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Dead End

 

Five years after moving to Miami to start working at UM, it is a good time for a quick recap: the good and the bad. And while what happens (and crucially: doesn’t happen) on the Rickenbacker Causeway is important, it is symptomatic of much larger systemic issues in the area.

The Good

Let’s start with some of the good developments. They are easier to deal with as unfortunately they aren’t that numerous. Miami-Dade Transit has – despite some questionable leadership decisions and pretty awful security contractors – put into place some important projects such as a decent public transit connection from MIA and while the user experience leaves a number of things to be desired, it generally works; so do TriRail and the express buses to Broward and elsewhere; a number of cities have local trolley systems and while not a great solution in some places, it’s a start; Miami Beach has DecoBike and it seems that it is being used widely – and the service is slated to come to the City of Miami some time in 2014; Miami is finally becoming a city, albeit an adolescent one with a core that, while still dominated by car traffic, is more amenable to foot and bike traffic than it was five years ago (and there are plans for improvement); and at least there is now a debate about the value of transportation modes that do not involve cars only.

The Bad

Yet at the same time, it seems like Miami still suffers from a perfect storm of lack of leadership, vision and long-term planning, competing jurisdictions which makes for easy finger-pointing when something goes wrong, civic complacency and the pursuance of self-interest. Add to that a general disregard for cyclists, pedestrians and those taking public transit. All of this leaves the area as one of the most dangerous places to bike and walk in the country. And instead of actively working towards increasing the safety of those – in an area where many drivers are behaving in a dangerous manner – that do not have the protection of the exoskeleton of 4000 lbs of steel or aluminum, infrastructure is being built without regard for the most vulnerable.

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Poor Leadership and Lack of Political Will

At the top of the list is the rampant lack of genuine support for the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians as well as public transit. The area remains mired in car-centric planning and mindset. While other places have grasped the potential for improving the lives of people with walkable urban environments, we live in an area whose civic and political leadership does not appear to even begin to understand this value (and whose leadership likely doesn’t take public transit).

This starts with a mayor and a county commission (with some exceptions) whose mindset continues to be enamored with “development” (i.e. building housing as well as moving further and further west instead of filling in existing space, putting more and more strain on the existing infrastructure). How about building a viable public transit system on the basis of plans that have existed for years, connecting the western suburbs with the downtown core? How about finally linking Miami Beach to the mainland via a light rail system? How about build a similar system up the Biscayne corridor or, since the commission is so enamored with westwards expansion, connect the FIU campus or other areas out west? And while we’re at it, let’s do away with dreamy projects in lieu of achievable ones? Instead of trying to build the greatest this or greatest that (with public money no less), one could aim for solidity. What we get is a long overdue spur (calling it a line is pushing it) to the airport with no chance of westwards expansion.

Few of the cities do much better and indeed Miami consistently ranks among the worst-run cities in the country (easy enough when many city residents are apathetic in the face of dysfunctional city government or only have a domicile in Miami, but don’t actually live here). When the standard answer of the chief of staff of a City of Miami commissioner is that “the people in that street don’t want it” when asked about the installation of traffic calming devices that would benefit many people in the surrounding area, it shows that NIMBYism is alive and kicking, that there is no leadership and little hope that genuine change is coming.

Car-Centric, Not People-Centric, Road Design

One of the most egregious culprits is the local FDOT district, headed by Gus Pego. While the central office in Tallahassee and some of the other districts seem to finally have arrived in the 21st century, FDOT District 6 (Miami-Dade and Monroe counties) has a steep learning curve ahead and behaves like an institution that is responsible for motor vehicles rather than modern transportation. Examples include the blatant disregard of Florida’s legislation concerning the concept of “complete streets” (as is the case in its current SW 1st Street project where parking seems more important to FDOT than the safety of pedestrians or cyclists – it has no mandate for the former, but certainly for the latter) or its continued refusal to lower the speed limits on the roads it is responsible for, especially when they are heavily frequented by cyclists and pedestrians. All of this is embodied in its suggestion that cyclists shouldn’t travel the roads the district constructs. According to their own staff, they are too dangerous.

