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.
It’s that time of year again, folks . . . Time to give yourself a break from the self-imposed captivity of the automobile and reintroduce yourself to that two-wheeled stallion eagerly waiting to transport you to wherever your heart desires (and, in this case, even that place you may not wish to be: work).
Friday, May 18 is National Bike to Work Day!
In fact, this entire week (May 14 – May 18) is National Bike to Work Week, one of many events being held in celebration of National Bike Month. (Here in Florida, our official Bike Month is celebrated in March.)
The City of Miami’s Bicycle Coordinator, Mr. Collin Worth, has done a great job organizing some group rides for Bike to Work Day. At least two group rides have been planned for commuters working in the City of Miami.
The first ride starts in Coral Gables and ends downtown in the Health District (click on the link for route map and details):
Start Location: University Metrorail Station
Start Time: 7:00am
Stop Location: Health District
Stop Time: 7:40-8:00am (depending on group comfort level)
Total Distance: ~9 miles
The second ride starts in Miami Beach and ends in Coconut Grove (click on the link for route map and details):
Start Location: South Point Park
Start Time: 7:00am
Stop Location: Coconut Grove
Stop Time: ~7:50-8:10am (depending on group comfort level)
Total Distance: ~12 miles
And, of course, any rider wishing to join can simply meet-up with the groups anywhere along the way . . .
So break from the routine of stop-and-go traffic and miserable motorists. Hop on that bike of yours and get to work in style, with a cool breeze in your face as the sun rises to what will certainly be a very non-routine day. It could very well change your life . . .
The 20th annual Congress of the New Urbanism is being held in West Palm Beach this year, and for lovers of human-scaled urbanism there is no other place to be. For those of you new to the game, the congress is a meeting of the brightest American urban minds. We commiserate, share the work of the past year, and create new connections with other like-minded professionals.
If you have never been to a Congress it can be overwhelming at first. This is not your typical corporate conference. You won’t find sessions on ‘Negotiating Skills for Planners’ or ‘Airport Land-Use Districts’ (both sessions from a recent planning conference). Instead, the congress is the incubator for the latest ideas shaping our cities — a dynamic event where folks bring ideas that they have been brewing during the previous year to discuss with thinkers from around the country.
It’s fitting that CNU 20 began with the NextGen Congress within a Congress, where young New Urbanists set the stage for the rest of the week. Presentations have ranged from Misunderstood Mobility, to Tactical Urbanism. Throughout all the disparate sessions runs a strong undercurrent of self-critique — a spirit of constructive criticism that is central to the practice of good urbanism.
Massachusetts urban planner Jennifer Krouse made this insightful critique about the Congress itself: “Meeting in a conference center is convenient, but it has a way of segregating us from the city we’re in, and when we leave, there’s no sign that we’ve ever been there. Which is pretty funny when you consider that the CNU is a meeting composed almost entirely of people whose mission is placecraft.”
This is the sort of discussion that takes place at CNU – brutally honest – and not just about our broken pattern of development, but how we as a professional organization hope to move forward.
For lovers of urbanism, the annual Congress for the New Urbanism is an event to be anticipated all year. The annual conference brings together urban planners, architects, and policy makers to discuss the practice of urbanism. For many of us the Congress can feel like a family reunion – a time to celebrate the work of the past year with colleagues, and to reaffirm our commonly held beliefs in the principles of traditional town design.
This year the Congress is being held in West Palm Beach, and Transit Miami will be there all week to cover the events in a live blogging partnership with Next American City.
The CNU-Miami tour des urbanistes
We are starting our weeklong urbanism love-in by staging an epic tour des urbanistes bike ride from South Miami to West Palm Beach. Members of the local Congress for the New Urbanism Miami Chapter, led by CNU chair and South Miami resident Victor Dover, will embark early Tuesday morning on the 90 mile journey to West Palm Beach. Stay tuned…we’ll have more for you along the way!
The M-Path is, without a doubt, one of Miami’s top bicycle amenities. Officially called the Metropath, the corridor was recently acknowledged by FDOT consultant Stewart Robertson as, “the most connected, non-motorized path in Miami-Dade County.” The path has been the subject of numerous Transit Miami posts over the years, where we have advocated for both long and short-term changes that will improve connectivity along the path, including better crosswalks, repaving and straightening.
