The Biscayne Times

Jul 05th
Let the River Rise PDF Print E-mail
Written by Janet Goodman, BT Contributor   
April 2019

José Martí Park awaits a new resilient design

NParkPatrol_1ineteenth-century revolutionary philosopher, writer, and political organizer José Martí, who led the charge for Cuba’s independence from Spain, is a revered figure in Miami’s Cuban-American community.

In East Little Havana, a 1.5-square-mile section of Little Havana, along the Miami River at 351 SW 4th Ave. is a popular 13-acre city park, founded in 1984 and bearing the Cuban patriot’s name: José Martí Park.

Visitors entering the park under the decorative metal fence sign are greeted by a sculptured bust of Martí that’s painted gold. The newly renovated playground nearby has a mural dedicated to the freedom fighter, donated by Amigos for Kids in September 2018, featuring his cartoon likeness and a quote: Los niños son la esperanza del mundo, or “children are the hope of the world.”

On the opposite side of the mural is a large mixed-media wall sculpture of cement blocks, each engraved with the word SEMBRAR meaning “to plant,” with a stylized blade of grass made of hammered metal pushing upward out of the blocks and three rusted metal hoops, which could have once been part of a bicycle.

ParkPatrol_2Neighborhood resident Lazaro Martin comes often with his 18-month-old son, Josiah, who enjoys playing the weather-resistant xylophones and other musical instruments installed among the climbers, slides, and kiddie ramps. New sunshades and rubber safety flooring are also part of the playground’s complete overhaul that took place late last year.

A picnic area with several tables is located just off of the playground next to a separate section with swings. The only artificial turf in the park can be found here.

Area resident Manuel Perez works out several times a week in the park’s new adult outdoor fitness zone. He tells the BT that a bench was recently removed from the exercise course but never replaced.

Poured concrete and pavers are widely used at José Martí Park; in fact, as the SEMBRAR wall sculpture might imply, very little grass covers the park’s surface. Tiered levels, steps, and odd concrete structures and columns fill the western plaza section. Two large open fields with a much-utilized bike path are located on the north end, but one field needs re-sodding. Litter is an issue, with garbage cans overflowing. On a Sunday visit to the park in early March, sadly, the playground area was dotted with blue plastic cups from a party the day before.

ParkPatrol_3This time of year, leaves falling from the native oaks and gumbo limbos need to be collected, especially from the playground. Other trees within the park are royal palms, silver dollar, and poinciana.

Nestled between the playground to the west and the I-95 overpass to the east is the José Martí Pool, which had few swimmers and one lifeguard on duty that Sunday during the public swim. Water aerobics, adult lap swimming, and swim lessons are offered here, and a recreational swim team meets three days a week. The pool is open every day, but hours vary.

In 1980 thousands of Mariel Boatlift refugees lived under the overpass, where makeshift tents were set up for two months. Afterward, during park construction, an Indian camp, circa 400 AD, was excavated, revealing tools and other artifacts. An ancient Tequesta Indian grave, circa 1500-750 BC, was also found.

In April 2012, the BT reported that $810,000 in City of Miami impact fees was allocated for the José Martí Park’s gymnasium renovation and parking lots, which are located a block south of the main park on SW 5th Street east of the overpass. The main features at the gym are an indoor basketball court, fitness center, and a dance room. Walk another block south, and you’ll find the park’s baseball diamond.

ParkPatrol_4A colorful walkway mural with an underwater theme slices through the artificial turf of the swing-set playground, leading to the recreation center, which houses afterschool programs, a summer camp, spring break camp, winter camp, ESOL classes, arts and crafts for seniors, computer classes, and Zumba.

The park’s northeast section has a large picnic pavilion, which overlooks the riverfront, part of the proposed 11 miles of continuous riverwalk known as the Miami River Greenway. New green benches, lampposts, chess tables, and a bilingual historical marker are situated along the riverside plaza, which offers great views of boat activity. But this water also has a knack for flooding the park.

Hurricane Irma, regular heavy rains, as well as recurring king tide floods moved Miami voters to approve a $400 million Miami Forever Bond, of which half will go toward efforts to adapt to sea level rise.


In early December 2018, the Miami Herald reported that José Martí Park is earmarked for $940,000 from the city that will go toward a study and climate-adaptive redesign plan to make the park more resilient. A matching grant of $60,000 from the New York-based Van Alen Institute will help cover costs of the design’s RFQ preparation. The selected proposer will coordinate a Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND) grant for improvements along the park’s river edge, which include replacement of 700 feet of damaged seawall, 280 feet of erosion-control pavers, a water taxi station and unloading deck, shoreline stabilization, kayak launch, outfalls, drainage, and 980 feet of riverwalk. The FIND grant requires the project to be designed and permitted by September 2020.

Steve Williamson, manager of the Forever bond and director of capital improvements for the City of Miami, told the Herald that improvements at José Martí Park will set standards for how the city upgrades vulnerable riverfront areas.

The nonprofit Van Alen Institute collaborates with communities, scholars, policymakers, and professionals on important social, cultural, and ecological projects. The José Martí Park project is part of the “Keeping Current: A Sea Level Rise Challenge for Greater Miami,” the institute’s multi-year inquiry into how communities can use design as a means to adapt to climate change.

The original February 26, 2019, RFQ proposal submission deadline for the José Martí Park redesign was extended to March 13.


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José Martí Park
351 SW 4th Ave.,
Miami, FL 33144

Park Rating
palm-1 palm-1 palm-1 palm-05 palm-0

Sunrise to 9:00 p.m.
Picnic Tables
: Yes
Barbecues: No
Picnic pavilions: Yes
Athletic fields: No
Tennis courts: No
Night lighting: Yes
Swimming pool: Yes
Playground: Yes


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