On my way to Milam’s on 32nd and Bird Ave this afternoon I almost got hit by a car after freezing in the road upon first site of this new building. Known as “Groveloft” at 3062 Bird Ave., this building adds absolutely nothing to the area’s pedestrian realm. The architect had a good opportunity, even with an oversupply of parking required, to add some quality density to the Grove and enhance the pedestrian realm along Bird Ave. Instead, they opted for a totally auto-centric design. This building is completely designed to be integrated with automobiles and not human beings:
  • The entrance to the parking garage is large, hideous, and the focal point of the building’s principal frontage on Bird Ave, a primary street. The arrows are tacky and the gate is ugly as all get out.
  • There are not any pedestrian entrances from Bird Ave., which is a primary street in Miami. Typical of most buildings in the Grove, this building does all it can to separate itself from public space with its fortress-like ground floor.
  • Instead of planting shade trees, which would have enhanced the pedestrian realm on Bird Ave. and aligned closely with the lush character of the Grove, the developers opted for dinky little palm trees on the edge of the street that serve more as eye candy for passing drivers than for functional green space on the sidewalk corridor. The larger tree in the back right of the photo that could have better accomplished this is instead barricaded from the public behind yet another gate.
This building is certainly not unique in Miami. Many more just like it are emerging each month throughout the City, and each one of them squanders an opportunity to enhance Miami’s pedestrian realm, which would encourage more people to walk and serve as the precursor to increased transit ridership. This is the kind of design that should be eliminated with the implementation of Miami 21 - which couldn’t come soon enough.

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21 Responses to Urban Design Malpractice

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for your blog. You are dealing with some important issues.

    Minor corrections:

    “ugly as I’ll get out”: I’m pretty sure the phrase is actually “ugly as all get out”.

    “This building is not unique to Miami”: I think what you mean here is “This building is not unique IN Miami”. To say it is “not unique TO Miami” means that buildings like it exist in other cities also. I think what you are trying to say here is that buildings like it exist elsewhere in Miami (judging from your next sentence).

    Those are minor corrections, like I said. Please keep blogging about Miami transit and planning.

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  2. Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal says:

    Thanks Anon…

    Ryan you’re slacking!

    It’s Bird Road too…

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  3. Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal says:

    I made the changes…

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  4. Ryan says:

    I apologize for my negligence - there is no excuse.

    Gabe, in the Grove Bird Road changes from SW 40th to SW 30th, and becomes “Bird Ave”.

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  5. Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal says:

    Wow! Really? What’s scary is I live right by there an never noticed….

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  6. DGM says:

    I used to drive past the construction site for that building all the time. It is a shame it ended up looking like the tower of a battleship.

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  7. Paul305 says:

    “I…am…condobot. Feed…me…cars.”

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  8. CDM says:

    Where is the main entrance to the building (ie. street address). I know that sometimes it is a mission to change the street address so the main entrance has to be a side street rather than a main road.

    This happened on a project my dad worked on where the owner wanted the entrance to be on LeJeune (to get LeJeune on the business card) but instead was left with a street number.

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  9. CDM says:

    Okay just saw the address. Ignore my comment. I do like the double height glass though. At least it’s not cookie cutter design and it has a roof top terrace. Something I think we can learn from NY.

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  10. Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal says:

    The design would be excellent if the carport entry’s ugliness didn’t overshadow any other element of the building…This is the same kind of BS happening with the buildings on Coral Way, which, IMO is far more devastating because its killing the pedestrian factor of what could be our best pedestrian street…

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  11. madeindade says:

    Actually the design is perfect for the car-worship that 99% of Dade residents practice…

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  12. Jeff says:

    Well, what do you guys want? It’s sitting on a lot that’s only about a hundred feet wide. A few of you are transportation engineers, so do the math… minimum aisle width for right-angle parking + 2 x minimum required depth ~= 26 + 18 + 18 = 62 feet. Side setbacks are going to be at least 5 feet on each side, which brings us up to 72 feet. There’s not a whole lot of room for public-realm interaction with ~12 feet of buildable space remaining on either side (adding in the wall thickness itself).