The county’s public works department – with some notable exceptions – is by and large still stuck in a mindset of car-centricism and does not have the political cover to make real improvements to the infrastructure. Roads are still constructed or reconstructed with wide lanes and with the goal of moving cars at high speeds as opposed to creating a safe environment for all participants. Yes, that may mean a decrease in the “level of service”, but maybe the lives and the well-being of fellow humans is more important than getting to one’s destination a minute more quickly (and if you have decided to move far away from where you work, that’s just a factor to consider). The most well-known example is the Rickenbacker Causeway which still resembles a highway after three people on bicycles were killed in the last five years and where speeding is normal, despite numerous assurances from the political and the administrative levels that safety would actually increase. Putting lipstick on a pig doesn’t make things much better and that is all that has happened so far. But even on a small scale things don’t work out well. When it takes Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami months to simply install a crosswalk in a residential street (and one entity is responsible for the sidewalk construction, while the other does the actual crosswalk) and something is done only after much intervention and many, many meetings, it is little wonder that so little gets done.

(Almost) Zero Traffic Enforcement

It continues with police departments that enforce the rules of the road selectively and haphazardly at best, and at least sometimes one has the very clear impression that pedestrians and cyclists are considered a nuisance rather than an equal participant in traffic. Complaints about drivers are routinely shrugged off, requests for information are rarely fulfilled and in various instances police officers appear unwilling to give citations to drivers who have caused cyclists to crash (and would much rather assist in an exchange of money between driver and victim, as was recently the case).

The above really should be the bare minimum. What is really required – given the dire situation – is for public institutions to be proactive. But short of people kicking and screaming, it does not appear that those in power want to improve the lives and well-being of the people that they technically serve. I view this issue as an atmospheric problem, one that cannot easily be remedied by concrete action, but rather one that requires a mindset change. A good starting point: instead of trying to be “the best” or “the greatest” at whatever new “projects” people dream up (another tall “luxury” tower, nicest parking garage [is that what we should be proud of, really?], let’s just try not to be among the worst. But that would require leadership. The lack thereof on the county and the municipal level (FDOT personnel is not elected and at any rate, is in a league of their own when it comes to being tone-deaf) means that more people need to kick and scream to get something done (in addition to walking and biking more). Whether this is done through existing groups or projects like the Aaron Cohen initiative (full disclosure: I am part of the effort) is immaterial. But if there is to be real improvement, a lot more people need to get involved.

 

This is my first post as an official Transit Miami contributor, but this post is actually a follow-up to an earlier piece that I wrote but which was published under Felipe’s name. In that post, which appeared earlier this summer, I made a case for extending Metrorail out to FIU. That case was essentially this: two intertwined, near-term policy priorities announced by Miami leaders are to solve the problem of the region’s brain drain and to establish Miami as a prominent player for technology start-ups. By better integrating FIU into a comprehensive transit system, we’ll be building the physical infrastructure to cultivate greater personal and professional connections between the university community and the broader South Florida region, particularly its business community; these connections, I argue, will be instrumental in reversing Miami’s brain drain and catalyzing the entrepreneurial culture necessary for a start-up scene.

In that piece, I discussed the nearly universal trend in the United States over the past ten years of cities connecting their colleges and universities to their transit systems. That trend is founded upon two crucial propositions of economic development. Those propositions are:

  1. City centers and universities represent two of the most productive hubs of innovation, and by improving the physical connections between them, we can facilitate connections between the people, ideas, and resources of each.
  2.  When people, ideas, and resources are well connected, economies thrive.

It is these propositions that have influenced transit planning and economic development in cities throughout the United States, and which I believe should also influence transit planning and economic development in Miami. The transportation case for mass transit stands on its own; mass transit is unquestionably the most efficient technique for transporting people and any serious transportation policy has mass transit as its backbone. Yet, there is also the economic case for mass transit, represented in part by the propositions outlined above. This post will address some of the data that back up those propositions and the assertion that building transit connections to universities like FIU can foster business start-up activity and mitigate and reverse brain drains.

 

Downtowns and universities represent a disproportionately high share of start-up activity. The days where suburban landscapes, such as Silicon Valley and Route 128, dominate the start-up scene are unsurprisingly over. According to data from the National Association of Venture Capitalists, downtown San Francisco now produces more tech start-ups than Silicon Valley. In the New York metro area, among the ten zip codes that received the highest amounts of venture capital dollars, nine of them were in Midtown or Lower Manhattan. In the Boston area, seven of the ten zip codes receiving the most VC investment are in downtown Boston or downtown Cambridge; only three are in the Route 128 corridor. In all, urban areas received three-fourths of all VC investment in New York, seven-tenths of all VC investment in Boston, and two-thirds of all VC investment in Washington, DC.

