Parks officials and activists are gearing up for a series of meetings beginning this week aimed at developing a Parks and Recreation Master Plan.
BY JASON JEFFERS
As the issue of Miami's public spaces for parks and recreation becomes a hot-button issue with public officials and private citizens, the city will embark on a series of meetings and workshops to create a parks and recreation master plan.
According to the city, the purpose of the meetings is to generate a citywide vision of a parks and recreation system for the 21st century, working with broader objectives identified in Miami 21, Mayor Manny Diaz's plan to create a new blueprint for urban development.
''It will address a fundamental question on funding, provide an assessment of current properties and a timetable or schedule for repairs,'' said Ernest Burkeen, the city's parks director. ``It will create a strategy and plan for land purchase and most importantly it will provide an opportunity for the public to be engaged in the process and thus determine the role of parks and recreation in the city of Miami.''
The meetings begin Tuesday with a workshop at the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, and run through late September. Other areas of the city will be addressed in separate meetings in the future.
As with the Miami 21 meetings, the first series of parks and recreation meetings will be held in the city's third quadrant, which includes downtown, Overtown, Little Haiti and the Upper Eastside.
The meetings will take place in two segments for each area, beginning with a workshop where residents and planners can exchange ideas, followed later by open houses where results will be on view. The sessions will be conducted in conjunction with Goody Clancy, a Boston-based architecture, planning and preservation firm that has worked across the country on similar projects, Burkeen said.
The meetings come just as citizens and activists are focusing on the issue of park space in Miami. At a recent commission meeting, representatives from Miami Neighborhoods United, a local civic group, presented surveys that showed Miami ranks last among 12 high-population density cities when it comes to available park space.
''These meetings are extremely important, I don't know what exactly the focus will be, but it's a prime opportunity to send a clear message that we need more park space,'' said Steve Hagen, head of the Parks Committee for Miami Neighborhoods United. ``Up until this point the approach has been to cover downtown with man-made structures. In cities like Vancouver, they've incorporated greenspace into the entire city fabric. I would hope that's an approach that everyone here can appreciate and aim for.''
The 2002 study cited by Miami Neighborhoods United was conducted by the Trust for Public Land, a nationwide nonprofit land conservation agency.
''This really is an opportunity for the community to express a desire for new parkland and what type of activities they'd like to have them provide,'' said Amy Condon, office director for the South Florida branch of Trust for Public Land. ``I don't know when, if ever, the city has put together a master plan for parks. They've hired a very good consultant that knows what it takes to make a parks system successful, and this all ties into Miami 21.
``I know there are a lot of people who are skeptical, but we all have to take a leap of faith that this is the right process.''
Burkeen said the city has rededicated itself to parks and is developing a long-term strategy to improve the system.
''The parks are currently a work in process,'' Burkeen said. ``The mayor, city commissioners and city manager have provided great support as the parks department repositions itself to address a new generation of youth, seniors, young adults, the disabled and a diverse community.''