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Monday March 24, 2008

Miami city commissioner Tomás Regalado appears to be on a mission to sink Miami 21. He sneakily canceled a meeting of the commission to consider the zoning codes, and has promised not to give the consultants on the project another dime of funding, all the while calling for “more input,” “more clarification.”


Friday August 10, 2007

The courts put the breaks a little bit on the transformation of the banks of the Miami River from industrial to residential high-rise. At the least, the city needs to do some planning on the area before making drastic re-zonings. Miami 21?


Thursday July 26, 2007

More Miami21 meetings

You asked for more Miami 21 meetings, and you’ve got ‘em. Here’s a schedule from an e-mail they just sent, also available on the schedule page of the Miami 21 website. I’ll go on record once again saying that the website is a mess, and that a project of this magnitude (and budget) should be ashamed for dealing with the internet in this flimsy way. Still, the information is there, and here are your opportunities to learn what it’s about and speak your peace.

Date Location Address Time Net Area
Aug 2 Simpson Park 55 SW 17th Road 6pm Coral Way
Aug 7 West End Park 250 SW 60th Ave. 6:30pm   Flagami
Aug 9 Police Benevolent Assc. 2300 NW 14th St. 6pm Allapattah
Aug 15 Curtis Park 1901 NW 24th Ave. 6pm Allapattah
Aug 16 Belafonte Tacolcy Center   6161 NW 9th Ave. 6pm Model City
Aug 20 St. Michael 2987 West Flagler St.   6pm West Flagler
Aug 21 Disabilities Center 4560 NW 4th Terr. 6pm Flagami
Aug 23 Orange Bowl 1501 NW 3rd St. 6pm Little Havana
Aug 27 Citrus Grove Elementary 2121 NW 5th St. 6pm Little Havana
Aug 28 Frankie S. Rolle Center 3750 S. Dixie Hwy 6pm SW Coconut Grove
Aug 29   Hadley Park 1350 NW 50th St. 6pm Model City
Aug 30 Shenandoah Park 1800 SW 21st Ave. 6pm Coral Way
Sep 4 Coral Way Elementary 1950 SW 13th Ave. 6pm Coral Way
Sep 5 LaSalle High School 3601 S. Miami Ave. 6pm NE Coconut Grove


Friday June 29, 2007

Miami 21 pushed back another 90 days. One of the tactics used to get people scared: “Commissioners themselves at moments seemed confused over one detail: whether many existing homes in the city would be deemed in violation of the new code.” Um, no kids — the plan effects new construction. Duh. Update: Ryan has some comments on this.


Monday June 25, 2007

Latest draft of Miami 21

miami 21 frontage

The latest draft proposal of Miami 21 is available for download. I can’t say that they’ve made it easy for people . . . rather then a web-readable format, or a reader-hostile pdf, the planners have chosen to do this as an extra-reader-hostile multi-pdf. The meat begins in section 4, where, on page 17, the maximum densities for downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods are laid out.

I’ll leave it to urban planning experts to judge the details of the plan, but the broad outlines of it are based on modern urban planning principles that are well established, and as such this is very important for the long-term growth of our city, as I’ve argued previously. You’ll hear a lot of criticism of the plan, and almost all of it comes from self-interested land owners who fear (oftentimes incorrectly) that the plan limits their options on how they can develop their land. But remember that we’re talking about making our city more livable here. (And sorry sir, but we really don’t need a high-rise in the middle of this neighborhood of single-family homes.)

Passing the plan will be an important step, but since the effects of something like this take place over the course of decades, the real test will be how seriously future city governments take it. I guess we’ll have to see how it plays out. For now, Verticus says that Miami 21 is going before the commission for first reading Thursday.

Update: Ryan runs down some of the changes.



oak plaza development

Oak Plaza, coming soon to the Design District. Pedestrian-friendly ground floor shopping with residences above, just the way we like it.


Wednesday May 23, 2007

A baywalk is part of Miami 21, but anyone who’s been down to the bay knows it’s a little pie-in-the-sky, since almost all the buildings along the bay have fence up to the water and private yards. Anyway, here’s what the Baywalk would look like if we had a baywalk.


Tuesday February 20, 2007

Miami 21

Here’s an article I wrote for Damn Magazine back in June of 2006. It was published in October, but has never made it online before. I took the photos back then for the article, though in the magazine it ran with Julian Martin’s much better pictures.

Miami, June 2006

A New Miami?

I’m sitting in a shabby banquet room in the Eugenio Maria De Hostos Neighborhood Service Center in Wynwood, surrounded by huge pieces of foamboard covered with maps, diagrams, charts, and computer renderings of buildings and streets. Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk is just wrapping up her presentation — one she’s given four times in the last week — and opens the floor up to comments. The low-level grumbling that had accompanied her talk resolves itself into a succession of complaints, many followed by applause from a healthy proportion of the 100 or so assembled. Plater-Zyberk takes all this in stride, answering each person without a shred of disagreement. Yes – the plan needs work. Yes – they would revisit that aspect to see if it could be improved. Yes, yes, yes.

We’re talking about Miami 21, the state-of-the-art master plan that’s been Manny Dias’s dream ever since he was elected mayor of Miami in 2001. It took years of preparation, but finally a firm was hired, and today we have a proposed plan. Now comes the hardest part: getting the public to agree to it.

