Miami growing up green with new parks

By | March 12th, 2012 | 8 Comments
Grand Central Park

Grand Central Park after dark. -- photo by Derek Cole, GCP

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
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.

Museum Park model
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

8 Comments on “Miami growing up green with new parks”

  1. 1 Mr. Gumsandals said at 12:08 pm on March 13th, 2012:

    Save Museum Park’s slip for the proposed wave pool.

  2. 2 Hsaloc said at 5:54 pm on March 13th, 2012:

    What we need to do is sink the Highway leading to and from Miami Beach and extend the park around and out in front of the Performing Arts Center.

  3. 3 ray said at 10:56 pm on March 13th, 2012:

    Not one park is a result of Miami 21’s plan, not one.
    As far as Museum Park. of course it was a failed park. The city kept the metromover station, located at the park, closed (so they could help assure its failure and lobby for the museum’s to go there). It had virtually no trees, benches, or recreational areas, and was mostly used as an occaisional racetrack or venue for weekend paid events. No shade, no pier, nowhere to picnic. Don’t mistake a plan to concrete over what should have been a waterfront showcasing nature, with a “failed park”. Finally, citing temporary parks which will be non existent once the real estate boom returns and more high rises are on these temporary lots (now parks), is hardly a good sign for the greening of Miami.

  4. 4 Leah said at 7:21 am on March 14th, 2012:

    Unfortunately, I kind of agree with Ray. All of this “temporary” business sounds like parks are being tolerated until something more profitable comes around.

  5. 5 Sean McCaughan said at 12:51 pm on March 14th, 2012:

    Ray, these parks are independent of Miami 21 and its accompanying Parks Master Plan, and with the possible exception of Museum Park, they could even be considered a reaction against the lackluster vision of the parks plan. Museum Park was begun by Mayor Diaz as part of his program of development in Miami, which included Miami 21 and the parks plan.
    I doubt opening the People Mover station would have been enough to save Bicentennial/Museum Park. I say it was a failed park for all those reasons you list, and the reasons I mention in the article, like the lack of vegetation, landscaping, programming, or connections to the outside city, and that racetrack. Don’t underestimate how isolated it was from the rest of Miami.
    I cite temporary parks because they are part of a trend that includes permanent parks, and because there are many examples of temporary designs that due to popularity have become permanent. I have the hope that these new civic spaces (they are moreso civic spaces than green spaces) will do the same.

  6. 6 Leah said at 8:07 am on March 15th, 2012:

    Sean, I hope that you are right, but as long as Developers are the ones running the show, I worry that the bottom line will be more attractive than civic virtue once the economy improves.

  7. 7 ray said at 10:11 am on March 15th, 2012:

    Sean, you wrote “most of the parks …” are not a result of Miami 21. In fact, none are. that was my point w/ that. That having a Metromover might not have helped bicentenial, one can argue, but that the city had the disregard for the public to keep it locked for the years they pushed to add the museums (when it was bought, paid for and functioning otherwise, and with out taxes), is an outrage. the point is that they were engages in a concerted effort to deceive the public of other ways they might have made that waterfront park widely used without concreting it over. (as far as museums, they sold land they owned blocks away and not on the water, better for museums, at a fraction of what taxpayers paid for it to be bought and built), when they were gearing up for taking over bicentenial for the museums. And one can argue this, but money spent on temporary parks is money not spent on permanent parks. Those temp parks are in locations with the highest density in the city, and when those lots also have high rises on them, there will be a greater need there for parks, than now, but no plan, and no money, and the temp parks there now, will be gone. That is not a plan, or a “greening” of the city, of any substance in my book.

  8. 8 fqmiami said at 2:57 pm on March 17th, 2012:

    Agree with Ray 100%. I like neighborhood parks, but these “temporary parks” are a bad joke, waiting for the next boom to disappear. As far as destination parks go, AA Arena, Bayside Marketplace and now Museum Park were all built on public waterfront park land which could have been Miami’s answer to Central Park. Instead, we have chopped up little slivers of green space which we are being told we should be elated to have.

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