You can say that the urban fabric of Paris (and indeed  all great cities) is composed of some basic elements: first are the famous civic buildings from the travel book checklist: Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre; and second, the townhouses and small scale urban buildings in between, typically with cafes and stores at street level. Then there are the variations on public space, ranging in character from the monumental green gardens of Luxemborg and the hardscaped plaza at the entrance of the Louvre, to more intimate spaces, as in the lively outdoor rooms of the Latin Quarter. Finally, lets not forget to count the great pedestrian streets: avenues for dining and shopping like Champes Elysee, the bridges that receive the breeze of the Seine, the continuous sidewalk connections between one’s front door and the day’s daily coffee and bread.

The four elements of all great cities: fabric buildings, civic monuments, great pedestrian streets, & public spaces.

What if Paris could only keep one of these elements? Which is the more essential to Paris’ identity? Which is more important to the visitors who make Paris a top travel destination in the world? Imagine that the French Ministry of Transportation was to reduce either the great monuments or the great neighborhoods to parking lots to accommodate increasing auto ownership. Imagine that Corbusier’s plan for Paris had been taken seriously.

My guess is that even the ever-present Eiffel Tower is actually a small part of the lives of the millions of resident Parisians. My guess is that newlyweds would still go to Paris from throughout the world to sit in cafes and wonder upward at the cast iron balconies considering what life was like in one of the world’s most liveable cities — even if Paris lacked the Arc D’Triumph.

To choose between public spaces and streets is more difficult, but I doubt that the parks and plazas of Paris would be used as much, or at all, if they required a freeway commute to reach.

Paris does not have to choose between its dignified urban residences, inspiring civic buildings, great streets and cherished public spaces. Even secondary elements such as the subway system or bicycle network, are in place and the city is committed to them. But as urbanists in Miami we must prioritize. To achieve high-quality urbanism of this kind, as has not been built as the norm in the US in one hundred years, requires an education process, a reprioritisation of public funding, a hundred instructive meetings with both the public and the responsible agencies.

The latest economic downturn is making us choose between these four elements of great cities, not because we haven’t any longer the resources to build them all, but because the budgets that would otherwise be spent on planning, education, and involvement, on the dialogue about urbanism as a choiceworthy endeavor, has been reduced, and we must focus our energies. Consider this ranking: great streets, dignified fabric buildings, proud public spaces, and monumental civic buildings.

The popular dialogue in Miami concerning these four elements seems to value the reverse order. Starchitect new buildings (the stadium, Arsht Center, etc.) and experimental forms of landscape architecture (Bicentennial Park) are most likely to be on the minds of the city and county commisioners. But the streets and buildings of our daily routine need, if only by virtue of being more plentiful items than the other two, far more consideration than they are currently given. If I take just one point home as an urbanist visiting Paris, it is that we should focus our effort to make Miami a truly liveable city by building high-quality, walkable, multi-modal streets with urban infill buildings that define the street as a place of shared activity — in the way of Paris.

Jason King, AICP is a Town Planner at Dover, Kohl and Partners Town Planners and has worked on numerous award winning city and regional plans . 

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12 Responses to Notes on Paris (for Miami)

  1. Cheesehead says:

    Great article, I’m heading there in early November, can’t wait!

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  2. Mike Moskos says:

    Every city in the U.S. is slowly, but surely changing, including Miami. Imagine what will happen when gas rises to something approaching its real value and more people (as the young are already doing) must abandon the American Dream of the suburban lifestyle brought to you by massive investments in collector roads, interstate highways and low interest rates (only for suburban houses) courtesy of our masters at the Fed.

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  3. Hank Sanchez-Resnik says:

    Jason-

    I live in Paris four months out of every year-for all the reasons you give. And I’m working on making Miami less…of what it has been and more like Paris. One can dream, right? Hope to meet you someday.

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  4. Peter says:

    It’s a great article because it makes a strong point in a story that’s easy to understand. It’s even more clear to people who’ve been to Paris.

