Currently viewing the tag: "Public Spaces"

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.



Montreal…what a great city.

I spent the last several days there on a mini-vacation doing some urban exploration and enjoying the sites and culture that make the city so pleasant. Despite temperatures that were muy frio (Highs 25-32, Lows 8-20), it still was a great experience walking around the city thanks to fine urban design, livable streets, and thriving public spaces.

With that said, I’d like to walk you through (pun intended) some of my observations and experiences that both illuminate Montreal’s successes and Miami’s potential.

Transit System

Montreal’s subway system was very clean, efficient, and took us most places we wanted to go. I took a couple trips on the “Green line” that runs between Angrignon and Honore-Beaugrand. Levels of service were high based on my experience, whereas I never waited more than five minutes for a train even on Saturday and Sunday. At $2.75 per one-way trip, the fares were a little steep, though I’m assuming that would be mitigated if I had bought a 3-day unlimited or monthly unlimited ride pass.

Though it’s not transit per se, I was thrilled to see separated bike lanes at least a few major boulevards. Not only are they protected from traffic, they’re bidirectional unlike most Class II striped bike lanes and even some Class I separated lanes, like on 9th Ave in Manhattan.

Parks and Public Spaces

Ah, my favorite part. I’m a firm believer that it’s the quality of a city’s public spaces that make it a truly great place to live, which is why Montreal scores so high on my livability scale. The city is loaded with really nice parks and plazas that serve as social and civic gathering magnets. As far as plazas go, Place Jacques Cartier and Place d’Armes were my favorites, though several others could easily make the cut.

However, my runaway favorite public space in Montreal is the city’s namesake park, Mont Royal. When I first heard about Montreal’s “mountain”, I have to admit I was pretty skeptical. I figured it was a series of rolling hills at best, with just enough of an incline to force cyclists into a medium-to-low gear.

Was I ever mistaken.

Looking from downtown, which the park roughly abuts, it actually appears that the city abruptly stops up against a mountain on one side. To add to the effect, several bouts of snowfall from a long Canadian winter remained draped across Mont Royal’s landscape not unlike that of a small snowcapped mountain in Vermont or Upstate New York.

After scaling steep blocks just to reach the foot of the park, you’re faced with the task of climbing an even steeper mini-mountain — with a foot of snow on the ground.

The park is beautiful. It was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn. If you want to climb it, you can either follow winding paths at a moderate grade, or you can take the shortcut and go straight up. About halfway up the views of the downtown skyline are already spectacular, but at the top you have incredible panoramic vistas of most of the city and the St. Lawrence River.

It didn’t matter that it was 32 degrees out with a foot of snow on the ground the weekend before April — the park was packed with joggers, walkers, sightseers, and even cross country skiers.

Sadly, Miami doesn’t really have a grand park that is centrally located and easily accessible to bicyclists and pedestrians. I consider Crandon Park to be pretty great, but it’s an isolated island and not a centrally located grand urban park. The beaches of South Beach and North Beach are adjacent to high density areas and are high quality public spaces, but they are in a different category and serve different purposes than a centrally located urban park. Museum Park has the potential to be great, but it’s limited size and extreme easterly location may keep it from fulfilling that role.

Urban Design

Montreal’s urban design was of high quality. The density of most neighborhoods is relatively high thanks to rowhouses and apartment buildings that helped define street space. Downtown was full of high-rises, but most of them were designed well to fit with human scale and the pedestrian realm. The architecture of both old and modern buildings was of high quality. Moreover, most streets were well in tact and had not given way to curb cut mutilation and excessive off-street parking.

Depending on where you are, certain neighborhoods have a “Brooklyn” feel to them, while others have more of a “Philly” feel.

Even the newly developed neighborhoods on the fringe of the city consisted of modern-looking rowhouses and apartment buildings, which was very encouraging to see. Overall, the streets were very clean and comfortable as well. Interestingly, the streets were pretty quiet with automobile traffic, drivers drove safely and courteously, and very little congestion was present.

What’s the lesson for Miami? Montreal serves as just one more example of a major city full of neighborhoods with medium-to-high density that is extraordinarily livable. Because buildings are built right up to the sidewalk and are often attached, they do a great job defining street space and making the pedestrian experience a pleasant one. You can walk all day in Montreal, in inclement weather no less, and not get tired or anxious because space is well defined and you always feel like you’re somewhere. Without these characteristics in most of Greater Miami, it often feels like even short walks take forever and go from nowhere to nowhere. Miami 21 will probably be our best opportunity this century to improve this condition.

Stay tuned for additional lessons from Montreal.

