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Smart Growth Manual

The newly released book titled The Smart Growth Manual is filled with best practice examples of good urbanism. Co-written by Transit Miami’s very own Mike Lydon with Andres Duany and Jeff Speck, The Smart Growth Manual is an indispensable guide on how to properly plan a modern city. The book is organized for speedy reference (much like a dictionary or encyclopedia) and is concise and to the point. Nonetheless it shows smart growth principles at each geographic scale (region, neighborhood, street, building).  Each concept is discussed, reviewed and explained in about a half page and usually there is a diagram, map or picture that helps explain each concept. If you are looking for how we should be laying the foundation for smart growth development then I suggest you pick up this book.

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Back in July we alerted TM readers to Dwell Magazine’s ReBurbia competition. Well, the submissions are in, and unsurprisingly, the 20 finalists are filled with super creative, but fantastical, totally outrageous proposals.

We know suburbia needs retrofitting. The 20th century was about building the damn thing, but seeing the results, we have to use the 21st century to correct all of the  ills proffered by such an untenable way of organizing the built environment.  Indeed, retrofitting suburbia is likely to be  the biggest collective project for 21st century urban planners.

With that in mind, please considering visiting the Reburbia finalist site and voting for the Sprawl Repair Kit, designed by Galina Tahchieva and others at DPZ.  Simply click on the little red house in the upper right hand corner of the screen. Voting closes tomorrow night.

Your vote is important, as it will send the message to all Dwell readers and beyond that as fun as flying airships and treehouses are, we need practical and realistic solutions for a very serious 21st century problem.  As a side note, the techniques outlined in the preferred proposal above encompass those very same principles embodied by Miami 21.

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I know we have already mentioned this topic this week, but considering the Herald continues its negative spin campaign against the zoning rewrite I thought a healthy counterpoint was in order. Herald columnist Ana Mendez writes in her column today that she thinks that the code is a little too complicated for a layperson to understand.

She writes, “Its true zoning codes are difficult to write. And no one wants to minimize the important role that government plays in assessing the public’s needs and translating them into hopelessly complicated, impenetrable legal gobbledygook. But there has to be a better way.”

Now, as an urban planner and architect I agree that the language can be difficult at times, but the fact is that anyone with a high school education can figure it out (not to mention that all of the terms used are defined in the first chapter). Part of the problem is that we have to translate good urban design (which is a field that lends itself to drawing more than writing) into legal ‘gobbledygook’ so that land-use attorneys and developers don’t find loopholes in otherwise straightforward regulations.

Codes (Miami 21 or any other land use code) have to be written in language that is not simplistic, and that will hold up to scrutiny in court. Menendez quotes from the code:


Lots facing streets on more than one (1) side shall have designated Principal Frontage(s) and may have Secondary Frontage(s). Unless otherwise designated by a Special Area Plan, a Principal Frontage shall be that facing the street of higher pedestrian importance or intensity (i.e., traffic volume, number of lanes, etc.)

Which is another way of saying that you define the front of a corner lot as the one that faces the busiest street, but you can’t say that in a legal document because if you did then you would have all sorts of follow-up questions like:

  • How do you define which street is most important?
  • What do you call the other less important front?

Unfortunately, I think that this criticism of Miami 21, along most others, is less about the code than about blaming it for things that are beyond its control.

Here are a few of the arguments against Miami 21 that I have read both on the Miami 21 website and in various articles over the past two years:
-> “Miami 21 is the first urban application of a smart code in the US. It is an experiment that has never been tested.”

Actually, Miami 21 is not the first form based code to be applied to a major urban center, Philadelphia is in the process of passing a form based code, and I think we would all agree that as far as successful urbanism is concerned Miami pales in comparison. Form based codes have actually been around for a long time. Think of any good city (Chicago, New York, Philly, Boston) and their downtowns were developed with codes that were form based (as opposed to use based).

-> “Miami 21 is hated by architects and urban planners.”