In addition to downtowns, universities represent the other major generator of start-up activity. According to data from the Association of University Technology Managers, universities generated 705 spin-off companies in 2012. That number was up from 671 spin-offs in 2011. In 2011 and 2012, 73 percent and 79 percent, respectively, of these spin-offs retained their primary place of business in the university’s home state. This is significant in that is shows that not only to universities generate new businesses, but those businesses tend to stay in that community and remain a long-term contributor to the local economy. Four schools – MIT, Harvard, Tufts, and Boston University – accounted for 35 (or twenty percent) of the 179 start-ups established in Boston last year. In Philadelphia, university spin-offs represented over forty percent of all start-ups.

 

High transit ridership and low car usage correlates with increased start-up activity in metropolitan areas. Using the PricewaterhouseCoopers MoneyTree Report, the most well-known quarterly study on venture capital investment activity in the United States, and the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, I compiled data on all 123 metropolitan areas in the United States that recorded at least a single dollar of VC investment in 2011.

On the graph below, I plotted the percentage of residents commuting to work by public transit along the X axis and the total value of venture capital investment activity along the Y axis for each of the 123 metropolitan areas. Because the graph gets rather cluttered with 123 data points, for aesthetic reasons I removed the individual data points and just left the trendline. The resulting graph shows that higher transit ridership is correlated with higher VC investment.

TR2VC

Here’s the same graph with the trendline calculated using only those mid-sized metropolitan areas, like Miami, with a population between two million and eight million people. We can see that the correlation is similar even when just looking at similarly size metro areas.

TR2VC2-8

When we compare venture capital investment activity to the percentage of residents commuting to work by automobile, we find the reverse correlation to be true. Here’s the data once again from all 123 metropolitan areas. The resulting graph shows that higher car usage correlates with lower VC investment.

CU2VC

And for just mid-sized metro areas of two million to eight million people as well. Again, the correlation is similar among similarly sized metro areas.

CU2VC2-8

 

High transit ridership and low car usages correlates with higher start-up activity at universities. In addition to looking at the amount of venture capital investment, there are other ways to measure start-up activity. It makes sense to look at these other ways, as well, because venture capital investment does not always tell the whole story. Often times, for example, start-ups are launched in one location, but they move to another location, particularly the Bay Area and New York, once they are ready to begin seeking larger investments. For this reason, it makes sense to look at other metrics, and at the university level, there are a few good ones. We can look at the number of start-ups that a university generates, for example. We can also look at the licensing income that a university receives. Fortunately, the Association of University Technology Managers maintains a robust database of all this information. Comparing data from the AUTM’s annual survey from 2012 with zip-code data from the American Community Survey, we can get a sense of the relationship between commuting habits and the start-up activity at 141 American colleges and universities.

For the first cluster of graphs below, I plotted the percentage of residents in each university’s zip code area who commute to work by public transit along the X axis. Along the Y-axis in the first graph is the total value of licensing income received by each university for each of the 141 universities. Again, I cleared the individual data points and kept just the trendlines. What we see is that as transit ridership rates increase so does university licensing income.

TR2LI

Along the Y-axis in this graph is the number of start-ups generated by each university. Likewise, as transit ridership rates increase, the number of start-ups generated by a university increase as well.

TR2SU

Once again, when we compare the same variables to the share of car commuters, we find a negative correlation. Here’s the share of car commuters to each university’s licensing income. Increased car usage correlates with decreased licensing income.

CU2LI

And here’s car commuters to the number of start-ups generated by each university. Likewise, increased car usage correlates with fewer start-ups generated.

CU2SU

 

The data here are not a grand slam – these are just correlations – but they begin the paint a picture that supports our central premise: that transit can play a role in building the professional and social connections that are essential to a robust, productive entrepreneurial landscape.

Entrepreneurship is as much a culture as it is a single act. Developing policy to facilitate entrepreneurship requires recognition that more is involved than simply the isolated decision to establish an enterprise. It must also consider the multitude of conscious and unconscious factors that make such decisions possible and likely as well as those factors influencing rates of success. Those include, of course, establishing economic incentives such as subsidized incubators, mentoring programs, and tax benefits for business owners. But these are only helpful once a prospective entrepreneur has made a relatively firm commitment to pursue his or her own business. They do not offer much in the way of giving people the ideas and resources that prompt them to make such a commitment in the first place. Entrepreneurs are not created overnight, just as cultures are not fostered overnight. Cultures are layered and complex and sophisticated, and building an entrepreneurial culture requires more than a few well-targeted incentives packages. It necessitates approaching entrepreneurship from a wide array of directions, including immigration policy, education policy, and even transportation policy. The correlations presented in the charts above should not come as a surprise to anyone who understands how the flow of people and ideas bring about economic innovation and opportunity. And they offer evidence in support of the vital propositions that downtowns and universities are key drivers of our economies, and that by connecting downtowns, universities, and entire regions by transit, we foster greater entrepreneurship.

