Proposal: Line every street in Miami-Dade County with trees. Quick, you have only 20 seconds to explain how to do it. All you need is about $35 million, less than the average $40 million spent on one of Miami’s highway overpasses.
Scattering more than 1.2 million trees across the county was only one of 20 20-second presentations on how to make Miami’s urban communities more livable Thursday night at Wood Tavern in Wynwood. The format, started in Tokyo in 2003 by a pair of architects, is called Pecha Kucha — pronounce it as one word and let it roll off the tongue the way you would “buhdonkadonk.”
Following the recent hit-and-run accident on the Rickenbacker Causeway that killed cyclist Aaron Cohen, the “Making Miami” Pecha Kucha, held during Wood’s weekly “Bicycle Happy Hour”, brought like-minded locals together to share ideas on how Miami can change its infrastructure from one that caters to cars and traffic to a system more focused on pedestrians, bicyclists, runners, and overall livability within neighborhoods.
No one walked away from Thursday night’s Pecha Kucha with any dirt under their fingernails, but the attendees — some on solo missions, others representing community-based groups and local municipalities — left with a better idea of how others in Miami want to improve the county’s urban core, and what they’re doing to get it done.
And that’s the point, said organizer Karja Hansen, directors fellow at architecture and town-planning firm Duany Plater-Zyberk.
“There are lots of great things going on, but they’re separate. Working in urban design and planning we see the larger connections,” she said. “This is the first event aimed at connecting all of these efforts and providing a visible framework to achieve our larger goals.”
She and co-organizer Craig Chester, a writer for the blog Transit Miami, got things started with a look at how people relate to each other in an urban environment. That included incubators for local business, community activism, and the cost of urbanism versus suburban sprawl.
“Tonight is aimed at the human network,” Hansen said.
Mark Schreiber, of Brickell Green Space, argued for more parks among the growing canyon of skyscrapers stretching from Brickell Avenue to the Arsht Center. In Miami there are only 2.8 acres of park per every thousand residents, his 20-second presentation pointed out. Compare that to Oakland, California — yes, Oakland — which boasts 12.8 acres for every thousand people.
Kevin Bulger, an Americorp representative focused on eliminating poverty and the only presenter who donned a tie for his rapid-fire presentation, urged the crowd to consider volunteering in the community as more than a temporary tour of duty. “It’s a lifetime of service,” he said.
Benjamin Arcia, with the Miami Longboard Crew, argued for more art, not only in Wynwood, but in places like Sweetwater. It’s anyone’s guess as to where there’s synergy between longboarding and contemporary art, but, Arcia argued, “why not focus on art as our city’s industry? Industry is leaving anyway, why not become the Florence of today?” The move, he added, could be an economic generator as well, and tourists could cover the county end to end, visiting each area’s artistic hub, and “spend money.”
Social media consultant Stephanie Spiegel used her 20 seconds to announce the relaunch of Tree-0-5, a group that, before she left for Israel in 2007, went out at night to revitalize neglected plots of land with guerilla gardening.
Matthew Toro, a research associate at the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, made an admittedly “banal” proposal when he urged listeners to “demand a citywide ordinance for high impact crosswalks that would accompany existing … ordinances.”
“Cities should be built for people not automobiles,” Toro said during his 20-second presentation, articulating the main message of the Pecha Kucha.
One of the key hurdles to improving road safety for bicyclists and pedestrians is the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), which has jurisdiction over many of the streets in downtown and across the county.
“We’ve had a consensus with FDOT,” said Collin Worth, bicycle and special projects assistant at the City of Miami, but it’s “hard to get the DOT to embrace what many people are in favor of.”
Starting the conversation on how to overcome obstacles and achieve results was perhaps the main goal of the “Making Miami” Pecha Kucha. Of course, there’s only so much nuance you can cover in 20 seconds, but that doesn’t mean the proposals were pipe dreams.
Asked if his idea to tear down the I-95 exit ramps that cut through the downtown core were really feasible, Worth said, with confidence, “It’s possible.”
Indeed, for many of the Pecha Kucha presenters, it seemed the mere possibility of urban improvement was enough to keep them going.