Actually, having been written by urban planners and architects this one is not really true. The Herald loves to point out that architects dislike the plan, but really only a vocal minority of self-crowned celebrity architects dislike the code as a matter of ego than of substance. One architect in particular (whose name will remain anonymous except to say that it begins with Z and ends with h) says that the code infringes on his creativity by imposing height restrictions. Without going into some lengthy discussion on aesthetics and philosophy, lets just say that where this designer is concerned, creativity is overrated. Miami 21 holds faithful to some pretty basic premises (active street fronts, eyes on the street, etc.) and allows a lot of latitude after that. If you need your building to stand out like a huge phallic symbol, go to Dubai. Never mind that the the latest draft of the code has all but relaxed the height restrictions in certain T-Zones to be what they are in the existing code.

-> “Miami 21 will not allow me to rebuild my house if it gets destroyed.”

First of all, as with any zoning rewrite there will be nonconformities. The whole point of the code is that the existing code is allowing some pretty awful stuff to get built, and the new code will make some of that illegal. That’s the nature of any zoning code. I live in a 1940’s med style house that is illegal by today’s code because its too close to the sidewalk. Go figure. At any rate, the new draft of the code explicitly states that nonconformities in R1 zones will be grandfathered in. Period.

-> “Developers hate Miami 21.”

This one is my favorite. Developers love Miami 21 because it gives them greater development rights than they had before. The code was drafted using the existing regulations as a base. That means that all of the development rights have been preserved or augmented. All the code does is say that you have to meet the street in a way that will promote healthy urbanism. It’s not complicated.

-> “Miami 21 will allow tall buildings next to single family residences along Biscayne in the NE part of town.”

This one is true much to the chagrin of community activists such as Elvis Cruz who have long protected the area. Unfortunately they aren’t entirely using their thinking caps as to what they get in return for this extra height. Along parts of Biscayne you can build a 3 story building that would reach a height of 50’+ that would be adjacent to 30′ homes.

There are two parts to this that people need to understand.

1) We are trying to encourage pedestrian friendly development along in this part of Biscayne and part of that involves defining the street as a public space. With a street as large as Biscayne is, you need something more than two stories to make that happen. I don’t think that 50′ is all that egregious a transition to a single family neighborhood (especially in comparison to what is allowed now).
2) We need to start thinking of our eastern edge as the place where more intense development needs to happen. We cannnot hold the UDB line and be NIMBY’s at the same time. Saving the Everglades means that growth has to be in someone’s backyard. Biscayne Boulevard deserves buildings that are more than 3 stories.

Remember this: Miami 21 is a lot better than the existing code, and if we let this opportunity pass we are the ones who suffer. This is not some abstract concept in a book, this is about the kind of city in which we want to live and raise our families. I for one will not give up.

Miami 21 is in the Herald today with news that is not very uplifting. Commissioner Regalado, a longtime critic of the plan, has decided that the residents of his district do not yet fully understand the code and that he will not let the plan move forward until they do. Judging from turnout at meetings in his district, it’s no wonder that people still don’t understand the plan, but whose fault is that? (Maybe they should show up, or at least read through the code once). Are we going to continue to stall this plan and delay its implementation because of his own political agenda against Mayor Diaz and Commish Joe Sanchez. All too often lately, it seems that his decisions are based on where ideas came from rather than what is best for his constituents or the city. Think about the Ballpark deal: if that had come solely from Mayor Diaz’s office he would surely have tried to kill it.

Lets not even mention the fact that he expects DPZ to do any work from this point on for FREE!! What boggles my mind is that he originally suggested the quadrant system, only to change his mind later to city-wide implementation. In my business that’s called a change order, and there is no reason that DPZ should not be compensated for it. It all boils down to a cheap political trick: rather than force a vote against the plan (which he would be responsible for) he is going to try to force them to stop working on the plan (by not paying them), and later blaming the administration and DPZ for not following through.

The fact is that this plan works, and it works a lot better than what we have now. Period. Any other arguments he or any other commissioner makes is small potatoes. It serves the public good, will create a walkable city, and provides for the transitions from high density areas to low density areas that are non-existent in the current code.

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There’s movement on the horizon for Miami 21. You’ll remember that the last we heard about Miami 21 (way back in June of last summer) the City Commissioners sent DPZ back to do more work refining the code, & holding more public meetings. Among some of the criticisms the Commissioners had was that the plan was divided into quadrants (a request they made when DPZ first started the project) and would required concurrent zoning codes, and that there were several parts of the code that were not very clear (ironically the parts that came from the existing code regarding non-conformities).

