Downtown Revitalization: Miami

January 6, 2014 34 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Like many cities, Miami aspires to achieve greatness with its downtown. Judging from the amount of cranes dominating the skyline, Miami is well on its way. Today, Metro Jacksonville's Ennis Davis takes a look at the street scene of one of the country's most rapidly growing downtowns.

While South Beach came to life as an international nightlife and tourist destination, 1990s Downtown Miami was known for its high homeless population, wide pedestrian hostile streets and being a vertical office park that closed up at night.

However, much has been achieved over the last decade. For example, Downtown's homeless population has been reduced by 90%. Downtown's Flagler Avenue is one of the few historic walkable retail streets in the South still lined with department stores and hundreds of smaller retailers. In 2007, the Miami 21 zoning code was implemented, banning most autocentric building designs throughout the entire city. In 2012, Metrorail was extended to Miami International Airport, providing a direct connection to downtown and leading to an increase of nearly 10,000 daily riders on the heavy rail system since its opening.

Like Jacksonville, there's also a fare free downtown peoplemover. However, fed by Metrorail, Metromover averaged nearly 34,000 daily riders as of November 2013. Downtown's residents now make up 40% of the city's tax base and 50% of its workforce. As of 2010, the population of downtown Miami was 71,000 with a density of 27,487 per square mile. Growing from 40,000 in 2000 and adding 550 new residents each month, downtown Miami is currently one of the fastest growing neighborhoods in the state. Add in nearly 200,000 office employees and 4.33 million cruise passengers annually and it's not difficult to understand that Florida's largest downtown has a pretty bright future.

Despite the numbers, the atmosphere a pedestrian experiences in Miami is vastly different from what one would associate with cosmopolitan walkable cities such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco, or even South Beach, which is less than five miles away. Now, Miami is working to change that. All Aboard Florida has ambitious plans to build the first private "higher" speed rail system, which will terminate at a massive transit oriented development in the heart of downtown Miami. Already home to a Macy's, La Epoca, Marshall's and Bayside (a successful version of the Jacksonville Landing), plans were recently unveiled for a new Macy's and Bloomingdales as a part of a 740,000 square foot mixed-use development near AmericanAirlines Arena.

After years of battling FDOT to improve Brickell Avenue for pedestrians and cyclist, the city of Miami struck a deal in mid-2013 requiring FDOT to relinquish control to the thoroughfare. Now plans are underway to create what could be its own version of Chicago's Michigan Avenue by transforming the former FDOT highway into a street with wider sidewalks, a multi-use path and new median landscaping. If that's not enough to get excited about, there's even an initiative going through City Hall that would widen sidewalks, create tree-lined canopies, and make right turns on red lights illegal. Furthermore, a $1 billion tunnel project to get trucks headed to the port out of downtown should be completed in 2014.

The overall goal of all these projects are the same: to make the city's core a safe, comfortable and inviting place for the pedestrian experience, which are all critical components of great cities that many downtown revitalization advocates across the country overlook. Instead, their eyes remain glazed on large scale one-trick ponies intended to lure suburbanites.

What is occurring in Miami is natural, according to Victor Dover in a recent Miami Herald article,

It’s a natural evolution, said Dover, who wrote extensively about it in his new book Street Design, which describes the great streets of the world.

“We were growing up on The Partridge Family and The Brady Bunch. All those television shows were unfolding in the ’burbs,” he said. “But new families have grown up on Friends and Sex and the City. What’s cool now is to be out on the street walking and riding your bike.”

Dover has a strong point in claiming that the rapid revitalization of downtown Miami is a part of a natural trend overtaking the nation. Census estimates indicate that growth in big cities have surpassed the rate of growth of their surrounding suburbs in recent years, which is a sign of a growing preference for urban living.

The challenge for communities like Jacksonville is to recognize and invest in the critical components that all great cities have in common. While thoughts of downtown amusement parks, ferris wheels, shopping malls and aquariums built to attract suburbanites continue to make the news reels in Jacksonville, take note of little things like shade trees, awnings, mobility options, signage, etc. as you look through the images of downtown Miami. These are the little discussed elements of walkability found in most vibrant urban areas that must be included in the effort to change downtown Jacksonville.

Next Page: Downtown Miami Photo Tour

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