Can anyone identify this popular City Center? Hint: This image illustrates the most defining part of any city center, the central plaza. Identify the city and central square…

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Nick, Charck, and Alex got it — it’s Church Street in Burlington, VT. Everyone was able to narrow it down to New England, however.

I love Church St because it embodies so many quality urban elements. The street is completely closed off to cars for several blocks, allowing people to comfortably utilize the public space in many ways.

The urban design is of high quality, with multi-story mixed use buildings defining street space as well as physically welcoming people on the street. In classic New England form, the street terminates as a “T-intersection”, showcasing a church (a public building/meeting house) as a symbolic gesture that the street is a functional community space and democracy is at work.

As you can see, this space is active year round despite Vermont’s frigid winter weather. During the summer and fall it’s a great spot to shop, dine al fresco, or just take a stroll with a friend or family member. Some of the surrounding streets are even bike-friendly, with bike lanes linking to the city’s network.

It’s hard to see how this scale could be objectionable to anyone; with Miami 21, we could expect to see quality urbanism of this scale in several neighborhoods.

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Can anyone guess where this fine public space is?

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The Hollywood- Young Circle Arts Park has been impressively executed. The centrally located new park is a strong indicator of Hollywood’s very serious commitment to creating a livable exciting environment for its residents.

Many of the right notes were hit in this redesign of a delinquent public space. Water features as well as beautiful planters (beautifully planted) and progressively designed lampposts, benches and playground rides abound.

The arts center building is boldly envisioned and yet aesthetically accessible to the masses. An adjacent outdoor performance space holds great promise for building a strong community. Perhaps the one significant criticism is the lack of shade trees. Although they are not non-existant, my September visit to the park was, notably, a sweltering experience. The inclusion of mature Ceiba trees as a gateway to the park is nothing less than regal. Hopefully the shade trees that have been planted will fill in nicely over the coming months and years. The park is a major achievement, both civic and aesthetic, and should be looked at as model to be emulated throughout South Florida.

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Originally uploaded by sampos.

We’ve turned today’s Transitography into a quiz. Can anyone guess what urban park this is and what exactly makes it so appealing to hundreds of visitors everyday? Check back this afternoon for the answer and to see how this park relates to the findings outlined by William Whyte…

This extraordinary image posted at Skyscrapercity by James Good illustrates the need for revitalization for downtown’s premier park space. As well as how appropriate the location is for Museums with the Metromover stop already in place. The museums will be a great buffer for the park from the intrusive traffic of the highway beside the park. I am also interested in hearing thoughts from our readers regarding the somewhat sensitive issue of the need for, specifically, green park space.

Is it unfair to compare Miami to other cities in terms of green park space when across the causeway is the enormous public space, Miami Beach. I assure you I am a strong supporter for park space in Miami proper, but I feel there is an entirely different analysis required based on the unique quality of the beach. Being the single most obvious draw for all of South Florida residents, the beach almost creates a requirement of other city parks to include an attraction, if they are to be fully utilized. While some would propose a stadium or a waterpark, it seems that the museums are the perfect, compatible solution, in keeping with the desired qualities of a public green space.

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With the attention garnered on the appalling state of our downtown by Macy’s Florida CEO Julie Greiner last week, it appears that rehabbing downtown (with that, many of our street wanderers) is the hot conversation topic these days. Downtown is deplorable. We all know it; we’ve stated it countless times. The question is does anyone know what should be done?

Sometimes I get the feeling the Herald understands the problems which face our city, other times not. An article posted Saturday June 9, sought to address the issue, but instead began to paint a picture of how parking was the main reason why our downtown was in such a state of disarray.

“Parking is scarce and expensive, and by many accounts, vulnerable to vandals.”

Scarce and expensive parking also confounds turnaround efforts, limiting the appeal to upscale businesses. ”Parking is a headache,” said Carlos Narvaez, who works at the Radio Shack outlet on Flagler Street. “They broke into my car twice.”

Decentralization of our city’s urban core brought upon by sprawl has lead to the demise of our (and nearly every city in the U.S.) downtown, a problem which was in part induced by our addiction to the automobile. Suburbanites fail to realize that abundant, cheap (free), and traffic free parking are not sustainable in any urban core and efforts to increase any of these would only make matters worse along the sidewalks. The article fails to note in its quest for parking solutions, that the city recently completed a streetscaping project which added valuable on street parking throughout the Flagler corridor.

The more we isolate ourselves in our own “protective” vehicular cocoons, the worse the situation will become along the already desolate streets of downtown. A proven and successful method to combat downtown crime is to improve our street use, pedestrian activity, and with that public spaces/transportation. Radio shack and all downtown employees (especially lower wage workers) should reap the financial benefits that Metrorail and Metromover offer users compared to daily vehicular use.

