Monday July 9, 2007

“Quoting activist/urban theorist Jane Jacobs, Commissioner Sarnoff recently argued (very compellingly) that the problems of the widely disparaged Bicentennial Park stem precisely from the fact that it is a ‘vacuous park.’ Most of the world’s great parks feature additional draws. Art has been a crucial element of great parks since ancient times. I worry that if the park were renovated without the museums, it would eventually fall into neglect once again, and then be turned over for the construction of luxury high-rises.” — In the Diet Newsletter, MAM curator René Morales answers two of the arguments against the new building. (via TnFH)

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  1. Jonathan    Mon Jul 9, 06:08 PM #  

    It’s a pleasant surprise to learn that a Miami city commissioner takes Jane Jacobs seriously. I would take Sarnoff’s point further, however. In the spirit of Jacobs, it seems to me that the given alternatives of 1) empty park or 2) park with art museum(s) are a bit lame. Whatever is done with the museums, they are only likely to draw people to the park (assuming they do draw people) during the day, unless there are other attractions there. How about also having some bars and restaurants? Perhaps allowing shops, offices and even residential buildings (with adequate parking, of course)? IOW, if you want people to use it, let it become a place that has things people want to use. Given its location near an expressway, I suspect it will remain unpopular unless it is given more new features than museums alone.

    BTW, one of the links in this post is bad.

  2. Kordor    Tue Jul 10, 01:50 AM #  

    Sarnoff seems to be thoughtful, but no one can be sure that a park is vacuous while it is still in a vacuous context. Give Bicentennial a couple of years after people start moving into the high rises along Biscayne, make some small landscape improvements, and then humbly venture a guess as to “precisely” where the parks problems lie. Until then, Miami should save all the waterfront open space it can.

  3. Dave    Tue Jul 10, 08:06 AM #  

    His comments would seem thoughtful if it wasn’t for the fact that the county government is the one that turned a beautiful tree lined park with a gorgeous public library into a lunar landsacape in the first place. And now they talk about vacuous? The only thing that is vacuous is the county commision!

  4. alesh    Tue Jul 10, 08:12 AM #  

    Jonathan~ (thanks I fixed the link) There are a million different things that could have been done with the park. It’s sat in the pathetic state it’s in the entire 27 years I’ve lived in Miami. If anyone had had any other proposals, they had that long to convince people. They didn’t, and now the museums have come along with a perfectly reasonable proposal and have convinced people. (Your humor, spot on as always, notwithstanding.)

    Kordor~ Um, would the “small landscape improvements” you’re thinking of including removing the, um, RACE TRACK that winds through the park?

  5. skipvancel    Tue Jul 10, 09:18 AM #  

    I have lived in Miami since 1963 and have only been to Bicentennial Park twice in my life. Once with my friend Brenda Kenneally to photograph the tranny colony that lived there in the late 80’s-early 90’s and once to a haunted house/carnival event they had there. Both times required a “draw” to get me to go.
    The idea of a museum in the park is a no brainer as far as I am concerned. Many great parks have Museums in them (i.e. de Young Museum in San Francisco etc.) I wonder how many of the people opposing this had actually been to Bicentennial Park before the recent debate.
    The building proposed will be world class and that in itself will be a draw for many collectors to donate. When MOCA got it’s new building I was one of the first to donate a collection of Ed Ruscha’s books I had been collecting for years. It was a minor donation, but nonetheless it helped MOCA.
    As a kid I remember going to Bayfront Park because the library was there and offered films etc. It even allowed us to check out art work. It was an adventure and adventure is what downtown needs.

  6. Jonathan    Tue Jul 10, 01:04 PM #  

    Alesh, I wasn’t joking. People aren’t going to use the park if it’s an open-space shrine without other draws. And I don’t think museums, which can be put anywhere in town, have no connection to the waterfront and — unlike shops and restaurants, which most people will probably visit more often than museums — are enough. (This is separate from my objection to public funding for museums.)

    Look at successful waterfront areas. Bayfront in downtown Miami seems to work well. OK, it’s not a park, but many people go there. It has a shopping mall and restaurants. It’s a good place to hang out at all times of day.

    A more interesting example is the area around Miami City Hall, which features restaurants, a boat yard, a marina where quite a few people live, some open space, City Hall and the convention center. This is a busy area, day and night. If you took away the marina, boat yard and restaurants, turned the land into a park and left City Hall and the convention center — IOW, transformed the area into an approximation of Bicentennial Park with museums — it would lose a lot of its appeal and probably be deserted much of the time, and especially at night. This is why I think that Sarnoff has the right idea but doesn’t take it far enough.

