Why it could be a disaster.
Urban parks either contrast or reflect their surroundings. Consider the vasty wilderness of Central Park framed by those soaring skyscrapers. Or Pier Park in Chicago, casting its maritime glow over a working-class waterfront. Here in Miami Beach, we’re poised to transform a parking lot into our newest green space. As advocates for reducing parking spaces to allow more transportation options, you’d think this would make us happy.
You might also think Miami Beach is a sparkling, oceanside oasis that attracts tourists the world over to come and stroll the Serpentine Path, Baywalk or Lincoln Road. A compact urban community of fine dining and great shopping available to all, even the residents… a place teeming with life that generates a ton of cash because, after all, this is Miami Beach.
You might think all that.
Where we live, tho,’ is another story. From here the shoreline is dirty, and the boardwalk ramps stink of urine. Sidewalks abound with trash—mind that dog poop!—and untold numbers come with no other place to go or nothing do but sit under the palm trees and drink. And the streets? They’re clogged with cars, big and noisy, in such numbers that it’s dangerous to get around. Pedestrians (say, what?!) can’t walk along some of these streets, by day or night, nor ride them by bicycle, scooter or skate. Too many will nearly cost you your life just trying to cross them.
<Sigh> Here’s a shoulda, coulda, woulda list of missed opportunities:
The current Capitol Improvement Plan and Bonds that promised to reform our streets into safer, more livable and urban, multi-modal transit corridors. At least, that was the sell. Ten years later, instead of positioning us as a great American city with functioning bike lanes, wider sidewalks and streetcars—the hallmarks of successful urban planning—we have, well, look around you.
And talk about creating a resilient local economy—transforming this erstwhile retirement village into a vibrant economy produced some shocking results, among them the balkanization of neighborhoods. Crime, noise, traffic increased exponentially as our shores drew people like magnets and our streets became paved with gold. From Geritol to Red Bull in one generation, but somehow we forgot to build that infrastructure and now have to fight for rational zoning that doesn’t plunk businesses down across from longstanding residences. That ensuing cauldron of late night conflict has created tension and eroded tolerance until the residents want no more and will have no more. But if the axiomatic response to success is No Mas! then, where will the parties go? We need them. And with a stunted and aging Convention Center, where will the trade shows go? We need them, too.
Here’s the origin of storms: the idea that public spaces can and should be ventures for making money is met with “infamy!”, “perfidy!” and “betrayal!” from activists trying to preserve a city that was. But was what? If the only constant is change—a veritable truism here on the Beach—then shouldn’t our aim be growth by design? If unchecked development leads blindly to chaos, why aren’t we ahead of the curve and not behind it?
But about that park…
Last week, the Commission approved a $14 million-something construction budget, yet, the seven assembled again dropped the ball in approving a park designed not for us but for the New World Symphony, and the designers themselves. Our tourista economy must be bedazzled; simply, the more cheaply we entertain, the more money we make. Consider how many people come to the beach because it’s free, true only during the day. What’s needed is an equal attraction by night, and Lincoln Park is it.
With its Frank Ghery backdrop, this hi-tech projection and sound system will be the eighth wonder of the world. There’s nothing like it anywhere else. You will, they say, be mesmerized watching a six-story split screen showing the New World Symphony inside the concert hall playing side-by-side with the London Orchestra … live… whoa!
But no one seems to get that there are three major obstacles holding it back. The opportunity to put Miami Beach not only back on the map, but be the only place on the map, we mean. First flaw, there are way too many trees. Only about 1000 people will be able to sit on the lawn and view the larger-than-life projection wall. Outside this designer-speak “prime viewing area” there is nothing but trees, hundreds of trees, drawing a “veil” over all.
Commissioner Weithorn has expressed a wish to “sit outside, enjoy my lunch and watch the art”, but that’s not what this space is about. As the screen and projections can’t work in the daylight, this is a nighttime attraction only—much as the beach is only a daytime attraction, as there’s not much to “experience” there after dark. At the Design Review Board meeting approving the park design, it became clear that the driving force and misconception for a massive amount of shade came from the designers’ initial impression during their walk-through when the site was an open asphalt lot on a hot August day. If you’ve ever had occasion to park your car there, you know of this heated impression. Unfortunately, the overcompensating trees will turn this into a leafy bhurka obstructing the $250 million Frank Ghery building from Washington Avenue. For a city driven by architecture, where planners won’t even entertain one-way street pairings to ease traffic flow because the buildings were “designed to be seen by passersby in both directions” this smacks a bit of hypocrisy.
We need a space where thousands can be entertained. But with all that verdure, if you’re not one of the lucky 1000 you’ll always find a tree in your way. Always.
Second flaw, there aren’t enough bathrooms. The designers apparently didn’t want to detract from their “garden” by including facilities. No doubt they were persuaded by our well-known ability to “hold it” when given the chance. In the event, in a manner of speaking, praxis ruled and they added two toilets. Not buildings, mind you, but seats; those self-contained Euro-odd stainless steel pods. Now, fast forward to some major event, with thousands—make it twenty-two—attending. Can you imagine the lines? Say, if you’re really lucky, you’ll be one of the thousand to get a good seat free of the trees and a seat in the pee-pod. Might have to wait a bit for it, tho.’
Finally, this pair of comfort stations will be located in the remnants of Lincoln Lane North. More incisive minds than ours have tried luring merchants into opening up that face of their business. Some clothing retailers complied; but for restaurants the task is trickier. Granting them sidewalk cafés might’ve worked, but may also be only a pipedream. The permanent potties are already there. For special events, or whenever a crowd is anticipated, they’ll bring in the port-o-lets and stage them right on The Lane, right in The Park.
Just don’t drink too much water before the event!