|Pine Rockland Is Art|
|Written by Blanca Mesa, BT Contributor|
Omni Park reminds us what we’re on the verge of losing
Near downtown Miami, a grove of palm leaves and pine needles grows in the shade of glass and steel.
Part art installation, part environmental revival, this pineland habitat has been commissioned by the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM). It’s the creation of Michael Loveland, a Miami artist who transforms recycled material -- the discarded and disorganized -- into art. You can find his work at PAMM, the Brooklyn Museum, and now at Omni Park, near NE 13th Street and NE 2nd Avenue.
Loveland says PAMM curators saw the empty lots of shriveled grass and cracked asphalt next to I-395 and deemed it the perfect canvas to “make something out of nothing.”
So that’s what he did.
Tiny groves of pines rise out of the field like an apparition, made all the more startling by the backdrop of high-rises and highway ramps. In the distance, the exoskeleton of Zaha Hadid’s One Thousand Museum luxury condo tower competes with the historic Freedom Tower for attention, twin pillars of more than a century of downtown development.
“I see the project as a science experiment,” Loveland says, “and an opportunity to bring back Old Florida.” At least temporarily. The Florida Department of Transportation will eventually take back Omni Park’s seven acres to build a new bridge to the MacArthur Causeway and Miami Beach.
Loveland conceived the planting as an art installation, “where you walked past and experienced it from a distance.” But something changed during construction -- people started walking into it.
So he installed benches.
“It’s peaceful in there,” Loveland says. “You can smell the pine sap, feel the wind blow through the trees.”
Two hundred pine trees were planted in dense plots with an understory of saw palmetto and coontie. The surrounding Fakahatchee grass re-creates an Everglades prairie. Metal chickee huts, which Loveland describes as “functional sculptures,” were fashioned from chain-link fencing. Three trellis-like huts recall the thatch huts of Miccosukee Indians in the Everglades. PAMM will gather tour groups here to learn about rock pinelands, the Everglades, and Miccosukee people, and about the art that brought this imperiled habitat back to the center of the city.
It’s an improbable resuscitation of an ecosystem that the city’s first developer, industrialist Henry M. Flagler, helped destroy when he ushered in modern Miami. The first areas settled were high and dry, where pines grew on the oolitic limestone of the Miami Ridge. Pines were felled to build the city’s earliest structures, including Flagler’s Royal Palm Hotel, at the mouth of the Miami River. Pinelands also gave way to the city’s first agricultural areas.
With the arrival of Flagler’s railroad, the “quiet, wild beauty” of early Miami began to recede into a nostalgic past in the minds of pioneers like Commodore Ralph Munroe of Coconut Grove. The completion of the railroad to Key West sealed South Florida’s fate, forever closing “the Florida of Brickell and Peacock, of coontie and green turtle,” Munroe wrote in his autobiography, The Commodore’s Story. With the coming of resort hotels, built to accommodate the tourist “swells,” Miami became the “American Riviera,” Munroe said.
Pine rocklands once covered 185,000 acres of Miami-Dade County. In just 100 years’ time, they were down to less than 3000 acres. Today less than two percent of this habitat exists outside of Everglades National Park, and the precious few remaining fragments are imperiled.
In South Dade, a coalition of activists is trying to stop development of parts of the Richmond pine rocklands, where a privately owned parcel is slated for a Walmart shopping complex and suburban housing. Miami-Dade County is negotiating with another developer to build a theme park, Miami Wilds, on a nearby county-owned parcel.
The fates of many rare and endangered species depend on the survival of the Pine Rocklands. Many exist nowhere else, including several herbaceous plants like the deltoid spurge, the yellow-green milkwort, and the purple-flowered milk pea. If the pinelands don’t survive, they’ll be lost forever.
Threatened and endangered animals and insects also live there: indigo snakes, two butterfly species, the Miami tiger beetle, and Florida bonneted bat. Though small, the pinelands are a fully functioning and integrated ecosystem -- one considered globally imperiled -- and Miamians are on track to usher in its extinction.
Could the Omni Park pineland, which is already changing the way residents experience the neighborhood, change the way residents take responsibility for this rare ecosystem?
Nearby condo residents had long coexisted with a dead zone of no-trespassing signs, broken bottles, and dead grass. Now they’ll wake up to discover meandering paths leading to a mini forest and a prairie
The wild, quiet beauty that Commodore Munroe loved is still out there in the Everglades, somewhere Flagler never got to. But it is also here, on reclaimed land, where the discarded and disorganized have been transformed into a work of art that breathes green.
Volume 15, Issue 2, April 2017
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