Things get worse when the only mention of transit includes an armed robbery incident:

Nancy Blount, a family law attorney who was walking down Flagler near the Miami-Dade County Courthouse, recalled being ”robbed at gunpoint four or five years ago” when she took Metrorail.

It was obviously a life changing experience for Nancy, she couldn’t even remember the year…It’s beside the point and contributed nothing to the quality of this article other than to reiterate a negative stance against public transit in the minds of the readers.

How can we combat the Miami mentality if even our news stories are showing bias towards ineffective ways of thought? I believe the Herald should take it upon itself to not only inform readers of the problems downtown but should also offer well reasoned and educated solutions to the problems we face, instead of the typical half truths offered by everyday citizens…

Key Word Use:

  • Business (6)
  • Parking (5)
  • Homeless (4)
  • Traffic (2)
  • Filthy (2)
  • Pedestrian (1)
  • Metrorail (1)
  • Planning (0)
  • Transit (0)
  • Metromover (0)

Alright, I know it’s long overdue but here is my awaited and (hopefully) anticipated part 3 to my most recent walk through downtown:

I continued my walk into the CBD with this view of the Miami-Dade County Courthouse. I’ve posted this picture below to not only show the hideous temporary fencing that has been surrounding the courthouse for the better part of the past couple of years, but to also show the actual picture I was taking when the first of two interesting events occurred this afternoon.

As I crossed the street after taking this picture, a subject caught crossing the street in the photograph was patiently waiting for me on the north side of Flagler (Where’s Waldo?) Now, allow me to pause a second to describe this character. I’m no stylist but, I’m conscious enough to realize that she was wearing far too many layers of makeup under Jackie-o sunglasses. She was also wearing dark leggings under open-toed shoes, far out of the ordinary even for the cast of characters which typically roam along our downtown streets. My conversation with the deranged lady (DL) went as follows after she flagged me down and pulled me out of my own tranquil universe:

GJL: Yes, may I help you?

DL: Do you work for the government?

GJL: No…

DL: Do you work for a private company?

GJL: Um, Yeah.

DL: Why did you take a picture of me?

GJL: Excuse me?

DL: Why did you take a picture of me just now as I crossed the street?

GJL: In case you didn’t notice ma’am, you were standing in front of one our downtown’s most prominent and historic structures.

DL: I saw you! You took a picture of me and I want to know why!

GJL: Okay, you’re crazy and I’m walking away now…

I proceeded north further into the courthouse district with my ipod and in search of further urban opportunity. As I glanced back I witnessed my new friend darting from empty police car to empty police car before she decided to follow me. I turned west to get a shot of a “Your Tax Dollars at Waste sign” as she continued following me. Lucky for us, there was an occupied police car between me and her, where she was able to pause and discuss my alleged paparazzi activity (which would have been completely legal, in any case.) Obviously nothing came of her police inquiry as I walked by the squad car and received a wave and almost apologetic smirk from the officer…

I trudged on North towards the courthouse complex and MDC and into the scene of my next extremely odd encounter. Along the way I saw further reminders of the second largest diamond district in the United States. The r&r Jewlery Center is housed in the former downtown post office, was built in 1912 and was the first major federal building to rise in Miami.

You just don’t encounter unique ornamentation like this anymore. There are few buildings which even attempt to add adequate ornamentation, let alone art in public places.

I came across a stunning building in the CBD. I’ve read about it the downtown development authority’s historical walking guide to downtown, but I forgot who it was owned by and when it was built. I’d like to note however, the covered portico, the ground level retail, the sense of some human-oriented planning. The building was obviously designed at a time when pedestrians were still kept in mind and should serve as a model for our future urban infill considering it adequately addressed the pedestrian needs given our hot and often rainy climate.

I continued on towards the federal courthouses and MDC campus. After reading William Whyte’s Project for Public Places, I was anxious to experience the public places established in our federal courthouse complex and major downtown educational facility. The interaction between the federal courthouses and the street is awkward and downright hostile to pedestrians. A large “temporary” concrete barrier keeps cars (and pedestrians) far enough away from the surroundings and the barren concrete plaza of MDC depicts accurately how successful our urban plaza planning has been.

