In the last few years, during the precipitous decline of Miami’s real estate fortunes, small urban parks have been replacing unbuilt towers, filling in the gaps of the city’s downtown core. Although the city has a new-ish and moderately ambitious parks master plan inspired by the Miami 21 zoning code, most of these parks are the result of independent, grassroots activism or private interests.
Some of the parks are temporary, and many are still dirt lots that a few hardy citizens are petitioning to save, but all are feasible. Grand Central Park, the idea and pet project of Brad Knoefler, recently opened across the street from Knoefler’s nightclub, Grand Central. It’s imperfect, with lots of fencing and gravel, and may disappear in a few years for another big tower if the lease isn’t renewed, but it nonetheless represents exactly what the neighborhood needs and is better amateur urbanism than anyone should hope for.
Biscayne Boulevard’s long-in-coming return to grandeur was the backstory for a “popup” park on the road’s home stretch. The Bayfront Parkway, organized by a group of young urban thinkers, was open for five short days earlier this month on one of the Boulevard’s median parking lots. Just like annual (Park)ing day in September, but at a larger scale, they sodded over the entire lot, and held a constant stream of events to show downtown residents the kind of park-lined boulevard that Miami could have, but doesn’t.
In Brickell, the Flatiron Park and Brickell Green Space give hope for the greening of the densest neighborhood south of Manhattan. Designed by Raymond Jungles, Flatiron is also temporary — it is an agreement between the developer and the city to utilize empty land while the slow economic recovery is waited out — and construction, begun last fall, has supposedly stalled over a sprinkler installation disagreement.
Flatiron Park design by Raymond Jungles
Brickell Green is a campaign to preserve the last available riverfront lots in Brickell and create what would be Brickell’s biggest park. The green space would be a major link in the also long-in-coming Miami Riverwalk and Baywalk network. The Riverwalk has grown slowly in fits and starts, over at least the past decade, if not longer, making it incomplete, and disorganized. But the Riverwalk does connect two new small parks at the tip of the river as it wraps around the elevated podium of the Icon Brickell towers. These parks are the sites of the Miami Circle and the Brickell family’s mausoleum. Across the river, as the Riverwalk becomes the Baywalk, you reach (after somehow traversing the nonexistent section under the Port Bridge and laboriously walking around the FEC Slip) Miami’s biggest park project: Museum Park.
Model for Museum Park
Museum Park basically puts a new, fairly well designed park with two monumental museums — the Miami Art Museum and the Miami Science Museum — designed by some really good architects on top of an older failed park known for its blight and drug usage. Museum Park is the beauty queen of the new parks party, trying to solve its problems through a grand civic statement, while glazing over many of the fine-grained details.
The park is still isolated on all four sides — by Biscayne Boulevard, the I-395 overpass, Biscayne Bay, and the FEC slip — with few efforts to broach that isolation, and the museums are all on the north side of the park, near the highway. The museums block road noise, but deprive the more isolated south side of a major destination to draw visitors through the park, and create a wall of empty space after museum operating hours. Nevertheless, with a few minor changes (crosswalks, and a Baywalk bridge to dining and dancing behind American Airlines Arena perhaps), Museum Park will be a roaring success.
I think the majority of the new parks will succeed, including the four or five more I didn’t mention, because they critically respond to Miami at the equally important grand civic and fine-grained scales, and they reflect increasing citizen involvement in Miami’s urban growth. A few will be lost to condo towers, surely, and a couple scandals might surface — this is Miami, after all. But in a messy, developmental, sand-in-your-shoes kind of a way, our city is seriously and assiduously experimenting with urbanism and becoming a dense, walkable, gorgeous, grown-up Miami.
Related link: A guide to public parks in Miami
Sean McCaughan is a Miami-based freelance design and architecture writer. He has a blog at suntannedmumford.com.