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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5 Responses to Overtown Village Green (OVG)

  1. Juan says:

    Building a park in a ghetto.. Putting a stick up your ass does not make you a popsicle. The park will just be a nice place for perps to hide from the police.

    You want to help Overtown? Lobby for an end to the war on drugs. Without that, all the “green spaces” and other acts of liberal creationism will accomplish nothing other than wasting funds.

    Trees raising property values in Overtown? Camon. Will you people stop it.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    what an ignorant comment Juan. Do you even know this site? Have you ever been there? Probably not. I think this is a great idea that will help revitalize the area. Kudos to Sam and Brad for their hard work on this.

    “acts of liberal creationism” what bullshit are you talking? really? lets follow Juan’s idea and just leave “the ghetto” alone. Great idea. moron.

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  3. Mike Moskos says:

    I’ve been arguing for this sort of thing–one a much smaller scale, such a single empty lot–for years: temporary parks to clean up neighborhoods, for kids to play, seniors to hang out, dogs to run, people to group garden. I think the old arena area is a little too big for this to work well–but it just might get the area turned into a park, which ultimately is a good thing. And I could see the park quickly being surrounded by condo towers–utopian condo living now is one of condos lying in a semicircle around the bayfront Margaret Pace park.

    And Juan, the cheapest way to beautify an area is to add trees: drive thru Coconut Grove and you’ll see a major lack of trees in the poor areas; the rich areas are filled with trees. In fact there’s so many big trees, you don’t really notice the occasional poorly maintained house. Twenty years from now, Overtown will be one of Miami’s better neighborhoods; look at how fast the upper east side has turned around (like the Grove and South Beach before it).

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  4. Alfredo says:

    This is a great idea and very needed. The only issue is the cities incapacity to get rid of the growing and disturbing homeless situation in the nearby area; it’s a plague that is growing exponentially with no control. Disturbing anecdote: I was asked the other day by a city official to charge my customers an extra 1% of sales tax for a ” Homeless TAX” I want to know who is pocketing this percent. The city is corrupt as it gets, and with no blinds. This project should teach officials how a community can help itself, without corrupt funds and taxes that go nowhere.
    I know where to get lots of free compost.
    Best of luck and keep informing our community how to improve without bureaucratic theft

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  5. Adam says:

    Is there any news on this or the ability to volunteer ? I live across the street and was so happy there was progress but it just stopped when the grand central was finished with their parking lot. Seems the hype was just to drive attention to the club and nothing else was done. I don’t believe this is the case but that’s what lots of the local residents believe.

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