DPZ spent the remainder of last summer holding 14 public meetings in the remaining 3 quadrants to educate the rest of the city on what Miami 21 is and what it is trying to accomplish (as if they didn’t already know). They reissued a new and improved code (addressing some of the concerns regarding height and development rights) and revamped the Miami 21 website. The City of Miami seemed to be ready once again to move forward with with the code by scheduling an April 8th special City Commission meeting. Unfortunately, that meeting was postponed so that DPZ could finish the atlas of the entire city.

The new website is helpful and will hopefully do away with the notion that the city and DPZ have tried coming up with this code in a smoke filled room with no public involvement. They have published several previous versions of the code as requested in the Question/Answer section of the website, and have provided readers with a thorough education on the idea of the form-based code. I would urge any interested party (developer, lawyer and citizen alike) to read through the code to really understand it. It is user friendly and streamlines the zoning process.

We urge the City Commission to recognize Miami 21 as the visionary code that it is, and hope that the work can move forward as quickly as possible so that new development can start to shape the city in a positive way.

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After more than two years of work, it seemed that Miami 21 was finally set to arrive late last year. However, some officials and many residents were upset and confused by the way Miami 21 was to be implemented, one quadrant at a time instead of the entire city at once. According to the Miami Today News, though, Miami 21 authors Duany Plater-Zyberk (DPZ) have now decided to unveil the zoning code for the entire city at once.

According to the Miami Today News piece,

City Manager Pete Hernandez told commissioners last week in their first public update since the summer that city staff and the consultants “have had an extensive number of meetings” and will be ready to post the latest draft of the code on the Web early next month.
This is good news overall, as I believe this makes Miami 21 even stronger while appeasing residents and officials concerned over the original quadrant-by-quadrant implementation plan. The downside? It looks like we’ll have to wait at least another eight months before the new code can be implemented. This will make Miami 21 a three-year process, but if that’s what it takes to get it implemented, and done right, then so be it; this is too critical for the city’s future to let another eight months get us down.

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That’s the message of DPZ planner Mike Lydon, who recently had this nice letter printed in the Miami Herald. Here’s a reprint:

An increasing number of cities, large and small, welcome bicycling as an energy efficient, healthy and economically sustainable means of alternative transportation. Chicago, for example, is currently implementing its Bike 2015 Plan, which makes bicycling an integral part of the city’s daily life through infrastructure projects, programs and policies. Likewise, a bicycle master plan underway in Portland is upholding and expanding its reputation as the most bicycle-friendly city in America.

Looking internationally, in just a few years Bogotá has implemented a highly integrated citywide bicycle system, and every Sunday it hosts Ciclovia, an event that closes 70 miles of the city’s streets to traffic, allowing bicyclists and pedestrians to celebrate a car-free public realm. Perhaps more dramatically, Paris executed a citywide bicycle sharing system that transformed it into one of Europe’s most bicycle-friendly cities. Indeed, with well over one million rides logged on 20,000 low cost bicycles available at high-tech stations, the City of Light has repositioned itself to also become the city of bikes.

In contrast, Miami is choosing not to compete. To date, locating a sidewalk bike rack is more difficult than securing a Saturday night parking spot near Lincoln Road. On-street bike lanes simply do not exist. Nor do street signs directing motorists to share the road with their two-wheel “subordinates.”

Cyclists do not have a bicycle sharing program to look forward to, or even a simple bike map showing them the friendliest streets on which to travel. What’s worse, there seems to be surprisingly little commitment by the city to improve the situation on any level. This runs counter to America’s most vibrant cities like Chicago, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco and even our own Miami Beach, where an official citywide bicycle master plan is currently adding signage, bicycle racks and bicycle lanes with great success.

Yet the city of Miami could become a great bicycling city. We have fantastic weather, bicycle friendly flat terrain and a population that seems to enjoy the abundance of outdoor activities that South Florida provides. It’s not as if Miami does not have a fair share of cyclists. I see them on my daily commute from the beach, through downtown and into Little Havana. I also bicycle with them in the monthly critical mass ride over the Rickenbacker Causeway to Virginia Key and Key Biscayne.

