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Jul 23rd
Creativity at the Core PDF Print E-mail
Written by Eleazar David Meléndez, BT Contributor   
July 2016

Let’s look at ways to make our public spaces pop

IPix_EleazarMelendez_7-16f a rag-tag group of progressive activists, au courant young folks, and artists have their way, downtown Miami’s iconic waterfront parks will soon host a one-of-a-kind open mic festival.

A play off Ultra, the festival that takes over Bayfront Park every year, the proposed Cultra is the brainchild of street music boosters Buskerfest Miami and activist group Emerge Miami, which organized last year’s Chalk-Tacular event at Parcel B. Cultra will feature local musicians, acrobats, and performers across Bayfront and Museum parks.

And if the stars are aligned, Cultra audiences will enjoy a unique background as they walk from stage to stage. It’s a pathway lined with hot-pink painted and “repurposed” melaleuca tree trunks “planted” along the waterfront as a pop-up public art installation. They’re meant to provide a snapshot of what the waterfront could be, according to the people behind the project, urban planner Melissa Hege, who works with “urban infrastructure improvements related to alternative transportation, parks, and trails”; the landscape architecture firm ArquitectonicaGeo; and the Miami Parking Authority.

The melaleuca installation will also “attract and guide more people to the existing unmarked, underutilized path that runs between Bayside Marketplace and American Airlines Arena” (also known as Parcel B), according to notes, and aims as well to illuminate the need for environmental education, since the melaleuca trees are an invasive species that is choking off the Everglades.

Weary from a day of dancing and exploring, Cultra festivalgoers may choose to relax on designated hammocks under the Bayfront Park canopy or lounge on ergonomic plastic seats while they take in the bay views.

Cultra, the baywalk pop-up tree installation, the hammocks, and the ergonomic seats are all conceptual at the moment, part of the Miami Foundation’s Public Space Challenge that every year collects promising ideas for how to make more creative use of Miami’s common areas. (Cultra and the pink trees are among the more than 50 finalists this year.)

The four ideas are part of a wider trend, though, as downtowners and Brickellites, many of them new neighbors and recent transplants, are working to visualize ways to transform the urban core into a vibrant, livable hub.

Miami and Brickell are undergoing yet another building boom, and developers are already planning more iconic buildings for the skyline, seemingly only held back by Federal Aviation Administration’s safety rules.

The pace of development is such that over the next three to four years, the title of Miami’s Tallest Building could be held in quick succession by four different buildings: the 83-story Panorama building being built at 1101 Brickell Ave.; the hairpin-shaped Skyrise tower next to Bayside Marketplace; the condo mega-tower proposed by developer PMG at 300 Biscayne Blvd.; and the skyscraper proposed by a Chinese firm at S. Miami Avenue and SW 14th Street.

But as these steel-and-glass buildings reshape the look of the skyline, planners, residents, artists, entrepreneurs, and government and non-profit officials are increasingly thinking of the ground floor as their canvas.

Case in point: Biscayne Green, a project championed by Miami’s Downtown Development Authority that would convert medians and several traffic lanes in downtown Miami into a verdant meeting space. Pulling off that particular project involves not just funding and advocacy but also a careful calibration of interests between pedestrians, automobiles, and transit. (Full disclosure: Miami Commissioner Ken Russell, my boss, is chairman of the DDA.)

Also seeking the route of government support, architect Bernard Zyscovich is pushing a futuristic Plan Z that would convert the Rickenbacker Causeway into a park, with biking and jogging lanes, connecting to Alice Wainwright Park in Brickell, a godsend for Brickell cyclists and joggers.

A half-mile away, a scrappy group of skaters, backed by the Miami Parking Authority and the city, is working on turning an acre under the I-95 overpass from an underutilized parking lot into a world-class skate park. Lot 11 Skate Plaza opened in May but is fundraising with the goal of setting up a facility that will be the pride of Miami and attract people from around the world.

At the southern tip of Brickell Bay Drive, some residents dream of decreasing the number of lanes on the half-moon road between their buildings and the bay, and creating a promenade instead. On N. Miami Avenue and on SE 3rd Avenue, bar owners have been looking for a way to turn the on-street parking in front of their establishments into public seating areas, better known as parklets.

An artist’s collective wants to put floating pools in the Miami River between downtown and Brickell, while another group sees the FEC slip north of the American Airlines Arena as the perfect place for such an amenity.

Most of the ideas being put forward prioritize civic engagement or passive enjoyment of green spaces. But increasingly, too, would-be planners are tackling the big issues of the urban core. One project being shopped around would provide the downtown homeless with durable but collapsible plastic cocoons that protect them from the elements and safeguard their belongings (although it’s safe to say not everyone is thrilled with the idea).

Markers on sidewalks that tell drivers if any on-street parking is available on side streets -- helping thin down traffic from cars circling for a spot -- would also qualify. Increasingly, thought leaders are at least integrating sea level rise considerations into their brainstorming.

All in all, it’s an explosion of creativity and a renewed focus on the common spaces where interactions take place that make a city a city -- the spaces where memories and new friendships and chance acquaintances are made.

One interesting test case for the popularity and success of this movement will be the Underline, a project that seeks to convert areas under the Metrorail into a linear park. That project has grown by leaps and bounds under the stewardship of the nonprofit Friends of the Underline group, which has managed not just prodigious fundraising but also to turn the concept into a darling of Miami civic society.

It will be interesting to see if big developers catch the wave of promoting open spaces in the urban core. Related Group has built two small parks next to large developments in Edgewater, for example, as a trade for valuable entitlements. The company is now pushing forward the so-called Biscayne Line, an effort to create 15 miles of contiguous bayfront (and riverfront) walkways. The Holy Grail would be a seamless connection from Brickell, along the river, through the downtown waterfront, and extending all the way north past the Julia Tuttle Causeway.

Here’s hoping these and other ideas can soon be more than just pretty pictures.

 

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