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I was recently in South Beach, Miami and having been to Florida a number of times, I was pleasantly surprised by how this area differs from the stereotyped remainder of the State. A few things in particular were worth noting as examples of what this area has really done well. Of course the enjoyment of public space is always easier in fair weather, but even given that natural advantage, as you stroll around this area it’s clear that South Beach has taken a number of strategies that planners dream about, and has run with them.
Here are my five favourite things about South Miami Beach:
5. Useable park space
Lummus Park is a 100 metre wide swath of green space that runs for 9 blocks long and separates the bustling Ocean Drive from the beach. Contained within this linear green space are a number of useable areas including work-out space or playgrounds for grown-ups. Volley-ball courts also line this space between the road and the beach. In my opinion, in an urban setting, the more usable the green space is – the better, and that includes not forgetting that kids aren’t the only ones who like to play outside.
4. Lincoln Road Mall
This pedestrian mall runs for 8 blocks perpendicular to Ocean Drive, and can’t help but be compared to Sparks Street for those coming from Ottawa. When I was in graduate school, and studying pedestrian spaces, one simple way of evaluating blocks was the “door handle tool”. The more doors contained within a block, the more people will be drawn to that space out of sheer interest (relates to establishment diversity). Lincoln Road has got this down pat – narrow store frontages accompanied by outdoor patios. Functions are smartly combined such as large round bollards doubling as seating or public art as climbing apparatus’ for kids. Security is visible patrolling leisurely through the space on bikes. The space is bustling, crowded and no space is wasted, used for patios, bike racks, sandwich boards, public art and landscaping. And laneways located north and south of the space handle things like parking access and garbage.
3. Parking arrangement
The bustling Ocean Drive contains mainly boutique hotels with little separation distance between buildings. Cars are accommodated, but are forced to drive at a snail’s pace due to the narrow space allocated for driving. Metred on-street parking exists on both sides and pedestrians cross the street randomly because traffic is moving so slowly. Most of the little hotels have a valet parking space in front and here’s the kicker – most of the hotels don’t actually have their own parking. There is a PUBLIC parking lot a few blocks away on less prime real estate where the hotel valets actually use for their parking area. So parking has been taken out of the equation of the hotels and grouped together in one lovely publicly organized structure complete with priority parking for hybrid vehicles. The winner in this scenario is the pedestrian who can stroll un-interrupted for 10 blocks or so. And one of my favourite features again – the rear lane to handle garbage and loading.
2. Miami Beach Architectural Historic District
The architecture in this area is as undeniably interesting as the story behind its preservation. From their website: “Miami Design Preservation League is a non-profit organization devoted to preserving, protecting, and promoting the cultural, social, economic, environmental and architectural integrity of the Miami Beach Architectural Historic District. Originally organized by Barbara Capitman and friends in 1976, it is the oldest Art Deco Society in the World.” http://www.mdpl.org/ I won’t go into detail except to say that the Historic District has done a great job of promoting itself. Art Deco weekend occurs every year and draws hundreds of thousands of fans. The Art Deco welcome centre is smack dab in the middle of the action and the self-guided tour that provides visitors with iPods and lets them stroll around the District at their own pace is a great idea. This Historic District has not been sterilized, but is using education and adaptive re-use to create a truly successful space.
1. Deco bike share program
Where to start on this impressive program… http://www.decobike.com/ Miami Beach has rolled out bike sharing in a way that should make us stop and pay attention. There are 100 – that’s right 100 deco bike share stations set up in an area that measures about 12 square kilometres. The bikes are so convenient that by 3pm on a Monday, the first two stations we passed only had two bikes left each and people that work for the program were seen walking two or three bikes at a time around between stations just to try and satisfy the demand. The bikes are sturdy, no gears, your clothes are protected from the chains, there is a great big basket for your bags, the program is super easy to use with a credit card, cheap ($4 for half-hour, $6 for an hour, or $15/month unlimited pass for residents) and it just makes tons of sense. You can feel the optimism in the air as tourists and residents alike are curiously embracing this as an alternative to driving short distances, walking long distances or taking a taxi. The bikes are covered with advertising, which quite frankly, I’m indifferent about if it’s part of the model that makes the program work. It also doesn’t hurt that a wide bike path is included in Lummus Park allowing for an alternative to riding on the road. People were riding these bikes everywhere and embracing this new concept and it was fantastic to see and take part in.
Of course, I can hear the naysayers already. “Florida benefits from a glorious climate, Miami is just catering to tourists, people don’t actually live there”, etc. But let’s just bask in some optimism for a moment, and celebrate positive things when we see them – this is a place that makes it fun to spend the days walking (or biking).