For Miami, this would be a game changer. We are facing a brain drain and we have the opportunity to reverse that trend and create economic growth by building a technology sector in South Florida. We’ve identified the problems and potential solutions, but without a comprehensive, long-term path for reaching those goals, we won’t succeed. We must recognize that while we cannot centrally plan entrepreneurship from a command tower, we can and must put in place the supports that encourage organic entrepreneurship. This includes developing the infrastructure that facilitates connections between people, ideas, and resources, particularly at hubs of innovation, such as city centers and universities. What we see from the data above is evidence that supports that mass transit is a piece of this infrastructure puzzle.

Special thanks to Jodi Talley from the Association of University Technology Managers for providing me with access to AUTM’s robust database without which this piece would not have been possible.

 

The Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is hosting the following workshops to solicit public feedback on the future of transportation in Broward County. For more information on Commitment 2040 watch this video. You can also submit feedback online by following this link to a survey.
Broward MPO Commitment 2040 LRTP Update Workshops

 

Value Engineering. What does the term mean to you?

Think about it. Let’s decompose the term before seeking out a formal definition. To us, the concept of value engineering when applied to transportation projects, includes the pursuit of cost-effective methods to achieve a desired end result. It includes a suite of tools that would enable project managers to work with engineers and architects to lower the overall cost of the project without sacrificing a particular end goal. In more obscure words, the FDOT defines value engineering as:

“…the systematic application of function-oriented techniques by a multi-disciplined team to analyze and improve the value of a product, facility, system, or service.”

So, if we were to tell you that FDOT was actively seeking to value engineer the structure that will soon replace I-395, how would you feel? Let’s take a look back at the designs presented last year before we dive into our argument on why we shouldn’t cut corners on such a critical piece of infrastructure.

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I-395_Miami_Bridge

For the unacquainted, over the past several years FDOT initiated the process to replace the 1.5 mile structure that links SR 836 east of I-95 to the MacArthur Causeway. As the main artery between MIA, the Port of Miami, and South Beach, millions of visitors traverse this scenic stretch annually on the way to a cruise or the beaches. The byproduct of 1960’s urban renewal, I-395 ripped apart neighborhoods and displaced thousands from historic Overtown, today the structure continues to thwart efforts to unite our major public institutions including: The Arsht Center, Art and Science Museums (both currently under construction), and the AA Arena. As such, FDOT’s plans for I-395 will play a critical role in Miami’s ability to reshape the urban core and reunite Downtown, Parkwest, Omni, and Overtown districts.

Side note: Imagine what could become of the corner of N. Miami Avenue and 14th Street if the neighborhood were united with Downtown to the South or the Arsht Center to the east? The Citizens Bank Building (above), built during Miami’s boom years in 1925 could serve as a catalyst for growth in a neighborhood that has largely remained abandoned since urban renewal gutted Overtown. 

In this context, the concept of value engineering contradicts the livable, “sense of place” we’re working to achieve in Downtown. As it currently stands, I-395 and all the other roadways that access our barrier islands are utilitarian structures, serving little purpose other than to move vehicles from one land mass to another.

The challenge with I-395 is that it must satisfy numerous conflicting needs. I-395 isn’t just a bridge (or tunnel, or boulevard). It should serve as an icon; a figurative representation of Miami’s status as the Gateway to the Americas. A new I-395 will, should once and for all, eliminate the physical barrier that has long divided Downtown Miami from the Omni and Performing Arts Districts, encouraging more active uses below while maintaining the flow of traffic above. Not an easy feat. While the DDA and City of Miami recognize the economic value in designing an iconic structure at this site, our experience tells us that FDOT is more likely to think in the terms of dollars and LOS rather than the contextual and neighborhood needs. Simply put, this isn’t an ordinary site where a no-frills structure will suffice.

