shocking as its wealth. This extreme dichotomy is a major reason why our area falls, for many, into the category of Third World.
A reality of the Third World is that poor, huddled masses of children suffer, while not far away, wealthy barons drink chilled cocktails in private cabanas behind iron gates. These barons represent both private citizens and the collective public, because nobody is taking responsibility.
Doesn’t Miami have enough places to drink cocktails? Grow up and give our children a playground.
Volume 12, Issue 8. October 2014
The Smithsonian honors a local documentary photographer
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