Plater-Zyberk has been one of the only "insiders" linked up to "outsiders" who advocated, mostly to no avail, for sound and sensible planning both in the urban core and the suburban fringe of Florida's most populous county.
The Miami Herald never reports on this dynamic; how civic and citizen activists press up against the organized, well-funded cogs of the Growth Machine. It is not a simple David versus Goliath story, however.
As a practicing architect and planner, while dean of the School of Architecture, Plater-Zyberk stood up and helped design a new zoning code for the city of Miami during the Diaz term, opposed by many civic activists who feared it would lead to greater densification and sacrificed quality of life. Although DPZ -- Duany Plater Zyberk -- has been the nation's pre-eminent advocate for new urbanism, its efforts to create examples in Miami-Dade also met neighbors' resistance as in the case of Salamanca, a "traditional neighborhood development" once planned for West Dade.
Throughout, Ms. Plater Zyberk demonstrated an amazing sense of calm and centered-ness.
The Herald story noted Plater-Zyberk's contribution to the rebuilding after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. It missed the key point: Plater-Zyberk lead a team of architects and planners who offered a major re-thinking of the Florida City and Homestead city core, including the US 1 corridor to the Florida Keys. It was thoroughly rejected by the Growth Machine.
A few years later, Plater-Zyberk and then county commissioner Katy Sorenson gained the support of the county commission to design a plan to save agriculture in South Dade. The Growth Machine soundly throttled and then bottled up the results, condemning Plater-Zyberk's involvement. (For that, thank Bill Losner.)
Notwithstanding minor skirmishes at the periphery of new urbanism, Plater-Zyberk's example illustrates how common sense in land use planning to protect neighborhoods for the long-term places a distant second to the financial arrangements of suburban sprawl; tangling elected officials in the chase for campaign contributions outside their district boundaries.
The South Dade agriculture study -- and, later, the fiasco of the Homestead Air Force Base redevelopment plan -- lead to yet another study: the South Dade Watershed Study that re-cycled on paper the key tenets of Plater-Zyberk's concept of land use planning. At the time, the Watershed Study was the most extensive and expensive ever undertaken in the United States and pointed in the direction of reforming infrastructure in already developed areas; a key concern as more and more American cities suffered under the fiscal weight of decaying bridges, roads, and built environments.
In Miami, too few in positions of power listened to Plater-Zyberk's reasoning and those who did listen, like the lobbyists and beneficiaries of the Growth Machine, made small fortunes marginalizing the precepts of new urbanism. (They are still at it, of course!)
Importantly -- on a week where the national magazine Rolling Stone features a report on Miami and sea level rise, "Goodbye, Miami" -- it bears emphasis that for more than twenty years, Elizabeth Plater Zyberk advocated for sustainable development, protecting wetlands and watersheds and concentrating development around walkable, livable neighborhoods with clear public spaces, that dovetail with climate change mitigation strategies.