Cities all across the nation are eliminating derelict highways that for the past 40-50 years have scarred, divided, and polluted neighborhoods. Boston’s big dig for example submerged a 2-mile stretch of I-93 that had cut off the North End and Waterfront neighborhoods from downtown and the rest of the city. The Rose Kennedy Greenway, a 1.5 mile public park now stretches its length. Where the highway tunnel ends, an iconic structure, the Leonard P. Zakim Memorial Bridge takes over, leading traffic over the Charles River to points north. Adjacent to the TD Garden (home of the Celtics & Bruins) the Zakim Bridge is now synonymous with the Boston Skyline. Other notable examples include:

  • San Francisco’s Embarcardero Freeway
  • Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct
  • Hartford’s I-84 Viaduct

While no decision has been made on what final shape I-395’s replacement structure will take, our sources inform us that FDOT is beginning to explore more “cost effective” alternatives. We’ll keep eye on this project as it unfolds and will reach out to the City of Miami, DDA, and FDOT to ensure that Miami receives a replacement structure at this site worthy of its location in the heart of our burgeoning urban core. Moreover, we’ll remind FDOT that their third proposed objective for this project (3. Creating a visually appealing bridge) includes considering the aesthetics of the structure from all perspectives, especially the pedestrians and cyclists we’re trying to lure back into downtown streets.

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TransitMiami can’t help but give a great neighborhood bar, The DRB, some unsolicited praise for its ingenious selection of an otherwise neglected downtown office building for its new location.

By choosing to site its new bar in the part of downtown dominated by boring institutional land-uses, The DRB chose to bring some vibrancy and character to an otherwise lifeless part of downtown. The very phrase itself — “lifeless part of downtown” — is an unfortunate contradiction, an oxymoron of a poorly planned urban milieu.

The building in question — situated on NE 5th Street and 1st Ave. — is surrounded almost exclusively by  institutional land-uses (occupied by, e.g., federal courthouses, a community college, a church, etc.) and lots of shamefully vacant and/or completely undeveloped, prime-for-mixed-use-development downtown parcels.

When New Urbanists and other community design-oriented folks refer to the evils of homogeneous land-use configurations, the image most typically invoked is that of miles upon miles of single-family residential land-use. Indeed, monolithic residential land-use embodies the notion of ‘urban sprawl’.

Elected officials, planners, and developers must also recognize, though, that large areas of homogeneous institutional land-use in the downtown core is at least as toxic (if not more so) for our city as sprawling single-family cookie-cutter houses along the periphery.

We need more transit-oriented development (TOD) in Miami’s de facto government-institution district. That area already has a great combination of Metrorail, Metromover, and Metrobus access. We must augment this healthy transportation configuration with a healthier land-use configuration.

And we must certainly continue to push our elected officials to expand the public transit network. However, we must also push them to better incentivize more commercial in-fill near the highly viable sections of public transit we already have, especially in downtown. It’s the hustle and bustle of downtown that build’s a city’s personality.

Kudos to you, Democratic Republic of Beer, for selecting a site so wonderfully accessible by transit, foot, and bicycle. Now all those bureaucrats and college students have a nice neighborhood spot in which to enjoy one of your exotic specialty brews from one of the corners of the globe.

(This author recommends the Sri Lankan Lion Stout.)

Please Register Online by:
February 8, 2013
Online at seflorida.uli.org
Phone: 800-321-5011
(reference #8135-1344) 

YL Haven Notice Feb 12 (2)

 

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RSVP by clicking here: http://seven50.org/resources/second-summit/

 

Earlier this week, the Vero Beach City Council joined Indian River County’s decision to exclude themselves from the Southeast Florida regional plan initiative, Seven50 (Seven counties, 50 years). The reason being: fears of a correlation to the 20-year-old “Agenda 21.” Local groups like the Taxpayers Association of Indian River County and the Indian River Tea Party conveyed their concerns in the council chambers that this is a federal government plan that would eventually force undesired regulations, with ideas from the UN. While some of their concerns may be valid, the solution is not to pull out of the plan, but to engage with it. Growth will happen whether we plan for it or not, but by planning and communication we can influence how and where that growth takes place.

Seven50 Roadshow

Local citizens working together to plan for their community’s future at a Seven50 Roadshow event

The Second Summit for Seven50 is being held in Miami on January 24. What should we expect? Why should we attend? How should we feel about such an event happening in our neck of the woods?

Let Our Voice be Heard. With citizen engagement as a key factor in this regional plan, we should jump at the opportunity to give our input. Who else should know more about our communities? Lets take advantage of this regional planning process and voice our opinions.

On the Local Level. The people best equipped to plan for the future of our region is a motivated group of locals and community individuals that both know the area intimately and want the best for future growth.

Less Waste. Lets face it, regional investments happen with or without our input. By compiling a cohesive plan together with our neighboring cities and counties, we can decide together. Determining our future investments out in the open will lead to smarter decisions and less waste of funds.

