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  • Writer's pictureMaria Luisa Castellanos

The Coming Walkable City

Barcelona, a very walkable city

Miami 21 is the most comprehensive zoning code change I have seen in any part of Miami-Dade County in my over 25 years of practicing architecture. It took 4 years of meetings and discussions to complete. There have been some revisions as well. Some places which had original had higher densities were down-zoned.

The very talented town planning firm of Duany Plater-Zyberk and Company, hired as the lead consultant to produce this code, held hundreds of meetings throughout the city and took testimony from many residents. It was a controversial process.

Architects took sides. There was the Duany Plater-Zyberk and their University of Miami colleagues and then there was the Bernard Zyscovich side. The AIA had meetings about it. Generally, there were many fights about density and height restrictions - and design, of course!

While most codes are based on the multiplication of a number times the size of the lot to obtain such things as maximum lot coverage, maximum buildable area, floor area ratio, green area, etc., this new code emphasizes physical results. It is a form-based code. It does not care so much about the size of the lot, as what the building will look like. Will it have porches, covered walkways, and other items which make it pedestrian friendly? Will people want to walk down the street in this new designed city? Yes, that's the idea!

What makes a city walkable or what makes it anti-pedestrian? Liz Plater-Zyberk has lectured often on this issue, and at one of the many meetings, she explained their planning theories and their system of Transets T1 to T6.

Among the many issues they discussed, one of the most important, is the issue of car parking. Large parking lots, whether surface parking or garage parking, will deaden any street. No live human will want to walk in front of a parking garage or parking lot. So in their code visible surface parking on a major street is prohibited

In traditional zoning, if the lot is large, then the building (as a multiplication of the size of the lot) gets to be a tall large building. In this zoning, the zoning tells the owner how many stories to build. Everyone on the same street gets to build the same number of stories. So one lot won't have a huge, tall building with the lot next door allowed only a much shorter building.

Many parts of the city will have mixed-zoning with the street level dedicated to commercial space with residential units above that.

The opposition's position is the new code would limit "design flexibility".

As I attended meetings, listened to, or read about the discussions, I was reminded of the many cities I have walked - Barcelona, Paris, Munich, Madrid, South Beach, etc. And then I think of the ones I would never walk - Miami, Atlanta, Houston, etc.

Many things limit design flexibility - our present City of Miami Zoning Code. It has setbacks, it has height restrictions, and it has all kind of details that hamper design flexibility. Our current code does not produce any cohesive cityscape. It produces a bunch of independent buildings which have no cohesion as a group, a neighborhood, or a city.

I spent a summer in Barcelona, while I was in college, working for an architectural firm on a student exchange program. I think this is why I am such a fan of Duany Plater-Zyberk and Company. That summer in Barcelona I walked and walked and walked. I took rolls of photographs and discovered the contemporaries of Antonio Gaudi. See, Gaudi did not work in a vacuum. I am sure he influenced his contemporaries and his contemporaries influenced him. His buildings are in context. They are a part of the city. That is what Miami needs - buildings in context, not floating, independent self-involved structures who fail to integrate with their environment.

In physical codes (and I am sure that Barcelona must have one) things change but they stay the same. Here I have several photos of Barcelona streetscapes and you can see for yourself. The number of stories must be regulated. The location of the building on the lot must be regulated. See for yourself, balconies change, but there is a consistency which makes the buildings flow from one balcony to the next. Some details change while some stay the same. There are no shocking changes - radical height changes, radical recessions from the street, etc. The ground floor is all commercial. The parking lots are sheltered from the main street.

In my opinion what we will see eventually is that there are a many design possibilities within the constraints of this code. And by implementing this code we will see the new cohesiveness that will develop within city buildings. Where there is always a tension between independence in building design and a unified urban plan, the pendulum had swung in the direction of independent building design. Now it will swing once again in the other direction. I, for one, I think Miami 21 can create organized pedestrian city, but it is up to the architects and developers of this city to do their part to really bring it to fruition for all of use to enjoy!

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