The Biscayne Times

Jun 20th
Public Lands Aren’t for Sale PDF Print E-mail
Written by Blanca Mesa, BT Contributor   
August 2018

Freedom Park is a misnomer for developers’ cash cow

“WPix_GoingGreen_8-18e have been too efficient at destruction; we have left our souls too little space to breathe in. Every green natural place we save saves a fragment of our sanity and gives us a little more hope that we have a future.” --  novelist and environmentalist Wallace Stegner, 1991.

A vast green pastoral space of hills and cool blue lakes unfolds to the east as you drive along Le Jeune Road near Miami International Airport. That’s the 130-acre Melreese Golf Course. A tourist visiting for the first time might think Miami is a green city, that it values its parks and greenspaces. In reality, this golf course and a few old cemeteries are all that many urban neighborhoods have left for open greenspace. And now, even they are threatened with concrete and asphalt.

“In our neighborhoods, we don’t have those views,” says Marta Zayas, a community activist and public parks advocate in Little Havana. Most of the city’s neighborhood public parks contain little more than basketball courts and baseball diamonds or soccer fields, Zayas explains. “But I want nature. We also need parks that are a reflection of nature.”

The Melreese golf course public parkland is being coveted by developers for a 25,000-seat soccer stadium and a retail, office, and entertainment complex that would include a 750-room hotel. The project, dubbed Miami Freedom Park, would sprawl over 73 acres of public parkland.

While some city officials quibble over rent payments and terms of a 99-year lease for this valuable piece of public land, they are missing the bigger picture: How can Miami give up any greenspace to developers?

This crowded city of concrete has no place to breathe. We need our open greenspaces under blue skies. We need all of Melreese to stay green and available for restoration as a great public park.

At a time when Miami faces serious challenges posed by climate change, sea level rise, and flooding, green areas like Melreese can play an important role in resilience and sustainability.

Great cities around the world use greenspaces to help adjust to, and buttress against, the challenges of climate change. It’s critical to maintain what open land the city has, including coastal areas, the riverfront, and on islands like Virginia Key and Watson Island.

Greenspaces are where trees are planted, water is collected, and native habitats are restored. Preserving and restoring these settings also helps wildlife survive.
“If city commissioners vote to allow the Mas/Beckham proposal to go forward, it will be another indicator that all 140 City of Miami parks are for sale,” warned Peter Ehrlich, an Urban Environment League (UEL) board member who also sits on the City of Miami’s Virginia Key Advisory Board. The UEL passed a resolution in early July urging city officials to reject the Melreese deal, but on July 18, the Miami City Comission decided to put the project on the November ballot for voters to decide.

“Elected officials should show respect for every park, for every open greenspace -- and frankly, they should show respect for every blade of grass,” he added.

Yet it may come to that -- we may be forced to fight for the last blade of grass.

It wasn’t always this way. The former Mayor of Miami, Xavier Suarez, now a Miami-Dade County Commissioner, assured the protection of Virginia Key’s mangrove forests in the 1990s when he helped create the 700-acre Sadowski Critical Wildlife Area (CWA) on Virginia Key. It’s a wildlife refuge for endangered and threatened marine and bird species, and a symbol of ecological caretaking.

Last November residents approved the Miami Forever bond issue to help pay for climate change resiliency. Selling off Melreese is a betrayal of the trust we placed in city officials to create a green city, and to our commitment to using green infrastructure to make our community sustainable.

Residents need to get organized and speak up because, in this town, silence is viewed as acceptance; and a willingness to negotiate is taken as a license to commit a land grab.

In the end, it may require a referendum to assure protection of public park spaces, says Zayas. Legislation would prohibit public officials from leasing or selling public parklands. Now, that is a voter referendum I think all residents should support.

• • •

With this column, I say goodbye to “Going Green” and to Miami. I am venturing west to the Pacific Coast. It has been a great experience writing for Biscayne Times, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with Miamians who are working to raise awareness about our precious natural world. They are using everything within their power -- from art to activism -- to make a difference. Keep it up!

You can follow me at @blancamesa as I continue to write about ecology, urban planning, and how to save the world for other species.


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