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.
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 .
These pictures were taken yesterday in front of the 200 South Biscayne Boulevard building. Cars have always parked here illegally to pickup passengers. So in order to accommodate the cars, approximately 4 feet of sidewalk has been taken away from pedestrians. Pedestrians are now only left with about 4 feet of sidewalk.
Sorry, but I want the sidewalk back. One of the most used Metro Mover stations is less than a block away. There is enough density in this area to justify an 8 foot sidewalk.
How was this approved?
The long anticipated South Pointe Park in South Beach was finally unveiled this spring. I have delayed sharing my thoughts because I wanted the park to be “broken in” and discovered by its regular users before venturing out to see it. Well, without a doubt the park was worth waiting for. Stretching the length of the tip of South Beach and connecting to the lower western waterfront’s pedestrian promenade, South Pointe Park is an undeniable success. Users of all kinds seem to be flocking to the park at all hours to take in its beautiful vistas. Sunbathers enjoy the constructed ridgeline overlooking Government Cut and the cruise ships that pass by, picnickers enjoy the shade trees and well-manicured grass, families bring kids to enjoy the playgrounds, splash pads and fountains, and exercise fiends traverse the park in droves. Indeed, I altered my daily running route to include the park.
I must admit, however, I first questioned the lack of formal active playspace (basketball, tennis courts, soccer etc.), but it seems they aren’t missed. Indeed, the park balances a fine mix of passive and active use areas, as well as organic and formal landscaping. Furthermore, the presence of the swank steak house-Smith & Wollensky -seems to further activate the park, especially along the outside bar located on a primary spine of pedestrian activity. Perhaps the park could included another, less formal and inexpensive dining option… then again, you can just bring your own!
On the opposite end of the spectrum, downtown Miami has reintroduced the Paul S. Walker Urbanscape, a hardscaped mid-block pocket of missed opportunity. Oh, was that too harsh? Maybe, as the mini park is certainly a vast improvement on the vacant lot that occupied the space previously. Moreover, I am not aware of all the programming, design and logistics that went into the formulation of this space. However, why offer a space clearly intended for the lunchtime crowd and not encourage the adjacent restaurant-Viaggios-to freely spill out onto a portion of the plaza with tables, chairs and dining service? Doing so would have made that or any future restaurant that occupies the space a truly unique setting in downtown. Or perhaps recruit Miami’s best lunch time street vendor and either insert them into the park, or let them hang right outside, as that would further activate the park beyond the 12-2pm lunchtime crowd. The landscaping does its best to hide the long blank western side wall, but one imagines even a windows or a door would go a long way.
Beyond that issue, the proportions feel too tight given the building bordering the eastern edge rises high (unavoidable), and the space still feels sterile despite its somewhat soft edges. For now, I will withhold any real judgment until a further date, as the urbanscape is brand new so perhaps there will be movable tables and chairs for lunchtime use in the near future. I sure hope so, as the park’s use seemed somewhat sparse during the Monday lunch hour given the amenity such a space ostensibly provides. In defense of the park, I will say that the attractively designed sliding doors are a nice feature, and functional too, as I am guessing they close this space up at night to prevent vandalism. Smart move.
The Summit bought together parks departments from all around Dade County, as well as Mayor Alvarez and members of the County Commission. Conspicuously absent were high level members of the City of Miami, South Miami, and Coral Gables to name a few. Considering all the land the County Parks Masterplan encompasses, it’s important for all municipalities to support each other and work toward the same goals. Specifially, Miami Mayor Manny Diaz should have been present, considering his stated commitment toward making Miami a ‘green’ city and improving the tree canopy.