  7. :)    Tue Jul 10, 01:25 PM #  

    Sorry but I think the downfall of the park began when Bayfront was built. and Bayfront ought to be the target fro people who want a better park not a Museum. I mean one goo thing about the Museums now is that the provide a good buffer from that park over to the causeway. Parks land is a missing element in miami and the vacant lots of miami should be reclaimed if a developer doesn’t use it after a set time. the government ought to compensate that or they should be encouraged to donate it to the city so we can build some great urban parks. How come Midtown Miami, one of the last great open spaces in miami never got made into a continuous open park with surrounding residences is beyond me.

  8. Waterfront park lover    Sun Jul 15, 03:35 AM #  

    Many people love Bicentennial Park. Most people realize that Bicentennial Park could be great again if our sleazy politicians would only allocate some of our tax money to its upkeep. It is a great site.

    A small museum might be nice but Miami Art Museum is not appropriate. It has no money and no collection and it plots to build too large a new building.

    And what about the needs of all the new condo buyers who were talked into investing in downtown Miami? What park can they use? Bicentennial Park might be under construction for 5-6 years.

  9. alesh    Sun Jul 15, 08:41 AM #  

    Waterfront park lover~

    I’d appreciate it if you picked one pseudonym and stuck to it. You’re fooling no one.

    That we should feel sorry for “all the new condo buyers” is laughable. Most of those buildings are mostly unsold, and most of the people who bought the units bought them to flip, not to live in.

    More to the point, most of the units were purchased AFTER the bond issue passed. An equally valid argument is that the purchased their condos BECAUSE of the museums.


    I think the analogy with the City Hall area works better if you compare it to the whole area around Bicentennial — including AAA, Bayside, and the new Biscayne Blvd streetscaping. Now you’ve got a big public/private stretch, with a wide variety of amenities. Even if you were serious about the “bars and restaurants,” they’re a block down at Bayside. Offices and residences are across the street. IMHO the park/museums combo rounds out the neighborhood pretty damned well, but like I said above, I’m not as worried about the folks in the immediate area as I’m thinking of the total package of the site, and what it will mean for everyone in the county who will come and enjoy it. (Hey, if you asked the people moving into the condos, they’d probably want you to give part of the site to Publix.)

  10. Jonathan    Sun Jul 15, 01:52 PM #  


    Something about the City Hall area works, even despite the somewhat dysfunctional convention center (or maybe the dysfunctional CC is really a functional parking lot). I think one of the reasons why it works is the lack of barriers between the various establishments/services. It’s all on the same side of the main road, and physically compact. By contrast, the Bicentennial area has barriers: AAA, 395 and Biscayne Blvd. in particular. Across the street or a block away may be too far. (You can see something like the same flawed dynamic on the Ft. Lauderdale-A1A strip as compared to the Hollywood Broadwalk or even Ocean Dr. in MB, and Biscayne Blvd. is much wider than A1A.) I don’t think you can park casually in that area, either, which is a significant deterrent to going there for other than planned events (e.g., people congregate at City Hall on weekend mornings to go running or biking, because it’s easy to park there). Maybe I’m wrong about what’s going on, but it seems to me that some combo of issues must be holding the Bicentennial area back, or it would be more popular.

    The frequent response of city planners to similar situations is to recommend installation of more special-event edifices (AAA is the perfect example, but I think museums are also in this category) that only get used a small part of the time, and mostly by people from out of the area. Obviously I don’t think the city-planner approach works well enough.

  11. alesh    Sun Jul 15, 02:21 PM #  

    As you’d said, Bayside teems with people practically 24/7. We’re really talking about the area between Bicentennial park and Bayfront park, so I-395 is not an issue, and it’s all on the same side of Biscayne Blvd. The AAA is an obstacle to pedestrians going to Bicentennial, but when the streetscaping is complete there will be an attractive wide sidewalk and hopefully trees to make the walk easier. If you keep in mind the plans for Museum park, the fact that H&dM plan to make the museum building an attraction even for those not going into the museum, and the public sculpture garden, a picture of the park as an appealing destination begins to emerge.

    But even more then that, I believe that in a couple of years, when there really are people living in the four new buildings across from the park and the road construction/streetscaping is finished, the whole area will become relatively pedestrian/cyclist friendly. (Benefited also by the Metromover and one day the streetcar.) If the port tunnel gets built it’ll divert much of the traffic and make it even more so.

    As for parking, there may be more of it in the neighborhood then you remember — the Bayside garages, the AAA underground garage, several public lots on the Biscayne median, and private lots that open as needed (usually for special events).

    The thing holding Bicentennial park back in the present tense is it’s state; when people want to go there (for a special event, soccer game, etc.) they have no problem. If the stuff planned for the park attracts people, and the anecdotal evidence seems overwhelmingly to suggest it will, they shouldn’t have too much trouble getting there.