Miami 21 is an effort to marry the best ideas from the last thirty years of urban planning to the weird realities of Miami’s existing cityscape. It focuses on what types of buildings should go where, in an effort to create a city that is convenient and pleasant for drivers as well as pedestrians. It’s not as impossible as it sounds: groupings of medium and high-density buildings with storefronts and plazas along the ground floor, plenty of trees, and nice wide sidewalks, and who wouldn’t walk a couple of blocks to run an errand? And the organization and higher density makes public transportation start to look like a viable option. Beyond that, the plan incorporates historical preservation, emphasizes open green space, hearts art and culture, encourages mixed-income development, and generally hits all the feel-good talking points that wide-eyed urban planners love.

Key to all this is something called the transect. It refers to the gradual transition from nature to the urban core through distinct zones: rural, suburban, medium-density, urban. The transect calls for throwing out old, complicated zoning codes in favor of these zones, which encourage building along old-fashioned models: suburbs, for example, begin to look more like small town under this system, with centers of common public space, shops, and parks. The transect system also eliminates the variance system, under which politically connected developers were able to have the rules changed on case-by-case basis to squeeze more profit out of their land at the expense of community coherence.

Edgewater, June 2006 Which brings us back to the meeting, and yes: the complaints. For the most part, the meeting is attended by developers, realtors, and big-time land owners, all of whom have the most to loose from certain aspects of the plan. In the effort to normalize building densities through the city and apply some control to the growth, sweeping changes have to be made to the zoning codes, and these changes have winners and losers. The landowners and developers whose ability to build gigantic concrete’n‘glass condos has been circumcised are pitching a fit. You can’t blame them, but neither should you really accommodate them, right? It’s our damned city, and we should be able to put our needs above those of developers who want to cash in and move on. This is about the vast majority of the people . . . those who actually live and work here. Obviously and unfortunately, those people are scarce in the process that goes into these sorts of plans, and while the planners try to do what they believe we want, their ability to push back against the big money interests in hindered by a lack of voice from the other side.

But actually, the problem is worse than that. Not only are many people not aware of the process, but if they were aware, they would be quite skeptical of designing a city with a big fancy plan.

While our responsibility for the natural environment has enjoyed a surge of popular support over the last several decades, the same can’t be said for the urban environment. Some cities are loved and others hated, but we don’t really think about how we can shape and influence our cities through concentrated action. This is exactly what urban planners do, though, and it’s what they’re doing with Miami21. Too bad the timing stinks. Everyone knows that we’re coming off a major building rush right now. Hundreds of building and renovation projects of all shapes and sizes are taking place all over town, and while many more are in the planning stages, conventional wisdom has it that anyone who hasn’t broken ground already is going to find it increasingly difficult to do so. As the housing supply expands and prices (especially for condos) begin to level off, the increases in building materials are going to make all sorts of numbers just not add up. So great; if we can expect a major building boom once every 20 to 30 years, and we just wrapped one up, what are we doing; planning for a rush of building in 2030?

There is good news, though. For one thing, many of the buildings now going up adhere to some of design rules of new urban thinking. There are shops along the first floor, the parking garages are hidden from the street, and the buildings are set back at the fifth or sixth floors, giving them a sense of scale from the sidewalk.

This is particularly noticeable in Edgewater, the area east of Biscayne Boulevard between the Omni and I-195. Few places have seen as rapid a transformation over the last few years as Edgewater, where single-family homes and small apartment buildings (some dating back to the original Miami construction boom in the 1920s) mingle with empty lots, construction sites, and gleaming new towers. Throw in a few corner markets, and when all the dust settles we may just have a real walkable community on our hands. It’ll get another boost when the streetcar system which is planned for the area comes online in 2010.

So there’s the city of the future for you: it intelligently mixes high, medium, and low density buildings with nice sidewalks, public spaces, and practical public transportation. Actually, it looks suspiciously the way cities all over Europe have looked for an awfully long time. And the plan? Well, Plater-Zyberk will have her hands full between now and September, when the city commission votes on the final plan. Only time will tell how much effect the plan will have, though.


Wednesday May 17, 2006

Miami 21 meeting

meeting @ culmer

Went to a Miami21 meeting yesterday. Miami 21 is a great big master plan the city’s working on with Duany Plater-Zyberk and Company, and they recently unveiled a draft of the document (actually, the “document”: is a Powerpoint presentation, so I’m not sure it technically counts as a “draft”); this meeting was one of three intended to be an opportunity for citizen feedback. In the first hour, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk ran through the Powerpoint. A lot of her presentation was in city planning lingo and acronyms (sample slide: “Calculation of NFA based on GLA”), and I hadn’t really done my homework.

Still, the plan is commendable: it re-does the current zoning codes to create a logical distribution of density, human-scaled development, pedestrian-friendly streets, agreeable public spaces, and the like. If Miami were being built from scratch according to a plan like this (don’t laugh: see New Songdo), everything would be great. Coming, as it does, at the tail end of a building boom, well . . . we’ll see – it’s still a worthwhile effort, I guess.

The second half of the meeting (which ran quite precisely 5:45 – 7:45 pm) was for citizen comments and questions, which ran more or less as you would expect: a few property owners complaining that the changes would reduce their property’s value, a few passionate citizens with problems specific to their neighborhoods, and general grumbling that the process isn’t allowing enough time for citizen input. With regard to the latter, they have a point – the plan has only been on the web a couple of days, and there were a number of hands still up when the meeting ended. Ms. Plater-Zyberk handled this part of the meeting very well, answering the questions as best as possible, promising, as appropriate, to revisit each of the specific issues raised, and assuring everyone that, while the whole process was being rushed, they’d take the time to work through everyone’s concerns and stretch the schedule if necessary.

More meetings follow for Little Haiti, Upper Eastside, Wynwood, and Edgewater over the next couple of days (the plan is divided up into four quadrants, and all this is really just referencing the first of them).