The Second Summit is quickly approaching to give each of us the opportunity to share our ideas, opinions, and plans for a better Miami. We know we have plenty to say about our communities and the county. Make sure to register and even bring some friends. This is our regional plan, and this is our time show it!

 

Transit Miami attended this year’s Walk 21 conference, combined with EMBARQ’s International Walking and Livable Communities Conference, in Mexico City. This is the first of several posts sharing what we learned in the conference and experienced in the city, and any applications they might have for Miami.


During Tuesday’s keynote session, Jim Walker, President of Walk 21, shared London’s success story of preparing for a multimodal London Olympics. London set about accommodating people’s trips to and from the Olympics, not simply accommodating traffic. This approach incorporated transit, bike, pedestrian, and auto modes–but merely as choices in the main goal of getting to their destination. Rather than splitting planning efforts into approaches for one mode at a time, London’s planners and advocacy groups focused efforts on trips to be taken by Olympic athletes, workers, and spectators in addition to citizens of London going about their daily business. Through this process they effectively created an atmosphere where everyone felt comfortable using transit. “Games lanes” were created to reassure those who felt that the automobile was the only method that would get athletes and VIPs  to their games on time, but it was reported in several sources that some athletes did feel comfortable using transit. It seems that London came close to their goal of no additional car trips due to the Olympics by accommodating so many on public transit, on foot, or on the bike.

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Coral Gables Advertisement - The Miami News - Aug 23, 1925

Coral Gables Advertisement – The Miami News – Aug 23, 1925

87 years ago today, an advertisement ran in the Miami Daily News promoting the sale of property in the Biltmore and Country Club VI Sections of Coral Gables. This ad offers a unique view of Miami’s first planned community, Coral Gables, designed by George Merrick during the 1920′s land boom. Coral Gables was developed entirely upon the City Beautiful movement, featuring grand civic spaces, public monuments, and prominent architectural symbols such as the Biltmore Hotel.

While at the time of publishing the Coral Gables Trolley line already linked the suburb with Downtown Miami via Flagler Street, Merrick had grander transit visions:

“These two fine sections will be linked inseperably with the center of Miami, and with the Riviera Section of Coral Gables, by the proposed Coral Gables Rapid Transit Electric Line which will run through the center of both sections.”

The Rapid Transit Electric Line was eventually built, and offered a faster route, along Coral Way, into Central Miami. Perhaps what is most interesting about this advertisement is to read Merrick’s vision for Biltmore Way:

“The outstanding feature of the Biltmore Section is Biltmore Way – an impressive 100 foot Boulevard leading off from Coral Way, at its Northeast corner and running into DeSoto Boulevard, the main drive to the Miami-Biltmore Hotel and Country Club on the West.”

“Biltmore Way from Coral Way to Segovia Street is traversed by the rapid transit rail line. It is one-half mile in length and is planned as the Fifth Avenue Business Street of Coral Gables.”

“Biltmore Way is planned as the shopping center for the discriminating women buyer or Coral Gables and Greater Miami. No stores in the Metropolitan district of Miami will excel in beauty or display the stores to be established on this boulevard. …such a thoroughfare could well be a composite reproduction of Fifth  Avenue of New York, Michigan Avenue of Chicago, Rue de la Paix of Paris, and Old Bond Street of London.”

Merrick’s Vision is brimming with optimism. Influenced by grand boulevards across the world. Its no wonder that property in Coral Gables today remains one of the more sought after in the region. While Biltmore Way never achieved its full potential, he laid the foundation for a community that could grow and adapt to future growth, which is more than can be said for the current development ailing our urban fringes.

Biltmore Way, Coral Gables

Biltmore Way, Coral Gables

 

 

Florida International University’s Metropolitan Center is seeking community input regarding FIU’s 2005-2015 Campus Master Plan. The center is soliciting feedback as part of its evaluation of the plan.

Dario Gonzalez, a research associate with the center, has set up a Facebook discussion board to encourage an open exchange on this plan and to help develop and identify major issues, http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=19278722584&topic=16413
This discussion board will encourage comments on a new topic every few days. Gonzalez will also post related questions concerning the topic.

The Campus Master Plan provides a vision for the future development of the university and reflects the planned growth of the physical spaces at Biscayne Bay Campus, the Engineering Center and Modesto A. Maidique Campus. Metropolitan Center researchers are tasked with determining, in part, its efficacy.

“We’re working closely with the university’s Worlds Ahead Strategic Plan as part of this process,” says Gonzalez. “Now that the strategic plan has set the goals for the university, we need to make sure that the Campus Master Plan will take us there.”