    I guess turning Bicentennial into a neighborhood park would have been an option, and under that scenario the museums would be unnecessary. They obviously won’t make anyone come to the park every day or even every week. A large number of people will come from the whole county, though, monthly or bimonthly. That makes the park more of an attraction to a larger group of people, which I think is appropriate given its prominent position (last public waterfront in downtown, etc). And if a large retail complex gets built on the Herald parking lot, the park will really be nestled in the middle of a big pedestrian zone (of course then 395 will be an obstacle).

    Sorry for the rambling . . .

  12. Jonathan    Sun Jul 15, 09:35 PM #  

    If it works, great. I’d prefer that it got done without taxpayer funds, but they’re going to spend the funds anyway, so better it should be a big success than not. We shall see.

  13. Gabriel Lopez-Bernal    Mon Jul 16, 11:53 AM #  

    Nice Overlay Alesh…

  14. CL Jahn    Mon Jul 16, 12:38 PM #  

    Well done on the overlay; mine wasn’t nearly was well aligned.

    BTW, in the next day or so I’ll post pictures of the restaurant site. Got busy opening the show last week.

  15. Verticus    Mon Jul 16, 12:42 PM #  

    I was against the museums in the park at the beginning but welcome them now. Anything is better than where they were housed. Putting our art collection in BP is like bringing it into the sunshine. The soccer field behind AA was part of the deal with the county: land had to be set aside for the public. This is the same piece of land AA tried to develop a few years ago and got slapped on the wrist for even thinking about it. Oh yeah, that little bridge over the basin has to go. It will interfere with the surf park.

  16. alesh    Mon Jul 16, 12:59 PM #  


    I don’t get the last part . . . what’s a surf park?

  17. CL Jahn    Mon Jul 16, 05:26 PM #  

    I’m still not sold on the museums IN the park: i’d like to see some solid assurance that they won’t grow into the park later on. Museums are like mushrooms; they keep growing.

  18. Blingtown    Mon Jul 16, 10:38 PM #  

    As to the walkways north of the museums-

    These are probably access roads required for service and fire. I think they really have jammed them as far north as is practical.

    As for the museums growing-

    There is always room for off-site growth. MoCA has already expanded into the design district. I think most Manhattan museums expanded off-site long ago.

    Finally, a techie thing-
    If you used photoshop for that, you can make your life easier by making the overlaid image translucent over the image it will replace and then flattening it. I suspect that is all quite a bit harder online though!

  19. alesh    Tue Jul 17, 07:26 AM #  

    (I guess that makes sense — you wouldn’t want trucks unloading stuff from the park side.)

    You know, I can actually picture at least the art museum expanding somehow over the water? In the short term, I have a feeling that when the designs of the buildings are revealed a some of these concerns will be addressed.

    Yeah, I did the rollover in photoshop, and saved it as two images. I could have done the rollover with CSS, but the sites that do it all the time seem to use JavaScript. Well, I found some off-the-shelf code which worked fine in IE on the site I got it from, but I must have done something wrong. I don’t have the patience to debug it right now, but I guess I will at some point, in case I want to do this again.

  20. mae    Tue Jul 17, 10:48 AM #  

    I hate to use Manny’s line, but think about Millennium Park in Chicago. That park has nothing for sale and no museums. It’s simply fun. Granted it’s all cement, but it’s also a place where all kinds of people take their kids to play and tourists go. We don’t need something as fancy as Millennium Park and we don’t need any museums. We need a safe, clean, public park with some fun family draws, sports fields, and shady trees. Any money not spent on constructing ridiculous museums and not spent on huge upkeep can be spent on other pressing Miami issues…say making sure all kinds of people- rich and poor can afford to live in downtown…

  21. alesh    Tue Jul 17, 11:51 AM #  


    I think we’re living in a different planet, but over here, the relatively huge Art Institute of Chicago is in the smack/dab middle of the park.

    (Argue all you want that technically the museum is not in the park, but I’ve been there, and it reads just like it looks on the map: an art museum smack dab in the middle of a park district. And don’t kid yourself — the museum/university has a lot to do with the success of that area as a public space.)

  22. :)    Tue Jul 17, 04:09 PM #  

    right and don’t for get Central Park has the Met, Prospect Park has the brooklyn Museum. I have been to AIC and what do you do after? go to the been or walk around millennium park and who has a building there but none other then frank gehry so I think you can say the Herzog and de. are kind of like Museum park’s starchitect.

  23. Robert    Wed Jul 18, 11:06 AM #  

    I have to side with Alesh here. Bicentennial Park is, and always has been, a wasteland that very few long-time residents have ever stepped foot in. We can thank the hardcore environmentalists at least partially for this, as they’ve stopped virtually every attempt to revitalize the park (Marlins stadium is one classic example).

    I am very much in favor of Museum Park and voted for it a few years back. Being on the same side of Biscayne Blvd and being south of 395 offers contiguity with the other attractions (AAA, Bayside, Bayfront Park). One day, hopefully it will also be easily accessible by foot to the CCPA north of the highway.