Luckily, city officials are realizing what an asset the M-path is, and are busy implementing parts of the 2007 M-Path Master Plan, as evidenced by the recent celebration of the M-Path south extension on April 5 where Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez officially inaugurated the path’s newly-minted Dadeland sections (including the new pedestrian bridge over the Snapper Creek expressway).
With all the attention being paid to the M-Path, we wanted to go back to review the action items from the 2007 Master Plan, and compare that plan with the proposed M-path improvement project(s). The projects, recently presented to members of the Miami-Dade Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee by FDOT consultant Stewart Robertson, include short- and long-term improvements being made to the path.
- resurfacing critical sections,
- providing advance warning signals and re-striping crosswalks,
- installing north/south directional signs, as well as signage indicating distances to Metrorail stations,
- installing ‘STOP’ pavement markings near intersections,
- marking precarious and sight-limited meandering (curving) sections,
- constructing the path’s missing links at the University of Miami parking lot sections,
- realigning the path at the South Miami Metrorail station and closing the existing sidewalk (identified as a “high crime area” in the Master Plan),
- installing emergency call boxes at these “high crime areas”,
- implementing encroachment prevention measures, and
- applying development standards during site plan review and approval.
- realigning overly meandering parts of the path,
- widening the path to 12-feet,
- installing countdown pedestrian signals,
- reconfiguring intersection layouts (to include, e.g., crosswalk realignments, refuge islands, raised intersections, bollards, etc.),
- installing lighting along the path,
- enhancing landscaping along the path,
- providing way-finding signage to the Metrorail stations,
- constructing a non-motorized bridge at the Coral Gables Waterway (the canal crossed by the path via an extremely narrow bridge along Ponce de Leon Boulevard), and
- coordinating a property/easement exchange with the occupant of the lot adjacent to the path at Bird (SW 40th Street) and Douglas (SW 37th Avenue) Roads.
According to Robertson, 9 of the 10 short-term improvements have either been addressed, or will be addressed within the next two years through a series of upcoming projects. While we don’t know where, when, and how most of these 9 short-term improvements are to be made, the current capital projects will include resurfacing those portions of the path where asphalt has crumbled, reinforcing those sidewalk sections of path (typically found near Metrorail stations) where tree roots have cracked the concrete, and realigning excessive curves along the path.
In some cases these curves block two-way visibility along the path and contribute to the path’s many disjointed sections. In addition to straightening the path, attention will be paid to intersections critical for connectivity. Notable path alignment and crosswalk improvements mentioned in the presentation include SW 19th Avenue (which will involve a re-milling of hilly topography), SW 22nd Avenue, SW 24th Avenue, the parking-lot sections along the path near the University of Miami, and SW 80th Street.
Intersection enhancements include the widening of curb ramps to the width of the M-Path itself (as was done in the path’s newly constructed and re-constructed southern Dadeland sections), and the painting of high-emphasis/high-impact (‘ladder’) crosswalks. The M-Path Master Plan also prescribes that the new crosswalks be 12 feet in width and further accentuated with supplemental coloring (i.e., with green paint). No clear verbal indication was made by Robertson as to whether these width and color enhancements are included in the proposed projects, though they were depicted in some of the figures contained in his presentation.
Without question, the safety, accessibility, and connectivity of the M-Path – our community’s most prized shared-use path – will improve.
However, a notoriously daunting and dangerous problem continues to plague the M-Path: automobiles encroach onto the crosswalks — where and if present — linking the path.
Numerous examples of this can be found, especially at intersections with major arterials like SW 27th Avenue, SW 67th Avenue, and SW 32 Avenue, although they occur at every street crossing the path. Motorists at these cross-streets turning-onto US-1 (or turning right from US-1) advance their vehicles into the crosswalks without consideration, obstructing the passage of M-Path walkers, joggers, skaters, bikers, and those in wheel-chairs.
Transit Miami strongly advocates for a very simple solution: A Miami-Dade County ordinance and/or Florida-wide law prohibiting right turns at red lights abutting at intersections abutting any multi-use facility, such as the Metrorail-Path.
The forthcoming implementation of some of the short- and long-term improvements laid-out in the 2007 M-Path Master Plan is exciting, and will undoubtedly transform our community’s experience on the M-Path for recreational, commuting, and overall transportation purposes. We give these projects a Transit Miami thumbs up!