    I *dare* anyone criticizing its non-embrace of transit and the public realm to walk, alone, from Grove Lofts to Douglas Road Metrorail station at 11pm any night of the week. No, you aren’t allowed to remove your watch & leave your cell phone & wallet somewhere safe. And you have to leave your car parked along the street while you’re gone. Any takers?

    I didn’t think so. Maybe in 5-10 years it might be reasonable option, but right now it would be just plain reckless and stupid to try a stunt like that. The first thing new ‘Grove residents learn is that it doesn’t matter how expensive your condo is, or how much rent you pay… the threat of getting your car broken into and/or getting mugged is an omnipresent, daily reality everywhere in the Grove, and anyone who willfully ignores that reality does so at their own peril.

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  13. Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal says:

    Maybe in 5-10 years but highly its unlikely if we continue to cater our urban design to the automobile. This building could have just have easily created a less obtrusive carport off to one side of the building. They could have also incorporated a front entrance accessible to pedestrians to account for that possible lifestyle change which might happen in 5-10 years. The point is the lifestyle change will never occur unless we start to incorporate urban living aspects into every design, city code, and building requirements. We must begin to facilitate other forms of mobility before we can expect people to fully embrace it…

    The public safety factor is secondary. The greatest deterrent to crime is a strong public presence, i.e.: streets with bustling pedestrian activity. The crime level will subside as pedestrian activity increases, lighting/streetscape improvements occur, and when we stop building fortified buildings which only encourage our ridiculously absurd obsession with cars. The crime element is a product of our surroundings’ design and not vice versa.

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  14. Jeff says:

    You’re basically asking developers to take a direct hit financially by refusing to give buyers what they actually want. I’d be shocked if the layout used by Grove Lofts wasn’t chosen after days or weeks of trying out different layouts to find the one that provided the most available parking possible.

    Someone who’s single might view a condo with a single deeded space as viable. I GUARANTEE no Dade County married couple with two cars would give a condo with only a single deeded space and small garage with only a few guest spaces (and evidence that they’re VIGOROUSLY reserved for use by guests ONLY) a second glance unless it were insanely cheap. Why? Because if they moved into a building like that, they’d have to put up with endless, daily hassles related to parking.

    There’s NO WAY someone putting himself two paychecks away from bankruptcy for 30-40 years to buy a condo he can’t really afford is going to add even more grief, stress, and misery to his daily life by purchasing a condo where he has to constantly wonder where he’s going to park his car when he gets home.

    The fact is, if somebody builds a new Best Buy across the street, he’ll walk to it. He might even walk to one that’s 2 blocks away, as long as it isn’t raining or too hot outside.

    Back when I was at UM, I went to a lecture by Andres Duany once (at least, I’m pretty sure it was him). He said point blank that the idea that America is a bizarre, deviant culture with unique car fetish is absurd, and that every other country in the world with comparable mass affluence is the exact same way once you head 10 miles out into the suburbs.

    What distorts the view of Americans is the fact that American city planners go to Paris, London, and Berlin, don’t rent a car, use only the subway, go only where the subway goes, and never actually SEE the other 95% of the metro area… which, 9 times out of 10, bears more resemblance to suburban Pittsburgh or Minneapolis than the Champs Elyses. Then, they come home and gripe about how terrible and car-dependent America is.

    His point wasn’t that America is perfect. His point was that autos are NOT an “addiction”. They’re a fact of life that’s not going away, regardless of how badly some planners might wish they would. The key to building a successful pedestrian neighborhood is to build a place where residents feel secure that their cars are safe and painlessly available for use at will… but so thoroughly convenient for pedestrians that eventually, the residents will decide on their own that they can walk occasionally.