“Comments can begin their own conversations. As long as they’re relevant to the topic, we encourage them,” says Gonzalez. “The goal is to inform and be informed by the FIU community.”

The first topic for discussion is housing. FIU currently houses close to 10 percent of full-time students on-campus. The number of full-time students is projected to grow by 5-6 percent annually for the next decade. Currently, the Campus Master Plan has a goal of providing housing for nearly 7,000 students by 2015. Gonzalez wants your perspective on this question: What obstacles could keep FIU from reaching this goal?

Gonzalez says every comment will be noted. Later, the comments are grouped by theme. After that, personal interviews with university leaders will be conducted. The feedback will culminate in an urban studio scheduled tentatively for fall 2011 that will be open to everyone.

In addition to Facebook, you may leave comments at the end of this news post that pertain to this discussion.

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Hey everyone…sorry for the long hiatus, I’ve been in El Paso for the past couple of weeks participating in an exciting planning project for the city. The city of El Paso hired a team of planners led by the local Miami firm of Dover Kohl & Partners to develop plans for Transit Oriented Developments around three new BRT corridors the city is implementing (and to update their Comprehensive Plan). Yours truly was invited as a transit/planning/bike consultant and I am excited about the work going on here.

Proposed Sun Metro BRT Routes

El Paso is a cool city (22st largest in the country) with a lot going for it. Great architecture abounds, and the mountains are really stunning. Like most American cities, they have had a torrid love affair with highway building, but their newfound commitment to transit is an encouraging sign of things to come.

Historic Union Station Watercolor by Kenneth Garcia

Historically, El Paseños were blessed with one of the most extensive network of streetcars in the USA (which also extended into Juarez, Mexico), and was also one of the first to draft a Comprehensive Plan (compiled way back in 1925 by pioneering landscape architect George Kesseler).

Historic streetcar map

It is nice to see other cities investing in transit. Too bad our own County Commissioners can’t get their act together to provide adequate transit to the residents of Dade County. As the rest of the country advances toward multi-modal transportation, our own transit plans continue to stagnate with no end in sight.

If you want to check out more of the work being done in El Paso, go to www.planelpaso.org. (I’ll Be back in Miami soon!)

By: Sam Van Leer (sam@urban-paradise.org)
Executive Director and Founder, Urban Paradise Guild (Miami, Florida)


OVERTOWN VILLAGE GREEN

The Village Green has a special place in America: an agricultural space within the Village that belongs to everyone. In times of external strife, it is used by the Villagers to feed themselves. It was often the center of Village life. Overtown Village Green is all this and more.

A Park that grows plants also grows people. The nursery that provides fruit trees and native habitat plants to nurture people and wildlife is also an experience that can change kids and adults. These are among the missions of Overtown Village Green (OVG), which opens windows to new activities and careers.

Brad Knoefler is a local resident and businessman with a great idea: Use the Old Miami Arena Site as a temporary park, provide kids with safe recreational space and fight the Urban blight of demolition and vacant lots around Overtown. He approached Urban Paradise Guild (UPG) for a concept that could achieve this. We’ve been developing this plan for nearly a year. (Brad also spearheaded the creation of a greenway along the FEC tracks last year).
OVG’s purpose is to create a temporary park that enables permanent community transformation. It is a mixture of:
* community nursery: grow FREE native plants & fruit trees for Overtown
* personal garden plots for local families and groups
* food forest (permaculture growing methods)
* education for kids
* economic development for the community
* playing field for kids (football or soccer) which becomes a
* performing arts venue in the evening
* most infrastructure is intended for re-use at the next site of OVG
* public/private partnerships fund operations and control costs
* UPG Programs for the Overtown community
* UPG manages the space

Trees can be part of the transformation of a neighborhood. They have been proven to raise property values. Their shade makes sidewalks endurable under the blazing summer sun, and lower the electric bills of residents and businesses. The UPG Community Nursery at OVG will be operated by Volunteers, especially neighborhood kids. The trees will be planted by these same Volunteers, who will ensure that they are not forgotten. They will be free to Overtown residents.

Personal garden plots are not currently offered in Overtown. They create a way that people can be directly involved in improving their own lives. Fresh organic vegetables provide high quality nutrition. Growing them offers new opportunities for exercise and engagement in the community.

Public / Private Partnership
The mission of Parks in America is to serve the public. That is why Parks have always been funded from our tax dollars. The phrase “run it like a business” makes a nice sound-bite, but expecting Parks to do so ensures that they will fail in their primary mission of public service.

