Article: Miami 21 Will Make City More Livable
Special to The Miami Herald
BY SAMUEL POOLE
Under the current zoning code, Miami has become a collection of tall buildings, often intruding into established neighborhoods. Some are inspiring, most forgettable; together they amount to a grouping of individual projects instead of a city.
Miami photographs well, but it does not live well. Walking downtown at night is terrifying; when cameras broadcast street scenes during the Orange Bowl, they show people enjoying Ocean Drive, not the empty sidewalks of Flagler or Brickell. Miami's current zoning is concerned with each development on its individual lot; the code has no vision of how buildings can or should fit together to become a city.
The fundamental understanding of Miami 21 is that great cities are known by their great public places -- streets, parks and plazas such as Fifth Avenue and Central Park in New York, Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, Miracle Mile in Coral Gables, and Ocean Drive.
Great places are created when buildings are placed together in an organized way to form an outdoor room or corridor. When you think of Brickell, you think of individual buildings. It is interesting to drive down Brickell and see the building with a hole in the middle, but it is not a place to be part of a lively gathering on the sidewalks. The level of organization required to create great public places is the essence of Miami 21. The primary focus of Miami 21 is getting the urban form right -- organizing buildings, sidewalks, streets and landscaping into places that people enjoy as pedestrians.
Most people walking on Miracle Mile or Ocean Drive cannot describe the urban form that draws them, but they go there when they see it. Mixed-use buildings set back the same distance from the street, windows and doors (not blank walls) on the sidewalk, and awnings and trees for sun and rain are elements well-known to city planners.
Security, transportation, and protecting existing neighborhoods are the three most important reasons to place primary emphasis on places people enjoy on foot. I feel very safe walking in the crowds on Ocean Drive at midnight, and very uncomfortable walking on Flagler Street after sundown. With a properly designed mix of residential, workplace and retail uses, people feel safe gathering in streets and plazas.
Regarding transportation, every trip begins on foot. Where streets are designed to make walking interesting, shaded and safe, transit is effective and neighborhood retail succeeds. Miami 21 requires transitions to lower densities to prevent tall buildings and parking garages from ruining neighborhoods.
Some designers complain that Miami 21 limits their creativity. Buildings that create great places do accept a degree of discipline required to form the outdoor rooms that lure pedestrians. Miami 21 requires organization of buildings into a place, not an architectural style.
Miami 21 is not perfect. There are some key issues to be resolved, including downtown parking. Miami 21 presently requires on-site parking based on an assumption that even if transit is built, people will still mostly drive. Allocating so much of a building to parking severely handicaps good pedestrian environments. Miami 21 needs to substantially reduce parking for areas within a quarter mile of existing or planned train and Metromover stops. Concerns about parking during transition to a diverse transportation system are met in Miami Beach and South Miami by building municipal parking using fees from developers.
Miami 21 must continue to improve after adoption; the importance of approving now is clear both downtown and in neighborhoods next to ongoing redevelopment. Miami 21 will build a city and protect neighborhoods. The current zoning code will continue business as usual, building auto-dependent, stand-alone projects that have no concern about neighbors or creating a city that is more than the sum of its parts.
Poole is a shareholder with the Florida business law firm Berger Singerman and a board member of the Form-Based Codes Institute.