Monday, July 16, 2012

The Miami Herald: Best Block Contest ... by gimleteye

I had to laugh and cry a little, reading the Miami Herald's "Best Block Contest". I had to laugh, because on one level it is a good idea. It is also a belated, even comical reversal of The Miami Herald's agnostic relationship to the built landscape of South Florida. It was all about advertising revenue and compensation packages for the top executives. Period, end of story.

So, now that we agree on that: get people thinking about what makes a great neighborhood. I also had to laugh because I couldn't think of a great block in Miami, the place I've lived for 20 years. A great block depends on a dense urban fabric. We don't do that in Miami.

Moreover, a great block doesn't stand alone. It depends on context within the urban fabric. That context -- and one Miami doesn't have -- features public spaces like pocket parks where people go to get relief from the "great block". We used to know that sort of thing, but we forgot it when we became rich building strip malls and low density scatter/sprawl and dependent on the automobile.

And that is where I have to cry. The reasons we don't have great blocks in Miami is the same reason we can't prosecute Congressman David Rivera for clearly running a Ponzi scheme out of his back political pocket: laws that sound like they do the right thing -- on zoning, permitting and development -- are designed to fail just like the campaign finance laws that should put Rivera and the other scammers in jail. In point of fact, the Florida legislature -- run by Rivera's cronies from Miami-Dade -- just eviscerated state planning authority for growth management. What's left? The Great Block Contest?

On this point, The Miami Herald is complicit: over the years, the newspaper has favored growth-at-any-cost and these massive, monstrous civic buildings like the Performing Arsht Center, Marlin's Stadium, and the Jorge Perez Museum of Vanity that impose billion dollar liabilities without any urban context. You can't create a city through the back door and for trying, you shouldn't vest a single share of McClatchy stock.

The last city I visited that had great blocks was Havana. That is why I had to rub my eyes when I saw Jorge Perez in Havana recently. If there is a God, please don't let Miami developers and builders ever have the run of Havana like they did, here!

Well. Back to the "great block" contest. I think in the late 1980's Lincoln Road used to have sort of/ better kinds of blocks before the mass merchandisers took over. No pocket parks though. The Miami River could have had great blocks. I once tried to talk to Art Teele about that, when he was chairman of the county commission. That was a short conversation. Then, speculators like Jorge Perez got hold of the river. Miracle Mile in Coral Gables has potential for great blocks. I always thought that Main Street in Homestead had potential but that was wasted, too. I'll tell you where there was a great block: it was in Key West when I moved there in 1988 down by the then Waterfront Market on Caroline Street with a modest restaurant, Pepes, and hardware store and the harbor beyond. If you want to see how to wreck a great block, take a look at it today.

This is the point about South Florida (also chewed over in yesterday's post about the Miami City Ballet): we value the wrong things, here, or destroy things of value as a routine matter of privatizing profit and socializing risk. But what the hell, In the massive transformation of the South Florida economy through sea level rise, we might as well give it a good try. What's your best block?


Anonymous said...

The Graham Companies designed a great community. The Main Street area of Miami Lakes is all mixed use, walkable, tree-lined and liveable. This community is tops in all urban design categories. I will not be entering this suggestion in the "contest" as the lunatic Mayor of Miami Lakes would undoubtedly try to take credit for it.

Anonymous said...

My vote for "worst" block in South Florida: Bayside Marketplace. Best to bulldoze and start all over again.

squathole said...

I know that block of Caroline Street in KW very well -- coincidentally I stayed in a rented house there in May. It's still lovely -- but there's a gigantic construction project in process that will dwarf the neighborhood -- hotel/retail/parking etc covering about 2 solid blocks.

Despair, Genius -- there's no hope for this, the nation's dicktip.

Geniusofdespair said...

I would have said that main street Miami Lakes would have won except it has degenerated to a lot of boarded up shops and the number of teens every weekend were too much for me. What happened? It was wonderful years ago? I would have to say Miami Beach is the only place with walkable INTERESTING streets. Coral Way in Coral Gables is walkable but it has too many bridal shops and thus closes down at night. You need a mix of stores, ie...Delray Beach. Coconut Grove is okay but some of the blocks have sadly died. Brickell is getting there...I feel safe and there is a mix.

Anonymous said...

the block where I live, with it's average style houses, average incomes and mixed anglos and hispanics, is the winner. Reason: All the neighbors know each other, help each other and watch out for each other ...I wouldn't trade this for any other place.

Anonymous said...

But does anyone ELSE want to walk on your block? Does it have any amenities for the rest of the city? We know we have enclaves. If you live on Fisher Island you could say the same things you said.

Anonymous said...

This contest seems out of place for the Herald to promote because it has never covered the community in any realistic way, reflective of how people are living day to day in the urban or suburban areas. Seems all the Herald SEES is what its reporters see on the way to work along Biscayne Boulevard. Coincidentally, these are the areas that fit the defenitions of their contest. Mixed used, urban, neourbanism. But they don't have the green space needed - either as pocket parks or grand waterfront parks. Bicentennial and Bayfront Parks were supposed to be the "Front yards" for all the downtown residential towers but the Herald supported the mega museums, Bayside, concert hall that have or will decimate those waterfront public lands. Watson Island has also been destroyed as a public place between Parrot Jungle, Children's Museum, Tunnel and the (supposedly) coming Hotel/Mega Yacht complex.

Anonymous said...

Downtown Coral Gables and close-in residential areas of apartment complexes has the potential to be a great urban living area if the City moves to transforms its parking lots into actual parks and plazas. Also, plant shade trees and incorporate bike paths. IF they set an example, maybe the close by City of Miami neighborhoods along Coral Way could be transformed as well with Coral Way being the new "Rambla" depited in the Herald contest.

Rick said...

I lived on [above] Main Street from '87 to '88 and even then it was chaos on weekend nights. I don't ever remember it being "wonderful." Just a place for wealthy NW Miami-Dade wives to run their boutiques for a year or two before folding. Shula's was the only saving grace.


Anonymous said...

Just a small point, Rivera ran a slush fund, not a Ponzi scheme.

And there's a woman goin' crazy on Caroline Street, stoppin' every man that does meet, sayin' if you'll be gentle, if you'll be sweet, I'll show you my place on Caroline Street. -JB