At the same time, we recognize that in an era of ever-tightening budgets we must find new ways to stretch every dollar. A public/private partnership does this.

OVG is a public/private partnership. Revenue for operations is generated by sub-leasing space to for-profits to provide parking, a café, solar power demonstration, and other compatible uses. Revenue generated through rental of the venue and sales of organic produce will be used to enhance public programming.
The address is 700 Miami Ave, 5+ acres along the FEC railroad. It is across the street from the Overtown Metro Station and M-D DERM offices, just 2 blocks north of MDC Wolfson Campus and 2 blocks West of Biscayne Blvd. MDC and DERM are both important UPG Partners, and MDC Service-Learning Interns and Students will be important parts of OVG.

Support from the City of Miami and CRA
UPG has already created successful Parks Partnerships with Florida State Parks at Oleta River and Miami-Dade Parks at Matheson Hammock. These government entities understand that as their budgets shrink, their needs for high-impact Volunteers expands. UPG has been asked to take responsibility for all invasive exotic plant eradication at Oleta, an 1,100 acre park, and is coordinating UPG, Park and third-party resources for maximum strategic impact. A similar arrangement exists at Matheson. UPG has become the go-to group for mobilizing the public in such innovative programs, and we hope to form a Partnership with the City of Miami.

Mayor Regalado demonstrated his commitment to the environment for years as a City Commissioner. The Miami Parks Department’s highly successful Habitat Restoration projects at Simpson, Virginia Key Hammocks, and Wainwright Parks might never have happened without his support. He understands the critical value to the community of native trees, habitat plants and fruit trees. He shares UPG’s vision of growing trees for City residents and providing them at no cost.

Last Tuesday, Brad and I had a very productive meeting about OVG with City of Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado and members of his staff. UPG, Brad and the OVG Partners are deeply appreciative of Mayor Regalado’s support and efforts on behalf of OVG and the environment. We hope that it will be enough.

The Overtown/Park West CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency) exists for the sole purpose of fighting the causes of Urban Blight. They are funded by taxes on local properties. Anyone reading this should drive through Overtown today, and ask themselves if the CRA is succeeding.

A fresh approach is needed. We believe that OVG offers a new vision and direction for Overtown, and we hope that the CRA will embrace Overtown Village Green.

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From the Official City of Miami Agenda:

M.1 DISCUSSION ITEM
DISCUSSION RELATED TO THE IMPLEMENTATION OF MIAMI 21 ZONING CODE INCLUDING THE PROCESS FOR AMENDMENTS OR REPEAL AND PROCEDURE FOR CHANGING THE IMPLEMENTATION DATE OF THE MIAMI 21 CODE AND ANY NECESSARY AMENDMENTS
TO ANCILLARY CODE PROVISIONS.

This agenda item is being sponsored by Mayor Regalado, who only days ago confirmed to Transit Miami that the administration would not seek to delay implementation. What ever happened to transparency and honesty in government Mayor? What happened to “implemented on schedule”? Unfortunately, the lone Miami Herald article to cover this important topic over the past few weeks (by Chuck Rabin and Andres Vigglucci) was inaccurate and one sided, laying most of the responsibility on the commission, without acknowledging that that there is no commission sponsored agenda item on the subject. The only item related to implementation is this sneaky discussion item (sponsored by the Mayor). (Andres and Charles – what are you guys thinking??) The fact is that if this item does not get heard, then the commission does not need to do anything and the code becomes effective on the 20th of May.

Insiders have told Transit Miami that the last minute blitz by attorneys in reaction to the overreaching MNU amendments has re-energized both sides – and that another delay might be likely. In spite of the high probability of legal and economic consequences for our already cash strapped city, the mayor and the special interests that are pushing this last minute blitz may be looking to repeal the code altogether. I wonder if they have considered the profound economic impact of leaving our city with no effective zoning code while the commission, mayor and special interests get their way. Lets not also forget that the State of Florida, upon approval of the state mandated comprehensive plan that corresponds to Miami 21 (back in October of 2009), gave the city one year to make its zoning code compliant with the comprehensive plan. That deadline will lapse in October leaving the city in direct noncompliance with State growth laws.

Are these people really in charge of our city? With all the other problems that the city is facing, why are they going back and opening a can of worms that will cost the city dearly in lost time, economic development, and improved quality of life?? Remember what happens next Thursday at election time folks. The institutional memory of this commission might be short, but the civic memory of its constituents is not.

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