    I agree that education is first: understand what a great city is. Then we have the political decision to decide what kind of great city we want to create. Then collectively decide how to make it. We should be discussing these issues with everyone.

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  5. Brad K. says:

    Why do our politicians continue to swoon over mega-projects like the Museums and the Genting casino compound? The Old Arena, AA Arena, PAC, and now museums have more of a negative effect on the streetscapes and urban fabric. If this casino mega-compound goes through, it will be the nail in the coffin for Miami - and I’m moving back to Paris for sure!

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  6. Kevin says:

    Really great article! I think Miami is headed in the right direction, but we need more support from our politicians and leaders to push for passenger rail investments (Metro, Tri-Rail, light rail, etc), parks, better schools, and less parking.

    Luckily, the city has gone in the right direction with Miami 21, which will help us grow better urbanistically. We still need stronger support for the investments that most affect Miamians.

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  7. B says:

    Interesting you mention the townhouse/row house and “small scale urban developments” being critical to Paris’s urban frabric. This is exactly what we lack in Miami-most of our townhouses are built in gated communities out in the suburbs, and apartments and condos are too often built with a “gated community” mentality. The main exceptions are downtown/Brickell and Miami Beach, in which few can afford to live.

    Miami 21 would be great for new development, but I think our main challenge is going to be adapting what we have built in the last 50 years or so.

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  8. Craig Chester says:

    B - I live in Brickell and even though it is ‘dense’, a ‘suburban’ lifestyle is still entirely possible and many people still live that way. We all live above massive parking pedestals and every unit gets at least one space included in the rent. Then we have 3 Publix all within a mile of eachother, all offering free parking. Ditto for the Walgreens, CVS, Dry Cleaners, even some restaurants. It’s very possible and very easy to live a auto-centric lifestyle in Brickell and I suspect many still do.

    Personally, I avoid driving at all costs. I love walking or biking to do my daily errands. However, I wonder sometimes just exactly how many there are like me. Traffic seems to be getting horrid, even when all the office buildings are empty (Another tremendous misallocation of resources - empty office garages while surface lots are half- full in Brickell’s core). I can only attribute this to the vast availability of free parking.

    Even if those businesses charge $1 to park, it would make a lot of people think twice before pulling their BMW out of the garage.

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  9. B says:

    Craig-I lived in the Loft II downtown for a year and noticed a similar thing.
    The most active pedestrian traffic in the area was between the building and the parking garage across the street. I Figured-why pay downtown prices if it’s just going to be like a suburb! Believe it or not, I actually walk and take transit to more places where I live in Aventura, than when I lived downtown.

    And isn’t it funny how for the new buildings going up in west Brickell, the parking garage takes up nearly half of the building height!

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  10. Daniel says:

    Have you guys seen the latest render for the scaled down Met 3/Whole Foods? It’s literally a giant parking garage with a very small residential building on top. A sad statistic is that it will have more parking spaces than the 2,000 foot, 115 story Pingan IFC in Shenzhen, China! And it’s only going to be about 15 floors of residential! Met 2/Wells Fargo is the same way, about half of it is an enormous parking garage. Some of this can be justified by Met Square, but seriously!

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  11. Daniel says:

    Quote:
    Met 3 will breakground in November. The project will include Whole Foods in the 11 story pedestal, with 17 floors of 440 rental apartments above.

    It’s going to be another cheap looking white condo with balconies, not the sleek glass-clad tower of before. It’s definitely true that the huge parking pedestals gives the skyline an undue stature and gives the illusion of more space than there actually is. Did you know that Miami has the most decentralized office space of any metro area in the US? Since there are huge office complexes sprinkled all over the map (ie Blue Laggon office complex in unincorporated Dade). Only like 17% of the space is in the CBD. Additionally, South Floridians spend about 20% of their income on transportation. How long can this sustain?

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