TransitMiami is excited to share the latest images of the possible Metrorail train car fleet! We should be seeing one or more of these proposed machines in operation by the first quarter of 2015.
We were provided with exterior and interior renderings for three (3) fundamentally new Metrorail vehicle models:
Each of these models bears a distinctive livery (design scheme / insignia):
- SPOON — “Neon”
- RING — “Shark” & “Shark Y”
- SHIELD — “Status”
I heart bungalows. One of the best building types, and an endangered species throughout Miami, where it was once widespread. This is exactly the type of housing the City of Miami should be restoring - not tearing down (as they recently voted to allow with a zoning change along 12th avenue - a bastion of bungalow frontage). Check out some of my favorites from around East Little Havana….
With all the hype about how many ‘units’ have sold and how much ‘inventory’ is left in downtown, it’s hard to overlook how these ‘dense’ developments are nothing more than vertical suburbs. Why walk around the city when you can live in a “lushly landscaped gated waterfront community”? Gag. The PR machine is in full swing touting recent condo sales as part of the revitalization of downtown…but you only have to look to the nearest bus shelter (like the one below) to see the reality.
Are the mega-condos of Brickell the key to urban vitality and innovation or are they just cul-de-sacs in the sky? In a keynote speech during the 20th Congress for New Urbanism in West Palm Beach, author Richard Florida challenged the idea that the “rush to density” will unlock and release the potential of our cities.
“This rush to density, this idea that density creates economic growth,” is wrong, Florida said. “It’s the creation of real, walkable urban environments that stir the human spirit. Skyscraper communities are vertical suburbs, where it is lonely at the top. The kind of density we want is a ‘Jane Jacobs density.'”
In her influential book, Death and Life of American Cities (1961), Jacobs objected to neighborhoods that were made up exclusively of high-rises and instead preferred neighborhoods with buildings that are a mix of different building ages and types - Greenwich Village in New York City, for example. When you consider cities around the world, it is in those types of neighborhoods where you will often find the arts districts, the best music venues, the creatives, the authentic, the local businesses, the innovators, the vitality - and a sense of place and community.
I live in Brickell, in a rented condo on the 23rd story of building built in 2007. It soars for ten more stories above me and sits atop an 8-level parking pedestal where every car has a happy home. It’s surrounded by other residential towers of similar stature. Now, I enjoy Brickell primarily because I can walk for nearly all of my basic human needs - groceries, a barber, a slice of pizza etc. It’s also well-served by MetroRail and Metro Mover, both accessible from my doorstep. It’s a rare Miami neighborhood in that regard. But increasingly, I find myself questioning if Brickell is a “walkable environment that stirs the human spirit” or merely just a semi-walkable streetscape in the shadows of impersonal towers functioning as suburbs in the sky.
In many ways, the mega-condos of Brickell share several of the undesirable characteristics of a suburban gated community - despite being the densest neighborhood south of NYC along the east coast. It’s largely impossible to know more than few people in a 50-story building, if you know any at all. The “inclusion” of a parking space (which can drive up the cost of a unit anywhere from 15-30% according to parking expert Jeffrey Tumlin) acts as an incentive to drive, therefore damaging the pedestrian realm. The buildings and their residents, by nature, are segregated by income. The anonymity does not encourage civic engagement - in the recent city commission elections, the Brickell zip codes recorded an 8% turn-out.
That means 92% did not vote.
Meaningful public space in Brickell is severely lacking. With no central plaza, no signature park, no outdoor public room, no farmers market or gathering place, most of the “public” realm is centered around commercial “third places” (Starbucks) or reduced to the street and sidewalks. The latter is problematic because Brickell’s sidewalks are terribly neglected and the streets full of maniacal drivers. (Sometimes you’ll even see a maniacal driver on the sidewalk).
Portions of Brickell, especially Brickell Avenue, are dark and full of uninviting blank walls and underpasses. The “pedestrian shed” in Brickell is actually quite small. Aside from disjointed commercial sections of South Miami Avenue, a walk around Brickell is a particularly unrewarding experience. (Crumbling sidewalks, perpetual construction with worker disregard to pedestrians, dark streets, curb cuts galore, bullying motorists, busy arterials with scant crosswalks, the desolation of vacated office towers after business hours)
The businesses attracted to Brickell are beginning to look a lot like those implanted in suburban shopping malls - national franchises like Blue Martini, Fado, P.F. Chang’s - which would be acceptable if there were actually some other businesses opening besides restaurants. The 800-lb gorilla in the room no one seems to be talking about is the future Brickell CitiCentre, a 4,600,000 square foot retail, hotel and condo behemoth and the largest private construction project in the United States at present.
