The Biscayne Times

Jul 18th
The People’s Projects PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mark Sell, BT Contributor   
September 2017

Here’s to all the Public Space Challenge entrants

NChallenge_1ow in its fifth year, the Miami Foundation’s Public Space Challenge has turned into an exploding laboratory for cool ideas on how to use public lands.

Check out the website: Or, just Google the challenge. You’ll find this year’s 48 finalists and the 21 winners with “ideas to improve Greater Miami’s parks, plazas, and local gathering places.” Anyone can apply, and no idea is too small or too big, according to the website.

The 2017 winners will be splitting $350,000 and putting that money to work. There’s plenty of time to apply for the 2018 Public Space Challenge; the deadline will be sometime in April. Keep checking.

“These projects can be ongoing or original, and we like to see a good mix of both,” says Stuart Kennedy, the foundation’s director of program strategy and innovation, and founder of the Public Space Challenge. Since the program began in 2012, the pot has nearly tripled from $130,000, with a record crop of 440-plus applicants. This year’s corporate partner is Target. Last year it was Baptist Health.

“The excitement grows each year,” Kennedy says. “We want people to uncover hidden gems in their neighborhoods, and create vibrancy and connections.”

Finalists fall into any one of four categories: parks and natural areas; greenways and blueways; safe routes to parks; and great public spaces. Or any combination thereof. Some finalists and winners put together one-off events, but ongoing efforts can be a big plus.


One 2017 winner who has already gotten plenty of buzz: beekeeper Danielle Bender, age 31, who plunged into her mission after last year’s Zika spraying killed millions of honeybees locally. Bender, who has never been stung, will use her grant ($15,000), with support from 8 80 Cities (a Toronto-based nonprofit dedicated to making public spaces work for both 8- and 80-year-olds) to further her mission for “Public Hives.” The project aims to spread neighborhood-tended bee hives and community gardens around Miami-Dade. Not only do bees pollinate a third of what we eat and remain essential to the planet’s food supply, but they have diminished in number.

Other projects winning support this year include Sam Van Leer’s Urban Paradise Guild ($17,000), which has been busy over the past few years ripping out invasive species along North Miami’s Arch Creek East Environmental Preserve between NE 135th Street and Florida International University’s Bayfront campus and replacing them with native plants.

Another is “Enhancement of Virginia Key North Point Trails,” by the Virginia Key Bicycle Club ($21,000), which funds a 50-acre park with 7.8 miles of trails for beginners, intermediate-level cyclists, and expert riders. The club is in dire need of equipment and materials to complete trail expansion over the five remaining acres.

Some original projects offer illuminating ideas to improve safety in dark highway underpasses and in housing projects. For example, “Lighting the Way: Connecting Overtown and Wynwood,” submitted by Natalia Martinez-Kalinina of CIC Miami, plans to place LED lighting in the darkened NW 20th Street underpass, with the imminent addition of CitiBikes Miami and a pedestrian crosswalk in a collaboration with Street Plans Collective ($20,000). Doesn’t every underpass deserve this?

Another Overtown-connected winner is “WiFi @ Williams Park,” submitted by Leigh-Ann Buchanan of Venture Café ($25,000), which brings WiFi and digital hubs through outdoor solar charging stations to the park, located at 1717 NW 5th Ave. As Venture Café puts it: “Narrowing the technological inequality gap is the ultimate goal of this project. Youth will have reliable internet access for homework and educational purposes in addition to all community members having greater access to social services, employment opportunities, and educational tools.”

Individuals can make a big difference. Take the “Liberty City Lights” project from Annie St. Juste and Lanston Williams ($20,000), who live in the Annie Coleman public housing units on NW 60th Street. Their five children are enrolled in the Miami Children’s Initiative program at Charles Drew Elementary, and they want brighter paths at night. “We want for our children and our neighbors to be able to have walkways where you don’t have to look over your shoulders every minute,” they wrote in their application. It is known that lights and neighborly presence discourage crime.