We just need to better accommodate them, and we can. The city’s ubiquitous grid features many wide street right-of-ways that, where appropriate, easily could include bicycle-related infrastructure. Such a system should connect some of the city’s up-and-coming urban destinations, too far to reach by foot, but too frustrating to reach by car — the Biscayne Corridor, Design District, Wynwood, Downtown, Brickell, Little Havana, Little Haiti and Coconut Grove, as well as the city’s outlying neighborhoods.

If Miami is to unlock its great bicycling potential, it must consider hiring a bicycle planner (yes, they do exist) to create an ambitious bicycle master plan, and one that supplements the provisions of the Miami 21 plan. The bicycle plan must be city-wide and address everything from safety and education to actual policy and infrastructure implementation. Moreover, the plan should set realistic benchmarks that are able to be realized in both the short and long term.

So what gives, Miami? Why don’t we have an official bicycle planner on staff aiding the supposed urban renaissance proclaimed by DWNTWN billboards? Why not be bold and make Miami a year-round cycling destination? The benefit received from creating a bicycle plan would do much to change the perception of the city, internally and externally. It would also improve the city’s livability. Why should we settle as a perpetually pedestrian and bike unfriendly city? We know that sinking more money into auto-oriented infrastructure only makes congestion and pollution worse. We know our current modes of automobile transport are inadequate, frustrating and contribute to global warming, an issue that all South Floridians must take seriously.

It’s time for the city to move in a new direction — one relying upon more pedestrian and bike-friendly urban forms as a means to achieving a vibrant, sustainable city for the 21st century. However, without recognition from city officials, Miami’s great potential has little chance of becoming a reality. A bike planner might just be the best place to start.

Note: All links were provided by the author of this post and did not appear in the original Miami Herald print.

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Originally, Miami 21 was scheduled to go before the Commission tomorrow, September 27th, for its final hearing. However, due to a scheduling conflict on the Planning and Zoning agenda, this will no longer be the case. From the Miami21.org website:
The City of Miami City Manager is working on establishing a date in October, possibly for a special meeting to hear the item. The final date has not been established, but will be posted as soon as it is scheduled.

I’ve been looking for a mainstream media announcement of the date change, but I have yet to find anything. We’ll post any updates as we receive them.

In the meantime, if you haven’t seen DPZ’s latest Miami 21 presentation, I recommend checking it out here.

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in an ideal world, originally uploaded by thisisforever.

Speaking of the vast improvements needed to upgrade Miami’s substandard biking facilities…

Not Exactly practical, but it emphasizes our point that some drastic measures need to be taken to right the vehicular imbalance in our region…

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Last night I was perusing through various planning news sources, when I came across an excellent Planetizen blog entry by Mike Lydon, a planner at Duany Plater-Zyberk (DPZ). In the blog entry, Lydon uses photographs and captions to describe his bike commute from his South Beach apartment to the DPZ office in Little Havana.
Mike is spot-on with his commentary and captions. The pictures do a nice job illustrating the duality of Miami. Almost the whole time I was navigating Mike’s column, I was nodding my head and thinking, “this sounds exactly like how I would’ve described it”.

I highly recommend checking it out here.

Photo courtesy of Mike Lydon via Planetizen

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I was going to retype them all out myself, but Alesh had a handy spreadsheet available…

The latest rounds of Miami 21 meetings begin tomorrow:

Date Location Address Time Net Area
Aug 2 Simpson Park 55 SW 17th Road 6pm Coral Way
Aug 7 West End Park 250 SW 60th Ave. 6:30pm Flagami
Aug 9 Police Benevolent Assc. 2300 NW 14th St. 6pm Allapattah
Aug 15 Curtis Park 1901 NW 24th Ave. 6pm Allapattah
Aug 16 Belafonte Tacolcy Center 6161 NW 9th Ave. 6pm Model City
Aug 20 St. Michael 2987 West Flagler St. 6pm West Flagler
Aug 21 Disabilities Center 4560 NW 4th Terr. 6pm Flagami
Aug 23 Orange Bowl 1501 NW 3rd St. 6pm Little Havana
Aug 27 Citrus Grove Elementary 2121 NW 5th St. 6pm Little Havana
Aug 28 Frankie S. Rolle Center 3750 S. Dixie Hwy 6pm SW Coconut Grove
Aug 29 Hadley Park 1350 NW 50th St. 6pm Model City
Aug 30 Shenandoah Park 1800 SW 21st Ave. 6pm Coral Way
Sep 4 Coral Way Elementary 1950 SW 13th Ave. 6pm Coral Way
Sep 5 LaSalle High School 3601 S. Miami Ave. 6pm NE Coconut Grove