For better or worse, this project will fundamentally transform the neighborhood, if not the entire city. On one hand, it will mitigate the retail deficit that exists in Miami’s urban core. On the other, we can expect plenty of national franchises, thousands of parking spaces and plenty more traffic on the dangerous and uninviting “urban arterials” of SW 8th and SW 7th streets. Ultimately, it may be a series of towers that function more like a suburban shopping mall rather than a seamlessly integrated edifice into the urban fabric with an active pedestrian realm.
It’s obvious that areas like Wynwood, Midtown and the Design District are the emerging centers of Miami’s arts and creative community. Brickell is beginning to seem like a stark contrast to those neighborhoods; identified as a weekend playground for suburbanites, wealthy South Americans on vacation to their second homes and disengaged young professionals. As the housing stock continues to increase in those aforementioned neighborhoods, the divide will become ever more apparent.
The longer term prospects for the Brickell megatowers are arguably quite bleak, as flimsy homeowners associations will face massive maintenance costs and liabilities in an era of expensive energy in their giant-scaled buildings - an increasingly urgent situation that smaller, human-scaled buildings will have an easier time confronting. When these towers require broad renovations, the limitations of their enormity will truly be exposed.
The key to long-term vitality in a neighborhood is whether it’s inhabitants are truly fulfilled with their surroundings. To quote Richard Florida, “The quality of a place itself is the single most important factor in people’s fulfillment. There are four parts to this: the degree to which a community: values its history; is walkable and mixed-use; values arts, both street art and high art; and integrates the built and natural environment.”
Aside from Brickell’s walkability, it seems to be failing on the other fronts Florida mentions. Valuing history? Entitled residents are using an ancient burial ground as a toilet for their dogs. Street art and high art? There are no art galleries in Brickell and the only “street art” is the incessant sidewalk spray paint indiscriminately spewed by utility and construction companies. Integrates the built and natural environment? Another fail - all that exists in Brickell is the built environment. (The Miami Riverwalk project would be nice if completed in my lifetime)
There are some improvements on the way - Triangle Park, if ever completed, will be a welcomed, albeit small, neighborhood plaza. There are plans to overhaul South Miami Avenue and 1st St to be more pedestrian and bicycle friendly in the coming years. However, it’s relatively unlikely these projects will significantly change the underlying social construct of a skyscraper-burdened place.
I increasingly find myself leaving Brickell on my bicycle in search of more authentic urban experiences found elsewhere in the city. Actually, I need to leave Brickell just to go to a bookstore or bicycle shop….
….usually found in “Jane Jacobs” density.
During the Congress for the New Urbanism’s annual conference, CNU 20: The New World, held last week in West Palm Beach, I had the opportunity to interview author James Howard Kunstler. Kunstler is the author of The Long Emergency, The Geography of Nowhere, the World Made by Hand novels and is a leading critic and social commentator on the American landscape of suburban sprawl.
Over lunch in downtown West Palm’s new urbanism-inspired development, CityPlace, I pried Jim about bus travel in Florida, nostalgia for transit, the state of our current rail system, his own oil paintings (featured in the slideshow) and more.
Special thanks to Duncan Crary for allowing me to use his audio equipment for the interview. Crary hosts a weekly podcast with Jim called the Kunstlercast, posted each Thursday at Kunstlercast.com.
Come celebrate this excellent combination with the Miami DDA. As part of their monthly DWNTWN Miami Concert Series Laura Izibor will be performing. She’ll rock the stage at this free concert at Bayfront Park’s Tina Hills Pavilion.
As always the show is at sunset happy hour and food and drinks are available.
For information on this show and the rest of the season become a fan of the DWNTWN Miami Concert Series on Facebook…or … text DWNTWNR to 878787 for up to the minute updates.
Come celebrate the completion of the Burle Marx New World Design project on Biscayne Boulevard. The sidewalks look great; they are wide, walkable and give Downtown Miami a little character and identity. So let’s rejoice in good urbanism with some bossa nova. Bossacucanova will be flying in from Brazil to play at this free event. I promise you will not be disappointed with music.
Friday, October 2, 2009 @ 5:30 pm
AmericanAirlines Arena - East Plaza
601 Biscayne Blvd.
Miami, FL 33132
Please be careful crossing Biscayne Blvd. Unfortunately, the vision of a walkable Miami that created these wonderful sidewalks was not extended to the actual street design of Biscayne Blvd. Shame on FDOT for not considering pedestrians.
Ricky Williams, eccentric character and an occasional NFL running back, pontificates on the differences between Miami and Toronto in this Ethan Skolnick Sun Sentinel blog entry. For those who have not been to Toronto, it is famously urban, a wonderful model of urbanism that many North American cities, especially those in the Sunbelt, would do well to emulate.
Anything about living in Toronto that he misses
Well when I was living in Toronto I was living downtown and I could walk pretty much anywhere. There was a nice homeopathic shop on the boulevard I used to walk to and that was nice. Right where I lived there was a lot good restaurants. There was a good Tai food place. Across the street was a little corner store where people were really nice. And our neighbors became really close friends. So kind of just miss the community feel and all the great people that I got to meet that lived around where I got to live.
