The Biscayne Times

Mar 21st
What Happened to Parks as Refuge? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Blanca Mesa, BT Contributor   
February 2017


Downtown parks are all about the developers

“EPix_GoingGreen_2-17verybody needs beauty as well as bread,” wrote John Muir in 1912, “places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.”

Three urban public spaces have surfaced in Miami’s urban core that challenge the traditional notions of public parks. Maybe it’s a Miami thing -- these places are as much party spaces as parks. One is sprouting under a rail line, another is carved out of downtown parking lots under the Metromover, and the third, from abandoned land. In a city short on parks and civic spaces, we’ll take them.

The Underline, a ten-mile landscape cycle and pedestrian track under the Metrorail line, will stretch from Brickell to Dadeland, snaking its way along U.S. 1. The $120 million project has funding commitments from City of Miami development fees and other public and private sources.

Biscayne Green, a plaza/park space, is superimposed on three blocks of parking lots downtown under the Bayfront Park Metromover. It includes a dog park, a playground, and pop-up café. This 20-day “public space intervention” of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) with funding from the Knight Foundation, could someday stretch the entire median along Biscayne Boulevard into a pedestrian promenade.

Omni Park, southwest of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, will temporarily repurpose seven acres of land owned by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) into an “activation space.” It is scheduled to open mid-February and last about two years.

Elected officials have endorsed these kinds of parks, which have in common the possibility of stimulating commerce and increasing value to surrounding land. Parks do this by making areas more attractive to developers and the residents they hope to lure in. Land along the Miami Underline, Metrorail station parking lots, and plazas is slated for dense development, and private parcels nearby are already filling with residential towers.

Some longtime Miami park advocates, however, don’t want residents to settle for only these kind of new parks. “Who wants to run or walk along a six-lane highway?” asks Steve Hagen. Hagen has been badgering elected officials for more than a decade to purchase more parkland throughout Miami, not just in the urban core. Impact fees from new construction, he believes, should be going to purchase new parkland.

In the meantime, there’s the Omni Park model. Omni Park will fill up with this: dogs, ponies, musicians, farm goods, skaters, an endless array of humans sauntering -- or skating -- on the way to the Arsht Center and the PAMM. Asphalt will be replaced with sod and trees.

“A different theme every Saturday!” says Brad Knoefler, who co-founded Urban Implementation LLC with Mark Lesniak, to create this park prototype. The space is temporary, the elements movable. A concert stage or the skate park, for example, can be transported to the next location.

“You have to beautify and activate,” says Knoefler, who runs a bar nearby. This is his second go-round with temporary urban park space. In 2012 he created Grand Central Park, since demolished to make way for Miami Worldcenter. The funding for this venture comes from the city’s Omni Community Redevelopment Agency, which hopes to stimulate commercial revitalization. “The park is a catalyst,” Knoefler notes. “When the park goes away, you’ll have a fully functioning neighborhood.” When the Omni Park’s land reverts back to the FDOT for a new I-395 bridge, residents may get a new park under a bridge.

Activation is the quest of these new parks, but what about when residents want to deactivate? In a city getting denser by the day, residents can turn to parks for refuge bequeathed by a past generation.

Morningside, Legion, and David Kennedy parks come to mind. Here the sports activities tend to be random and spontaneous. Even the stuff they’ve dropped into the rolling lawns -- fitness equipment or a dog park -- seldom obscure the green of the park, beauty of the tree canopies, or views of the water.

And across Biscayne Bay is Virginia Key, Miami’s new Central Park, the last bit of large solid-green wild space. A 15-acre parcel of forest was recently dedicated to Miami environmentalist and educator Mabel Fentress Miller, who fought hard and long to preserve the natural beauty and bounty of the island. Miller, now 89 years old, says from her new home in central Florida: “All we have now is a matter of all of us working together to save it.”

To grow Miami as a real community, we’ll need all these options -- new and old types of parks -- to “play in and pray in,” as Sierra Club founder John Muir once said. Places of action, but also places of refuge.


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