Miami lacks a center.  We have no urban square in which to assemble, no central oasis within our concrete jungle.  Our coastal parks lack focus, continuity, or the social elements which make them function.  By looking into the success of Urban Squares across the country, we’ll gain a better understanding of the attributes which make these squares function as centers for civic pride.  The features which make these urban parks succeed is what we as a community pour into them.  By contrast, our closest example of an Urban Square, Bayfront Park, is a disjointed, uncohesive mess, littered with commercial enterprises.  As we’ve discussed before, our closest community assembly point may just be a parking lot…

As you glance through these select few parks, notice the emphasis on community events.  You will find successful squares exist centered among the crossroads of business, theater, retail, and artistic centers while serving as the focal points for our densest urban communities. Don’t neglect the transit infrastructure.

Without reiterating many of the points made by my colleagues, I’ll turn our attention to the most successful urban squares across the United States, addressing why they work.

Union Square (San Francisco)

The 2.6 acre Union Square is located in the heart of San Francisco’s shopping, entertainment, and theater district.  A plethora of boutiques, department stores (6 to be exact), hotels, and theaters surround the square, making it one of the largest tourist attractions and shopping districts in the Bay Area.  The square is serviced by 2 cable car lines (Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason), the F Market Heritage Streetcar line, Muni Metro, and BART Subway systems (3rd busiest station along the system.)  Click here to go on a 3D Tour of Union Square.

Madison Square (New York)

The 6.8 acre Madison Square Park first opened in 1847, almost immediately served as a catalyst for the surrounding area, attracting hotels and theaters to the district (yes, this is where Madison Square Garden gets its name from.)  The park experienced a renewal in 1870 which bought a new design and sculptures to the park, among other items.  In 1912, America’s first public Christmas tree was erected in the park.  Today, the park plays host to abundant community and civic events (like the meatscursion.)  A new park favorite, the Shake Shack, garners hundreds of hungry patrons daily with lines snaking throughout the park.  Six lines of the MTA Subway service the region.

Union Square (New York)

Speaking more from personal experience, New York’s Union Square is a hub for local activity surrounded by an abundant mix of retail, residences, and commercial property.  The square is surrounded and influenced by the surrounding flatiron, Chelsea, Greenwich, and NYU neighborhoods.  Originally founded in 1815 as a public commons, the square began to take its more modern shape later into the mid 1800′s.  One of the square’s most prominent local features, the GreenMarket, began in 1976, providing regional small family farmers with opportunities to sell their fruits, vegetables and other farm products in the city.  The Union Square Hub is serviced by eight MTA subway lines.

The Unions Square Pillow Fight 2008:

Copley Square (Boston)

Boston’s Copley Square was founded in 1858.  Up until the early 1900′s, the square served as a cultural and educational center for Boston, bordered by the original Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Public Library, and original MIT Campus.  In 1983 with the formation of the Copley Square Committee, the park was revitalized improving green space, water features, and sightlines.  The Square is serviced by the four routes of the Green Line Light Rail system.

7 Responses to Miami’s Newest Urban Square, Part 2

  1. todd says:

    To be fair, having an urban center is more than building it. Many of these places are primarily sites of business or transit but not true sites of community in terms of interaction. I think we need the space, but we should also recognize that the relationship between community and structure isn’t as tight as we may think. I lived in the slums in India and there was more community in the 4′ wide dirt paths through shanty rows than I’ve seen in any urban space in the US.

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  2. Well that is precisely the point. We’re advocating preserving this piece of land while we still can (or could). Situated in the heart of our international banking business district would be a great start, but the space would still lack that sense of community. I agree with you wholly, in most parts of the city, Miami is completely devoid of any sense of civic pride or community. This change won’t occur over night, but if we don’t provide the space today, Miami may never have a great central public square…

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  3. mike lydon says:

    All of Gabe’s examples are excellent, but notice they are also portions of the respected cities that were set aside a long, long time ago function as the outdoor room for community. Present day cities and sprawl developers have not continued this intelligent tradition.

    However, the recent addition of Campus Martius square (http://www.campusmartiuspark.org/) in the heart of downtown Detroit, and Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland’s Pearl District (http://www.pioneercourthousesquare.org/) are fantastic examples of new, very successful public spaces helping to focus and orient growth in the downtown core. Miami has the opportunity to do the same with at least one of those parcels.

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  4. Walter Carter says:

    I grew up in a small town in the Midwest that was also the county seat. The large county court house was situated in the town square, a lovely place where the citizens gravitated for banking and government services, comfortable small clothing boutiques, jewelry stores, and restaurants, a bar or two, a small hotel and a solitary department store. The local high school was no more than three blocks away and the students could be found wandering the town square after school. One could walk “downtown” and get whatever one wanted. A big shift occurred in the character of the town with the arrival of the Walmart. The center of the town shifted to the Walmart mall area on the edge of the town–but with none of the amenities and, of course, accompanied by the demise of most of the local stores and corner food markets. The current town center is a sterile place with banks, lawyers and government offices that filled the missing store space. My point is that a public square is a point of gravitation for the public, with convenient location and transportation and accompanying amenities. My small town and Miami have the same problem–they lack an imaginative and creative political leadership class that does not look beyond the personal interests of its family clan. They dedicate themselves to populist programs of constructing overpriced public structures and monuments that benefit their developer friends–let the public be damned. Must we be constantly reminded of the lack of leadership to construct a Miami of half decent system of public transportation and a respectable system of public education. One may only go downtown now and observe the hideous sterility of empty apartment towers, an ugly, overpriced cultural center (soon to be joined by its own Walmart), a soon to be constructed empty ballpark, pathetic zoning enforcement, etc. This city is light years away from achieving a modicum of community development and participation.

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  5. Emperor Tomato says:

    I agree with a lot of what Walter says. Political leadership to do what is necessary particularly with transit has been lacking. A very important note of much concern to me is the potential placement of a Wal-Mart on prime waterfront space next to the PAC.
    There are community organizers from every walk of life here in Miami, and there is even some unity amongst them. I know some look down on community organizers but they are the key to bringing these varying parts of Miami together. With community organizers and political leadership this city can make that jump to community development and participation it has yet to develop.

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  6. The Edge says:

    Another great international square from a city that embraces the commercial central and outside living is Melbourne, Australia, their mix of corporate offices, shopping, professional sporting centers residential living and a great mass transit system. Their mass transit system has had its issues but it far better than what most US cities can offer. I have a great memory of one of their city squares during the last World Cup at Federation Square (http://www.federationsquare.com.au/) a large screen broadcasted the games and most nights as the tournament progressed the square became completely packed. The crazy thing was the time difference between Australia and Germany caused the games to be on at 3am. Talk about a community centric location.

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  7. nancy alzate giraldo says:

    square urabn examples

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