Overall, the plan aims to take one of the largest parks systems in the country into the 21st century by rethinking what open space is and how we use it. Not only are parks considered places of passive or active use, but as common civic space that should be available to all. The highlight of the Summit was the keynote speech by former Bogota Mayor Enrique Penalosa who gave a great presentation about how we should choose to plan and use our open spaces (parks AND sidewalks) as places of social equality and where the daily drama of life really takes place. His advocacy of public spaces in Bogotá, from extensive bike paths, to a former country club turned public park is inspiring. He closed his presentation with the thought that “Public good must prevail over private interest.” How’s that for progressive?
According to the APA,
Great Places in America celebrates places of exemplary character, quality, and planning. Places are selected annually and represent the gold standard of communities. The designated streets and neighborhoods are defined by several characteristics, including good design, functionality, sustainability, and community involvement.
Specifically, Ocean Drive was recognized for its unique architectural legacy, citizen-led historic protection and planning efforts, mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented restoration and redevelopment, and ongoing public support.
Not really any surprises, there. I give credit where credit is due, and the planners and citizens of Miami Beach have done a heck of a job (excuse the Bushism) the last twenty years turning Ocean Drive and South Beach around by utilizing its natural resources (density, historic architecture) and engaging the public realm for people instead of cars. It’s really a great local case study that I wish more planners and citizens in neighboring municipalities would research.
Photo courtesy of CTPEKO3A’s Flickr photostream
Yesterday, Gabriel opined about how ridiculous the commission-initiated plan was to construct a Bay of Pigs museum on Parcel B behind the American Airlines Arena. Though he did a great job illustrating the bad urban design and architecture of the project, I felt compelled to write about just how preposterous this whole idea is. I’m sure I won’t say much that hasn’t already been said, but I don’t care.
Where do we begin? How about this beauty from Chairman Bruno Barreiro:
“I think we might hamper and will hamper the arena if we do not really consider an additional parking structure with amenities on that site.”
It’s hard for me to imagine any educated person saying this with a straight face. I certainly don’t think the AAA, or the Miami Heat organization, has been hampered thus far. Plus, with new parking facilities seemingly going up by the month downtown, it’s even more unrealistic to think the AAA or the Miami Heat is being “hampered” by a lack of parking. And don’t use the excuse that Metrorail and Metromover are already at capacity during AAA events - add more train cars (Metrorail), increase frequency, or both during games and concerts.
Then Chairman Barreiro, implying that such a museum could still be “park-like”, says:
“You could design these things nowadays with a lot of greenery around the edges and borders, a very friendly pedestrian use.”
Now, look, it’s understandable that the Chairman, a Cuban-American, or someone like Javier Souto, a Bay of Pigs vet, would offer their strong support for such a museum, even using transparent language like this. But com’n, another waterfront Museum, on top of a parking garage? It’s bad enough as it is don’t try to sell this as “park-like” or “pedestrian-friendly”.
The third quote that caught me off guard, courtesy of Commissioner Sosa:
“It’s (the museum) going to be very close to the water, and the history of Cuba is so close to the water.”
Wow. Do I even need to explain why this statement is completely asinine? That’s no reason to put a museum on top of a parking garage on prime downtown waterfront property!
Furthermore, voters were promised real park space on Parcel B. If anything, this Parcel should be incorporated with the Museum Park Master Plan. After all, the goal has been to connect Museum/Bicentennial Park with the piece of land occupied by the AAA using a pedestrian bridge. Why not go the extra mile and finally make this Parcel into a high quality waterfront public space?
Let me close by saying I’m not at all opposed to a Bay of Pigs museum. There are other locations and designs, however, that much more appropriate than on Parcel B. I just get the feeling that the county Commission is forcing this one down our collective throats…because they can. It’s a cheap shot proposing this museum on the waterfront, because no one in their right political mind is going to denounce this. The sad truth is that it would be political suicide in Miami. If citizens didn’t take it personally (which I’m sure many would), fellow commissioners would find a way to make anyone opposing it out to be racist, hostile to war vets, or out of touch with the Cuban-American community.
Typical Miami politics.
Click here to read it.
Photo courtesy of paytonc’s flickr
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