For a model of a sophisticated plan, check out winner “Flagler Cottage Café and Bike Rental on the Miami River,” submitted by Christine Rupp of the Dade Heritage Trust (for more on the Trust’s work, see “History Heist,” May 2017). The city-owned park on the river’s north side is now fenced and locked.

Rupp plans to use her grant ($25,000) as seed money to open the 1898 building -- the former Bijan’s restaurant, now shuttered -- as a café and operate a bike rental to connect riders with the community and the Miami River Greenway, downtown, and Brickell. It’s the only building left in Miami with a direct connection to Henry Flagler, whose Florida East Coast Railway created the city. Rupp also plans to use the grant as leverage with big corporations and the City of Miami to turn the park and building into a community legacy. “What I like about this particular idea is that it’s not a pop-up, not a one-off,” she says. “Once that park is created and the building restored, it has longevity.”

For his project in the Arch Creek East Environmental Preserve, Van Leer of the Urban Paradise Guild has assembled a corps of volunteers, many of them students and neighbors from NE 135th Street, who love to pitch in. Van Leer, a winner in the first Public Space Challenge, says his group has almost eradicated the invasive Burma reed, and is planting natives like Jamaica dogwoods, strangler figs, gumbo limbos, and paradise trees.

Temporary ideas work quite well, too. The Little Haiti Cultural Center came up with a winning one-off idea, the “Pop-Up Mini-Golf: Reviving Little Haiti” ($18,500). This project would activate an empty lot at 207 NE 59th St. into a three-month pop-up, nine-hole miniature golf course, designed with Caribbean motifs by local artists, open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. It will also enhance the recently rejuvenated Caribbean Marketplace and the new Mache, its traditional Haitian outdoor market.

Some striking finalist projects that nearly made the final cut this year included “Frost Plaza Netting Pods,” submitted by Monica Rodriguez and Jessica Suarez, to provide shelter, shade, and respite through semi-transparent rope and cable structures connecting the Frost Museum of Science with the Pérez Art Museum Miami.


Another finalist was “Paseo on Avenue 3” from the Downtown Miami Partnership/Flagler Business Improvement District. This would offer a shade canopy, string lights, and less parking along narrow NE 3rd Avenue in the two blocks north of Flagler Street. The idea is to invite people to linger, stroll, and enjoy the street, much as they do along the celebrated Española Way on Miami Beach.

So what happened with the 2016 winners, and what did they learn?

Justin Trieger, who runs new media and distance learning for the New World Symphony in his day job, used his $10,000 grant for the launch of “Cultra,” to create a prototype series of monthly performances on Thursday evenings, with a series of open mics and free concerts in park areas near downtown, including hip-hop, folk music, poetry readings, a professional clown, comedians, acrobats, and improv theater groups. It culminated with a big event in Bayfront Park.

This year he plans to pare it down to a single event, but he has learned a lot, he says. And he didn’t exactly go in cold. Trieger, 33 years old, is the founder of, a confederation and talent agency assembling street performers. Street music is a passion for Trieger, who plays guitar, banjo, and keyboard.

“Don’t go it alone,” he advises. “Find people who have done it before, and find partners.”

Trieger and others in the Public Space Challenge are using social media to meet up, with particularly popular. “We’ve learned there is a real demand in a lot of different audiences and people,” he adds. “There are not enough opportunities for people to get onstage and do their thing. There’s a strong audience for real, live performance events.”

To participate, the best way to start is to check out the ideas, the finalists, and the winners. Who knows? You might look at that plot of land, or your whole community, in a new way, and then put your idea to work.


Feedback: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


Art and Culture

ArtFeature_1With new programming, MDC’s museum moves Miami forward


Art Listings

Events Calendar


Pix_BizBuzz_7-18Sales, special events, and more from the people who make Biscayne Times possible


Picture Story

Pix_PictureStory_7-18A view of our past from the archives of HistoryMiami