Thanks to Antonio López for the tip.
This next segment is the beginning of a new series here on Transit Miami where we will look at certain actions or policies that will invariably counteract true urban progress.
This might be the ultimate mistake in zoning history; constructing a ½ billion-dollar opera/ballet house and later allowing a Wal-Mart to settle in next door. On the way to the ballet, you can pick up some cheap shit foreign made goods, contribute to the massive trade deficit, and support the public financial burden caused by an employer who perennially underpays employees. A Wal-Mart in the urban core continues the suburbanization mentality of building we have seen here in Miami – that is, tall, dense structures only accessible by car. In a sense: Urban from far, but far from urban.
Now, it is not just the zoning that is the issue; imagine spending another billion dollars to rid the downtown of the majority of port-bound truck traffic, only to allow a retailer that will generate hundreds of weekly truck trips to nestle in that very same downtown core. Seems a bit counterproductive, if you ask me, but then again this is Miami, why should we be surprised?
From the beginning, we were not against a mixed-use retail center rising alongside the performing arts center. We viewed the complex, coupled with the PAC, as a formidable component to a thriving media-arts district, filled with nightlife, restaurants, hotels, and well, worthy destinations, not big-box retail. A Wal-Mart anywhere in the downtown region automatically negates that key phrase every Miami politician loves to toss around wildly. You know the one, it goes a little something like: “This _____ will put Miami on the map, this going to a real “world-class” _____.” I guess you can fill in the blanks with Wal-Mart if there is such thing as a “world-class” Wal-Mart, perhaps third world class…
Commissioner Marc Sarnoff recently said it best:
“I thought the idea for that neighborhood was to create a walking neighborhood and not a big box for the Beach,”
Frankly, we envisioned something similar to Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz, nothing revolutionary, just a proper mixed-use development complete with theaters (imax too), restaurants, hotels, and corporate businesses (DB HQ, Price Waterhouse offices, Sony, etc.) From wikipedia:
…The rebuilt Potsdamer Platz now attracts around 70,000 visitors a day, rising to 100,000 at weekends, and some critics have been surprised by the success of the new quarter. Fears that the streets would be dead after 6pm have proven false. At almost any time of the day, the place is alive with people. It is a particularly popular attraction for visitors: the “Arkaden” shopping mall contains around 150 shops and restaurants on three levels, the lowest (basement) level being a food floor; there are also four major hotels, and Europe’s largest casino (the “Spielbank Berlin”)…
Note: in this last image the two large buildings on the bottom right is the home of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. The situational resemblance is uncanny.
Today’s post is inspired by an article I read on The Overhead Wire, republished below. The successes and failures of our transit systems can be determined by the attempts we make to integrate them with the urban spaces which surround them. I typically make the distinction that our failures with metrorail has nothing to do with the transit system itself but rather with what we have done in the immediate vicinity of its 22 stations. VTA’s LRT in San Jose, is a perfect example of the type of transit we should be pressing for within the county, instead of Heavy Rail like metrorail. The at-grade train is versatile enough to move passengers quickly and efficiently but small enough to integrate into urban spaces such as the city’s downtown pedestrian mall:
Imagine an LRT similar to this one connecting every major city on our eastern coast through the FEC railroad…
Here is the article from The Overhead wire, illustrating how we should orient our urban structures to transit:
What happens when we orient buildings to transit? It saves space. It creates more value from the land. It creates more opportunities for walking. Here is an exercise I did with that employment sprawl photo from the post below.
1. The Sprawl Way - What San Jose Looks Like
2. Sprawl Rearranged - What the same amount of development would look Like if the development were organized around the station. I outlined the buildings and rearranged them in a more compact way.
3. Sprawl Rearranged x2 - Doubling the amount of buildings, using the same footprint for each original building.
For today’s Metro Monday, we once again direct you over to our friends at Streetsfilms to view an exceptional piece on Melbourne’s pedestrian facilities. It is simply amazing to see how quickly a city can change with the right policy, perhaps Miami 21 will serve as our saving grace.
There is an invaluable lesson here. In the early 90s, Melbourne was hardly a haven for pedestrian life until Jan Gehl was invited there to undertake a study and publish recommendations on street improvements and public space. Ten years after the survey’s findings, Melbourne was a remarkably different place thanks to sidewalk widenings, copious tree plantings, a burgeoning cafe culture, and various types of car restrictions on some streets. Public space and art abound. And all of this is an economic boom for business.
Miami 21 Update: On Thursday the City of Miami commission approved the continuation of the Miami 21 project with the mapping of the quadrants. Interestingly, the only mention of this in the Herald was a recent editorial two days before the actual vote by Daniella Levine… Perhaps this is a contributing factor for much of the confusion regarding Miami 21…
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