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Image Via myuzishun’s Flickr

The alarms should have rung long ago, not today when the stock market plunged 300 points on the news of dismal results coming from the nation’s top sprawl produces. It’s pretty disappointing to see that so much of the US economy is based on the growth of these development groups which continue to produce nothing but atrocious housing developments on the outer fringes of nearly American city. Its also ironic that what we consider to be an economic engine in our communities is also responsible for degrading our lifestyles, increasing congestion, straining our resources and with that likely costing us as taxpayers more in infrastructure needs and upgrades than the economic benefit we receive in return:

“Disappointing results from home builders including Pulte Homes Inc. and D.R. Horton Inc. — squeezed by a sluggish environment from home sales and continued defaults in subprime loans — weighed heavily on the market.”

An Excerpt from Suburban Nation, The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream:

“…The primary goal of the [housing] industry remains to build and sell individual houses as quickly and profitably as possible, to “blow and go,” as they put it…Homebuilders, land developers, and marketing advisers are all constituents that must be won over if the campaign against suburban sprawl is to succeed. Their participation will be meaningful in the long run only if it is driven by the profit motive, because in America at the millennium, ideas live or die based upon their performance in the marketplace….A higher standard of development will become common place only if it offers greater profits to those who practice it.”

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New Urbanism discussion on CBS, aired May 20, 2007…

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Miami 21’s first reading before the Commission yesterday turned out to be rather disappointing. After nearly nine hours of discussion, Commissioners chose to defer an official vote on the proposed new zoning code for another 90 days. This is largely due to the “confusion” still permeating citizens and Commissioners alike.

Now I understand a lot of people are spewing hate at Elizabeth and DPZ, but I say give her a break. I’m guessing the reason she made the quote to “pass as is” was not meant as an arrogant gesture, but as a sign of frustration. And you know what? I’d be frustrated, too, if I were her.

Yes, the Miami 21 project is both large and complex, but there have been more than 100 public meetings over the course of nearly two years to clear things up. When it comes to public input, this number definitely verges on the high end, yet somehow people are still confused. There has even been ample information and supporting documentation available at Miami21.org for which to help clear things up.

Look, I know for a fact that if I had any real concerns about a project like this I would do whatever it takes to get answers (before it goes to the commission!). Yet people (and Commissioners) still don’t even understand basic tenets, such as whether or not existing buildings would be grandfathered-in under the new code. We’re adults, people - at some point we need to take the initiative to figure things out instead of waiting to be force-fed information.

Thus, I think we could interpret her “pass as is” quote another way. It goes something like this:

“If after 100+ public meetings and forums, plus an easily accessible website with ample supporting documentation, people still are clueless about the proposed code, then how much of an affect will additional meetings really have? Once you reach a certain threshold of meetings, offering any additional meeting should have little appreciable benefit - if any at all. Thus, after 100+ meetings, you begin to wonder one of two things: (1) Are the people who claim they still ‘don’t get it’ really confused, or are they just opponents of the new code (and subsequently opponents of change) acting to create doubt in the minds of commissioners and about the work of DPZ? or (2) Is this symptomatic of Miami’s anemic citizen involvement in public affairs?”

As for the Commissioners, there is no excuse. This is arguably the most significant vote of these Commissioners lives, and they’ve known it was coming for two years now. Given their tremendous access to the city’s planners, DPZ, and pretty much any information they need to help them understand Miami 21, it is inexcusable and irresponsible that they still don’t understand the proposed code.

While I have mentioned that Miami 21 is not a perfect code, it is so much better than the current one. It begs the question, would you rather continue under the anachronistic, byzantine code we currently have, that allows hodge-podge development and is completely and utterly hostile to pedestrians and cyclists?

It is critical that people understand this, because to continue under the old code would have devastating consequences for Miami’s future. So, if you are one of those people who has gone to meetings and taken the initiative to understand Miami 21 but is still genuinely confused, I implore you to do whatever it takes to educate yourself during the next 90 days - Miami’s future hinges on this code.

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Don’t forget - the first reading of Miami 21 is today! Check it out live on channel 77.

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