    The catch, he admitted, is that those kind of communities aren’t for poor people. They’re for the wealthy, childless few who don’t mind spending outrageous amounts of money to live within walking distance of the big box stores and mall they shop at daily. The other 99.8% of the 250,000 customers the stores need to be economically viable have to be content with getting in the car and driving 5-10 miles. Not everyone can afford to live in the one building with a Publix downstairs, or Super Walmart across the street.

    When you get down to it, a retail power cluster like Dadeland is an even MORE scarce resource than beachfront property. Dade County has more than 20 miles of urban beachfront coastline, and probably 50-70 square miles of buildable land within walking distance of the beach. However, there’s MAYBE one square mile of land that’s within easy walking distance of Dadeland Mall, and maybe a quarter square mile of land that’s a convenient walk from just about every retail store in that area. Metrorail doesn’t do much to help extend that reach, either. The sad fact is, with 20-30 minute headways between trains, the fastest way to get from South Miami to Dadeland North is to get in your car and drive, because otherwise you’ll waste 10-15 minutes on average waiting for the next train to arrive.

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  15. Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal says:

    95%? 10-15 Minutes? Where are your figures coming from?

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  16. Jeff says:

    The last time I checked, Metrorail runs every 20-30 minutes during the afternoon and during the evening (~noon-4, ~8-close). If trains are 20 minutes apart, and you arrive at random times, your average waiting time will be half of 20 minutes (sometimes you’ll arrive right before the next train does, sometimes you’ll *just* miss the train, and most of the time you’ll end up roughly halfway between the last and next trains).

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  17. Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal says:

    Well Check Again, the only unreasonable wait time would occur after 6 pm, which I think is still too long:

    #Trains arrive every six minutes during weekday rush hours.
    #Every 8-10 minutes at midday.
    #Every 15-30 minutes after 6 p.m. until closing.
    #Weekend service runs every 15 minutes until approximately 8 p.m., then every 30 minutes until closing.

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  18. Jeff says:

    OK, fine. Average wait times of 7.5-15 minutes instead of 10-15 minutes. The point is, nights and weekends are PRECISELY when normal people with jobs actually DO things like shop. Right now, Metrorail’s average waits during those times are too long for it to achieve that certain quality that makes people feel more like they’re waiting for a horizontal elevator than transit.

    What MDTA *really* needs to do is retrofit platform doors into the stations and upgrade the trains for driverless control. THEN, they could quit running 6 and 8 car trains every 15-30 minutes and replace them with 2 car trains every 5-10 minutes. I met someone once who was involved with the design & engineering for Metrorail’s signaling and control system. He said the biggest problem MDTA would have isn’t technology or money, it’s the unions. Factoring in all the costs, MDTA wouldn’t really save money over the status quo, but it would give them the ability to reduce off-peak headways at minimal extra cost compared to now.

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  19. Ryan says:

    First of all, you can’t *guarantee* that all married couples in Miami-Dade only buy housing units if there is a reserved parking space for each person. As for the guy buying the condo he can’t really afford after living on the verge of bankruptcy for 30-40 years, wouldn’t it behoove him to eschew the burdensome cost of automobile ownership? Actually, I would question whether or not he even had a car, given that 27% of residents in Miami don’t own one. In that case, what about the guy who has lived poor all his life, and just wants to move into a decent condo, which he can only afford now without the additional cost of owning an automobile? Or, what if someone just wanted to live an urban lifestyle without being treated like a second class citizen? Or, what if someone didn’t feel like doing their part to pollute the air, warm the planet, and ensure that America remains dependent on foreign oil from unstable Middle Eastern and South American countries? As if we didn’t have enough incentive to build more pedestrian-oriented, the fact that Miami has one of the lowest median incomes in the country should suffice (a mere $25,000).

    Also, you are wrong about the “key” to building good pedestrian neighborhoods. First, you need to read The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup, foremost urban planning scholar on parking policy. Beyond that, I could go on ad nauseam about best practice in urban design and neighborhood development, but many of these principles have been addressed several times in this blog. Besides, your theories run totally counter to consensus urban planning principles taught at nearly every university on at least three continents.