Myth: Bicycling is a fringe activity in Miami.
Our pic of the day shoots down that idea pretty fast.
40% – Percentage of U.S. adults that would commute by bike
if safe facilities were available (1995 Rodale Press Poll)
40% – Percentage of all trips in America that are shorter than 2 miles = a 10-minute bike ride or a 30-minute walk (1995 NPTS)
Having just celebrated their one year anniversary, the burgeoning scene of Miami Bike Polo is more than just a game – it’s about community, social connections, bicycle culture and even a few adult beverages.
Interested in playing? Coming out for a BBQ? Watching? Meeting some new friends? Come check out Miami Bike Polo at Riverside Park in East Little Havana every Friday from 6pm to 10pm and Sundays 1 pm to 8ish-pm.
The public safety crisis impacting pedestrians in greater Miami shows no signs of relenting, with pedestrians severely injured in two separate crashes within miles of each other over the past 4 days.
WPLG reports that on Monday, a pedestrian was struck and seriously injured in the aftermath of 3-car collision in Coral Gables. The victim was airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital. Further details are unavailable but we will continue to follow any developments.
The crash sounds eerily similar to a previous tragedy in Coral Gables at almost the same location last June. Olatz Conde Salcedo, who was head of human resources for Nextel in Bilbao, Spain, was struck and killed by a vehicle that went off the road following a collision at LeJeune and Bird road. 3 other pedestrians were also injured in that wreck.
On Friday morning, WSVN reports a University of Miami student was hit while crossing South Dixie Highway along Southwest 57th Avenue. The motorist did not stop and authorities are searching for a silver-gray Mercedes Benz E-320.
Here are some other headlines from our broken streets in south Florida last week:
Enough is enough! Feel the same way? Check out Safe Streets Miami and get involved to help end the public safety crisis.
The City of Miami is talking parks, and they want your input.
Come out Tuesday, May 1, 2012, to José Martí Park (along the Miami River, in the heart of Miami) — time and location information below.
Ensure that your voice is heard as the future of our city’s park system is considered. Your input will help inform the park component of the City of Miami’s next Comprehensive Plan.
Call it Miami’s finest “Dutch Treat”.
In what turned out to be a momentous night for cycling in Miami, nearly 2,000 Miamians attended The “Go Dutch! Orange Bike-In Festival” after April’s Critical Mass bicycle ride on Friday, April 27 at Grand Central Park.
The Consulate of the Netherlands co-hosted the event with a variety of other sponsors in celebration the Dutch national holiday “Queens Day”. The free event was billed as a celebration of “Dutch culture, sustainable living and Miami’s growing and dynamic cycling scene.”
800 orange t-shirts were distributed for free (and quickly claimed) at the beginning of the ride at Government Center, courtesy of Grolsch lager. Cyclists wearing the t-shirts were treated to a discount on Grolsch drafts later at the festival.
Riders were encouraged to arrive in Dutch-inspired outfits for the “orange costume contest” with grand prize of a custom bike from Republic Bike. DJ’s provided the tunes and popular downtown restaurants including Elwoods Gastro Pub, Sparky’s Roadside BBQ, Kork Wine & Cheese, and Puntino were on hand to offer eats to hungry cyclists.
The Green Mobility Network provided free bicycle valet free-of-charge and volunteers from the Magic City Bicycle Collective were set-up to demonstrate simple bike repairs and maintenance. There was even a giant contraption called the “Cycle Party” which was essentially a big pedal-powered group vehicle that made it’s way around the park, full of eager participants.
The Dutch-themed event was a collaborative effort between Grolsch, The Miami Bike Scene, the Downtown Miami Partnership, the Consulate General of The Netherlands, and the Omni Parkwest Redevelopment Association (OPRA). With this event, the Dutch consulate continued to encourage Miamians to further embrace cycling as transportation, as they also sponsored the ThinkBike Workshop last May.
The event was a tremendous success despite a few logistical problems – especially the long lines for beer that thirsty riders had to endure after a 12 mile ride! However, even a little rain could not suppress the energy brought by nearly 2,000 cyclists that found their way to Grand Central park after a 12-mile cruise through Little Havana, Coral Gables and downtown Miami.
