I was talking to a friend of mine and he got on the topic of the Miami Urban Think Tank or MUTT for short. What a great name! So I just love the name MUTT because that is what I am, a mix breed. Cuban by birth, but almost totally identified with American culture and the Cuban-American culture of Miami, I am definitely a MUTT.
As a child I lived up north, that’s north of Tallahassee, Florida. It seems that Florida is a place so different from the rest of the traditional American landscape. I lived in St. Louis, Missouri; Rindge, New Hampshire; Athens, Alabama, Macon, Georgia; studied architecture at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Georgia; and then over 30 years ago, I moved to Miami. None of those other places had palm trees. They didn’t have orange groves either.
As a child, my family traveled by car constantly, mostly to Miami, when my father had time off from teaching as a professor at different colleges. Because of this, I was exposed to much urban planning, or lack thereof, throughout the U.S. My favorite place from my childhood was Rindge, New Hampshire. It had a small “commons” so typical of New England towns. And the town had a real sense of community partly due to its simple plan and the use of the commons for garage sales and monthly dinner club meetings.
MUTT’s Facebook page is dedicated to bringing attention to ideas which need exposure. I certainly have a pet peeve about Miami.
My biggest gripe about Miami is the lack of urban spaces. For years I watched the big parking lot just north of the old Dupont Plaza building and thought what a wonderful urban space it would make, if it were re-designed and incorporated into the public domain. Unfortunately, I never said anything and now it’s almost all built-out.
But just because that one space can't be used doesn't mean that we can't find land and create other wonderful urban spaces. Barcelona has Las Ramblas and La Plaza Cataluna. Paris has the Champs-Elysées. Munich has the Marienplatz. New York has Times Square. Washington has the National Mall. What do we have? Nothing, absolutely nothing. Miami Beach at least has made a start with its new Performing Arts Center and Park.
Last week I was going to Miami-Dade Wolfson Campus and the traffic was so backed up on 5th Street that I decided to park by Government Center and walk the two blocks. While I was walking, I saw this poor excuse for a park/urban space. See photo above. Is this the best we can do? As we watch all the Middle East protesters, where would we go If we needed to have a revolution?
When I attended the town meetings during the Miami 21 process, there was one man who stood up at every meeting and lobbied for parks. Parks and urban spaces are important to a city. It allows for informal meetings of the public.
We should start generating a consciousness for urban spaces. Miami needs them. We should lobby for them. Why should we have to go to shopping centers to congregate with other people? This should be a free activity. People watching can be fun and it can be free, if we have the public spaces to do it.
I hope we start talking about this - all of us. If we do, eventually we will get this idea into the collective unconscious. And then, maybe the county or city commission will actually listen and start directing their planning staffs to incorporate them into the urban plans for the city and county. We could transform Miami into a really interesting lively place!