Standing on the sidewalk (public property) from the MDC side of the street (Public School,) I proceeded to take the pictures depicted above. As I happily snapped away, still listening to my ipod, a couple of rent-a-cops from across the street on the federal courthouse began to flail their arms at me frantically. As I removed my earphones they were yelling to stop taking pictures of the federal courthouse. Now, this happened to me once before about two years ago, so I had an eerie feeling that things hadn’t changed since. I was with some visiting family walking around the CBD, snapping pictures of the newly rising federal complex, when we were apprehended by the same rent-a-cop currently yelling at me. That time however, he stepped out of line and reached for my younger cousin’s camera, prompting near chaos because of his inadequate training and general concept of what is truly legal. In any case, knowing I was within my full right to continue photographing the public complex, I continued snapping away, including this picture of the so called security:

I continued my walking tour heading east on the metromover to experience the Biscayne boulevard realignment project.

I continued walking west along NE 5th street, witnessing the absurd amount of shipping container traffic when I was nearly run over by what originally appeared to be an undercover police officer. As I disclosed earlier, it ended up being a US Marshall, apparently sent to find the rogue kid walking around in shorts taking pictures of downtown buildings. Our conversation went something like this, with my thoughts in parenthesis:

GJL: Good Afternoon, I’m Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal of, what can I help you with today?

USM: Hey, how’s it going? I’m US Marshall (name omitted out of personal courtesy.) Were you just over by the federal courthouse taking pictures?

GJL: Yes, I was and as far as I know that isn’t a violation of any current or past US laws.

USM: Oh, no, not at all sir. We just like to know who everyone is taking pictures around the federal courthouse.

GJL: Speaking of that, I see your undercover car and gun, but may I see some credentials to verify that you are who you say you are, you can never be too sure in today’s world.

USM: Sure. (Show’s US Marshall Badge and ID Card)

USM: May I see your Drivers’ License to verify your name? What was the name of your website again?

GJL: Sure. (Provide him with my ID)… Check it out, the pictures I took will be up there soon…Now, as far as I know, I’m within every right standing on the public sidewalk to photograph my surroundings, correct?

USM: Correct. You just have to understand sir in this new state of security (insecurity) in the United States; we can never be too secure. Just the other day, we had someone taking counter-surveillance shots of our prisoner movements (Buuuuuuuullshit) from the metrorail platform.

GJL: Oh, I understand sir. I guess it may be a matter of national security (insecurity) to chase down people who snap pictures of the federal complex. Is this a common occurrence for the US Marshall to chase down tourists in the CBD for taking pictures?

(I then realized the US Marshall was writing my driver’s license down on a pad of paper, something which I never gave him permission to do considering he never asked to write it down. I was naturally offended because he asked for my ID to write down my name but then violated my confidence in his ability to obtain only the information he had asked for.)

USM: Well it happens often enough…

GJL: Excuse me officer, but I don’t believe it is necessary for you to write down my License number as well as my name, we have both determined that I was within every right to take pictures. I provided you with my ID and granted you permission to jot down my name and would have gladly obliged to give you my license number had you asked…

USM: Oh, don’t worry sir; you aren’t in any trouble…

GJL: I’m fully aware I’m not, we both clarified that no law was broken (you, just plan on running a background check on me…)

USM: Thank you very much for your time sir. Have a nice day and enjoy your stay here in Miami

Lovely. I couldn’t possibly imagine that I would have been apprehended by a US Marshall in the downtown of my own city for taking some innocent pictures with a point and shoot digital camera. I bit my tongue and chose to not point it out to the US Marshall that from the comfort of my own home I or anyone else can obtain aerial images of the complex by navigating through Google Earth or Microsoft’s Virtual Earth. Imagine the mayhem that would be caused if such extreme measures were taken around the federal buildings of NYC, Washington DC, or any other major US city. It’s just another example of a mental lapse on the part of the local rent-a-cop authority hired to protect the federal complex from reasonable threats…

Lucky for me my encounter wasn’t with a city of Miami police officer, officers who have been known to violate the first amendment rights of photographers standing on public sidewalks and not obstructing justice. Unlike Carlos Miller, whose trial began today, I was lucky enough to not have been pummeled to the ground for no apparent reason…

Disgruntled enough I continued my tour north into the omni complex, which will appear in the conclusion and part 4 of this series…

During a casual lunchtime stroll along the Miami River, I happened to catch a moment that all too often legitimizes Miami’s superficial export image. The SW 2nd Avenue drawbridge, in the heart of downtown Miami, was raised to allow this luxury yacht (with only one visible person on board). Even worse, the yacht would have fit if it weren’t for it’s unnecessarily long spires. It’s ridiculous how the City allows luxury private vessels to have precedent over the public realm - especially in the heart of downtown. This issue will surely be magnified in the near future with all the new development downtown and along the river. Residents need to speak up - this is not something that happens in quality public spaces.

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