The whole evening made me wonder if this was perhaps the most important night for cycling in Miami in recent memory. When we turn out to vote in local elections, there is no box that says “make my city bicycle-friendly”. But seeing so many Miamians turn out for a bicycle ride in their city and to celebrate the Dutch culture that so widely-embraces cycling is perhaps the closest thing we can do to “vote”. After all, the best way to be a bicycle advocate is to simply ride your bike.
And ride we did. Hopefully, Miami-Dade officials are taking notice.
It’s always a fun experience to ride the Metrorail following a major community event, especially following the annual Corporate Run.
This year marked the run’s 27th anniversary. Apart from being a great community- and team-building event, the Corporate Run also never fails to highlight how convenient travelling via transit really is.
The picture below gives a glimpse of just how packed the train was following the 5-kilometer run.
People realize that when roads are packed, the most viable and efficient way to move around the city is with trains and buses. And these days, it’s rare to find streets in our community that aren’t congested.
Let’s stop wasting our tax dollars on expanding highway and road systems that leave us trapped in metallic boxes on four wheels and start investing our tax dollars in rail and public transit systems.
If you’ve spent the past four years of your life without purpose because Fort Lauderdale did not have their annual Air and Sea Show, then I’m sure you are attending the Air Show this Saturday or Sunday. Or maybe you’re just coming for the fun of it. Either way, as die hard fans of transportation that avoids automobiles, we’re here to fill you in on how to get there without driving. Parking at places like the Galleria Mall costs $20 and is pretty scarce anyway.
Bicycle valet parking will be available at Sunrise Blvd. and A1A. New River Wesleyan Church, where this writer happens to be the youth director, along with Cycle Mobility, are hosting the bicycle valet service. There will be a $5 charge to valet park your bicycle, and the service will be available between 8 AM and 4:30 PM. The show organizers have also informed us that there will be self serve bicycle racks at all three entrances to the show. Don’t forget that you can plan your bicycle route to the air show using the Broward Bike Trip Planner.
The Sun Trolley’s Las Olas route will be running, and may be a good bet as it connects downtown and the Broward Central Terminal to the beach area. You can always take Tri-Rail to the Fort Lauderdale Station and connect via BCT to the downtown terminal, then switch over to the Sun Trolley. Check the BCT home page for information on some routes that have been modified to get around the air show area. Otherwise Google Maps Transit directions work well for planning your route.
Metrorail riders beware! There seems to be a criminal on the loose targeting unsuspecting passengers! This just in from the University of Miami police department:
April 26, 2012
Event Description: Serial Robber Targeting Metrorail Riders
Campus police and security have received information about a serial robber who has targeted Metorail riders. One victim boarded a northbound train from the University Metrorail station. The offender, whose picture and description appears below, sits next to passengers shortly before a stop, brandishes a firearm and demands property from his victims. If you see the subject, avoid him and call police immediately.
This information is being provided to help keep our communities informed and safe.
SUBJECT INFORMATION: Black Male, 6’0” to 6’2” tall, about 180 pounds, no facial hair, and has a short haircut. He has consistently worn dark suit pants and a vest (presumed to conceal a firearm). He has also worn a light tan sport jacket, as in the picture. If you see the subject at other rail stops call 911 and/or report the subject to on duty security.
Anyone with information regarding this crime or information that may lead to the apprehension of this individual is asked to call:
- MDT DISPATCH CENTER: 305 375-2700 or
- CRIMESTOPPERS: 305 471-TIPS (8477)
Callers will remain anonymous and be eligible for a cash reward.
As regular Metrorail riders know, the train is a safe, efficient, stress-free, and pleasant way to get around town (at least certain parts of town). Don’t be discouraged by this isolated incident by some goon trying to disturb the peace typically found on our Metrorail.
The incident conveyed in the above crime advisory got me thinking about the unnarmed volunteer group founded in New York City, the Guardian Angels. By the late 1970s, conditions on the NYC subway system had gotten pretty rough, and a group of citizens got together to provide a sense of security for the passengers on the trains.
For the most part, crime on our Miami Metrorail is not common. Furthermore, whatever minimal criminality does manifest on our public transportation system is nowhere near the scale of that in NYC a few decades ago.
In any case, be viligant out there folks. The Metrorail belongs to us, the people, not some thug with a gun.
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