    Your point that American planners’ viewpoints are distorted because of how they travel in Europe is completely unfounded. That is just a little anecdote used by sprawl apologists like the Reason Foundation to try to discredit urban planners. Do major European cities have suburbs? Of course. However, they don’t sprawl anywhere near as much as American suburbs. The facts are, however, vehicle miles driven per capita are much higher in most U.S. cities than in Europe. Moreover, European cities have strong regional rail and intercity rail connections that are heavily used and cannot be marginalized. The urban planning community in Europe is even at a more advanced stage of sustainable planning policy and theory than in America. I mean, com’n – our planners and urban scholars would have to be pretty ignorant for such a statement to be true.

    Moreover, I doubt Duany made that statement about new urban neighborhoods not being for the poor – I’ve read all of his books and frankly, that is not something he ever would’ve said, at least not in the context you’ve used. If anything, he was trying to make the point that new urban design is highly sought after, given the high property values it typically commands. Regardless, if more neighborhoods outside of Miami’s urban central business district allowed higher densities, it would be much easier to build affordable housing. This would especially be the case if transit was expanded throughout the city. This will be one consequence of the streetcar, provided it gets approved. Of course, in order for transit to be more feasible around here, our infrastructure must be more pedestrian-oriented, which brings us again back to the development above.

    Also, you’re talking about walking to big box retail. That is not a typical urban experience, nor one that we typically promote. The new big box development at Midtown is going to create a regional retail center in an urban neighborhood, which will make it very difficult for small businesses with similar niches to survive nearby. Nonetheless, given enough density, decent transit, and a decent pedestrian-environment, it is still feasible for a big box to support a customer base without the arbitrary “99.8%” of shoppers driving there (three stores in Manhattan, one in Queens).

    Also, the Metrorail headways are nowhere near as long as you stated. Gabe already commented on it, but I want to add something. What do you think will decrease headways? Well, more riders will and more demand, of course. Again, in order to increase ridership we must improve our connections to transit, including the urban design of or our buildings, the pedestrian realm, and overall better urban continuity.

    Lastly, raining doesn’t keep people in pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods and cities from taking transit – they use umbrellas. In fact, it’s much safer to walk than to drive in the rain, given the spike in accidents during inclement weather. As for heat, it could be significantly mitigated if developers took the initiative to plant shade trees along sidewalks in front of their buildings, as I referenced in this post.

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  20. madeindade says:

    Please don’t continue the fantasy that the Metrorail is reliable. As a regular user of the bus and rail let me translate the schedule for you:
    - Every 6 minutes means anywhere from 2-15 minutes (yes they manage to bunch up so you will sometimes get 3 trains every 2 mins)
    - Every 10 minutes at mid-day means every 15-20 minutes
    - Every 15 minutes after 6 PM means every 15-20 minutes, not bad
    - Every 30 minutes, on the weeknights they generally run on time
    - Weekend service every 15 minutes is a lie. They have been running 30 minute service all day weekends for years except for when there is a Hurricane game at the Orange Bowl. I recently had to wait 45 minutes at Douglas Road station on a saturday afternoon for a northbound train.

    What I have always wondered, where do the missing trains go? Same goes for the buses… when i am waiting 45 mins for a bus that is supposed to have service every 15 minutes where are the missing ones?

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  21. Ryan says:

    MadeinDade,

    I don’t know - I have not had the same issues as you with Metrorail’s inefficiency. You’re right, the trains do sometimes bunch up and you get a couple at a time, but the vast majority of the time my wait is <8 minutes. Is the service perfect? No, of course not. A truly efficient system would run later in the evening, more frequently on the weekends, have redundancy, express trains, etc. But all things considered, I rarely have a problem with Metrorail’s efficiency.

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